Carl Bogan

Artificial intelligence has been a running theme on the podcast this year, and I couldn’t think of a better person to talk shop about this with than the one and only Carl Bogan. Through his studio, Myster Giraffe, he’s created viral mashups that have racked up millions of views across social media.

Carl spoke a bit about his experiences as a visual effects artist, and then we went into a deep discussion about all things synthetic media — generative AI, deepfakes, media literacy, government regulations…you name it. But we didn’t just geek out about that! Carl told his story about how he got interested in visual effects, what motivates him, and where he wants his work to go in the future. This episode will definitely give you some food for thought!

A selection of Myster Giraffe’s work:

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Carl Bogan:

My name is Carl Bogan, and I am a digital creator and VFX professional living in Los Angeles.

Maurice Cherry:

How’s 2023 been treating you so far?

Carl Bogan:

2023 is…every year is a bit different. This one is no different from that. Starting out, very interestingly, more inbounds from Myster Giraffe. The VFX industry is a bit slow right now. The strike isn’t making it much better, but of course, always optimistic, looking for new opportunities in every single direction.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I’ve been hearing from friends of mine in L.A. and other folks in the entertainment industry how the strike is kind of…I guess it’s reverberating throughout the industry. Because it’s one thing when the writers are striking, but then that affects production, it affects actors, et cetera. So, yeah, I mean, we’re recording this now as the strike is going on. I have a feeling it might still be going on by the time this airs. Given that, what plans do you have for the summer?

Carl Bogan:

Lots of family traveling time, creating new projects, coming up with new ideas, new ways to create new ways to engage with people. And so sort of never stop creating is one of my mottos. So the strike doesn’t really stop that.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Is there anything in particular that you want to try to launch by the end of the year?

Carl Bogan:

I’m still working on a list. I have a long list, I’m turning into a short list, but Myster Giraffe is always sort of near the top of that list. It tends to act as a calling card in general, and so I keep creating every — I don’t know — every six weeks or so, maybe every eight weeks of a new piece in order to keep the beach ball in the air.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you’ve mentioned Myster Giraffe a couple of times now, and I think listeners have probably seen your work a lot on social media. If not, I’ll make sure to link to a couple of clips in the show notes. But yeah, talk to me about Myster Giraffe. Like, I’m really curious on where that name came from.

Carl Bogan:

So Myster Giraffe is an online handle I created in April of 2019 as a way of honing my deepfake skills in a world that was very much pre-deepfake, generally speaking. And so the name Myster Giraffe was sort of a flippant reaction to wanting to put something out there, seeing if it had any value, and so it just sort of stuck after the first video went very viral. So now I was married to it, so it didn’t matter if I didn’t like it or not at that point.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay.

Carl Bogan:

But I do like it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, it’s a pretty unique name, Myster Giraffe. And also, I guess the spelling of it probably also calls into a bit of mystery as well.

Carl Bogan:

Now, that was on purpose, namely because Myster Giraffe was born out of not seeing any…I had seen deepfakes to date at that point, but not any deepfakes that I could identify with in terms of Black culture or pop culture. And so I wanted to be that voice, but at the same time, knowing that history has told me, for good or bad or indifferent, you can be marginalized as a Black creator. If you show your work and then put yourself next to your work, the work may not stand by itself. So the M-Y-S — the mystery in Myster Giraffe — the goal was to be sort of more of a Banksy character, and that did work for many, many years and it really stoked the interest of many media outlets and people. Like, I wanted the work to stand by itself instead of having to say, “oh, well, that’s good for a Black creator,” or for that, sometimes people can put an asterisk next to your accomplishment.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, brother, you do not have to tell me about that. I know that all too well. I mean, it’s one thing…yeah, you put your face or your likeness or something next to it, and then people will automatically kind of either discount it or buy into it. But when I was doing the Black Weblog Awards back in…I did that from 2005 to 2011. And even though it was, like, gaining notoriety, like NPR had reported on it, et cetera, I knew that people would not even pay attention to it just because it had “Black” in the name. Like, it would just go in one ear and out the other. And that was also when Obama was running, and so everything was post-racial. So if you mention anything with “Black” in it, you must be racist. So I know that feeling all too well and kind of being able to stand behind a bit of a pseudonym or just to kind of obfuscate your personal self from the work helps the work stand out on its own.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. Not to mention, I was thinking about having a clear delineation between me and Myster Giraffe, in case I get into a bit of trouble. You know, deepfakes are still sort of new, and so I didn’t know what I would create that may or may not get me in hot water. So I wanted to be able to put up a firewall just in case. So I can go get a sandwich and not get attacked.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, it’s interesting you say that, because I thought about that as I was looking at some of the clips, and one of the last clips that I remember seeing from Myster Giraffe was — you probably know the one I’m talking about — is Jonathan Majors and Michael B. Jordan, you know, doing the Dennis Edwards and Siedah Garrett, you know, “Don’t Look Any Further”. And I think that came out and then maybe it was like the next month or so, those allegations about Jonathan Majors dropped, and it was like, ohhhh.

Carl Bogan:

Mm-hmm. You never know.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. And it was in that media time where he and Michael B. Jordan were doing a lot of press together for Creed III and everything, and people were kind of speculating on their friendship or their bromance or what have you, and then that happens, and…yeah. I get what you’re saying. I get what you’re saying.

Carl Bogan:

Yes. You can’t always control the narratives when they leave your mouse click.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. You mentioned wanting to do the studio to kind of hone your talent, but what was the other inspirations behind starting your own studio?

Carl Bogan:

When I first started doing Myster Giraffe, I got a lot of inbounds from different people who wanted to work with me. This is even before I was really ready for the attention. I had been in freelance visual effects for maybe fifteen years at that point, so I was very familiar with freelance work. And so the demand kept growing and growing and growing and growing and working more and more brands, more and more music artists. And so it just made sense to launch an entire effort in order to take advantage of the inbounds.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay, so just sort of have one place to kind of funnel everything into.

Carl Bogan:

Sort of. That’s correct.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Now, do you have a team that you work with or is it just you?

Carl Bogan:

Generally? It’s just me, unless thee job is too big and I need to scale it. And so if I have to do production onsite, I have to scale the team. I have people I go to and I hire, and we work very well together. Friends of mine, colleagues of mine. But for the most part, the Myster Giraffes online as far as the social media effort, that’s just me.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. How do you come up with the ideas? I think some of them probably certainly are just inspired by, of course, Black culture. A lot of them are. But like…Steve Harvey as Megan Thee Stallion? Where do these ideas come from?

Carl Bogan:

There’s an instinct that only shows up during certain times. There’s maybe about 10 out of the 40 that I’ve created, I think around 40 or so, that I knew what they were going to do before they did it because there’s a little tickle that you get. There’s a little sort of…where you can’t stop giggling. You’re working on it and you watch it 37 times and you’re saying, “this is a good one. This is really good.” So I allow myself time in between creations. That way I don’t wear that muscle out. I wanted to always be able to recognize the funny before it shows up. Some of them I do them for me. Some of them I do as an experiment. Some of them I do as tributes. But there is a certain section that I have an idea for what’s going to work well within the demographic that I’ve sort of created or taken home in.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, some of them certainly are really fun. I mean, they’re all fun. I don’t want to say some of them aren’t, but I think the one that really sort of stuck out to me and I was like “wait a minute, who is this?” I think it was one for Insecure…for the HBO show. And Issa Rae singing Luther Vandross.

Carl Bogan:

That’s one of my favorites. Well, because that one’s fun. So what normally I like to do when I first started out, it was a bit more cheeky. Man over woman, big difference over here, big difference over there, chasm in the middle. That’s where the joke is. But then pretty quickly I realized, “oh, you can really tell stories with this and sort of come up with alternate realities.” So that was before the term metaverse had really — or multiverse had really — sort of come to fruition. And so I had the idea of Rick and Morty’s intergalactic cable mixed with what Myster Giraffe sort of became. And so each of these sort of are their own reality and their own channel in a multiverse somewhere existing in simultaneous fashion. And so that one was all about the love triangle between Issa and their two male interests on thee show. And so it lines up with the lyrics of the song. Who doesn’t love that song? It’s an iconic song. Who doesn’t love Issa Rae? She’s fantastic. And so you put them together, you cut a trailer around it to help the story get sticky and then you put it out.

Maurice Cherry:

Now when you put that out, was it for HBO and the show, or were you just doing it just to release it through the studio?

Carl Bogan:

That was spec, but I wanted it to look as if it was commissioned because why not? I have no doubt in my mind they would have commissioned it or asked to repost it had it not been a day before they launched the next season. I just kind of got to it late because I don’t rush through these things. It’s like, oh, let me sit down, I’m ready to create again. And so Luther Vandross actually reposted the video — or rather his team — and most people from the show reposted it minus Issa. I’m not sure if she liked or she didn’t. I guess that’s not really the point. It’s to make art that I like and then see if others can appreciate it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. What does the process look like when you’re working on a new project? Like, you have an idea for one of these deepfake videos, or if it’s something from a client, like, what’s the process behind going from idea to conception?

Carl Bogan:

I would say if it’s for me, the process is 80% concept and that is a very passive process initially, whether that’s daily Twitter usage or Instagram usage or TikTok usage. It’s a sort of…collecting things, collecting daily life into your brain. And then I sit down when I’m ready to create. I just kind of feel like, you know what, I’m ready. I sit down and it takes about three to four hours of just kind of going through, combing through what I want to say. I think… I want to have an idea. I think I want to do something with 70s African-American hair care products. I think I want to use this person. This person’s sort of been of the zeitgeist lately. Let me see if I can work them in. And so I kind of have this rolling list of people and topics in my head over in between the pieces. So then when I sit down, that three or four hours, I march, march, march, march, march and then I eventually end at a singular point which is a video. And then I back into it. So I always choose a person second. So I always choose the video first. It’s easier, I found, to not have to force a person into a place. So the people…if I wanted to do a person right now, I wouldn’t really be able to because I haven’t found the piece of media that fits yet. So finding the media is much harder than finding the subject. But if it is a studio, they normally come with thee concept [of] what they want to do. So that’s the easy part. Then they say, okay, great, they have an idea. I’ll either go on set and VFX supe it to make sure they’re shooting it correctly, because there’s a lot of things you can get wrong. We do a data collection of the person that you want to put in what they just shot, you know, we use a stand in. And so I’ve also created a very unique process of data collection for the subject. So that takes about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, and then I take all the data back to my workstation, my home office, and I make a data set of the data. I get the plates from the studio and it takes about an hour to pre-process everything. And then I start training. It takes about a day and a half or two days. Then the compositing takes about a week, depending on how long and short it is, how perfect they want to be, how much they’re paying me to be perfect. So for the Myster Giraffe stuff, I purposefully don’t spend more than a day on the compositing because it’s not about how perfect it is, it’s about the story that it’s telling. If I do that, I’ll never get done because of my VFX background. I know too much in order to make it take less time.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

That’s about it. That’s sort of the broad strokes.

Maurice Cherry:

So it sounds like with Myster Giraffe, at least for your self initiated stuff, you kind of want to be a little bit more and this is not a diss by saying this, but it’s kind of rough and dirty, like you want to go ahead and get it and get it out there and get a reaction from people.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. I didn’t want to chase the pixel perfect deepfakes that some people chase, which is fine. I want them to push the technology forward. But I also realized, like I said, from being in visual effects, the goal is to have it be so good it disappears. Good VFX are invisible. And so since putting different faces on purpose, on different people, the goal is to create cognitive dissonance. So being perfect there is sort of working backwards. And so I do a good job of blending skin tones, face sizing matting and masking around the faces. Yada, yada, yada. So I get a lot of praise on how well integrated they look, but nothing past that because if they can’t see the job that I’ve done for this particular world, then I think it goes against the work that I’m doing. So sometimes I see an error and I just leave it in.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Because it’s not worth the three hours to fix it.

Maurice Cherry:

Right. I’m curious also…when you put it out I’m imagining people aren’t coming back to you saying “oh, between this timestamp and this timestamp it’s a little off” or something. They just like the concept.

Carl Bogan:

Correct. I have yet to hear anyone complain about the compositing or the face generation because the story generative is so enthralling that it doesn’t really matter that it’s not 100% perfect. I will take 85 to 90 for this since it’s just for social media.

Maurice Cherry:

And I think that’s probably just an important thing that creatives listening can kind of apply to their own work. Like don’t let perfect get in the way of good. I don’t know how that saying goes. It’s something like that. But done is better than…

Carl Bogan:

Done is better than perfect.

Maurice Cherry:

Done is better than perfect. Thank you. Because you can spend a lot of time trying to get something to what you think is perfect. But the reality is that once it’s out there in the world, the person that sees it already thinks it’s perfect as it is. I mean there’s going to be some that will scrutinize, but for the most part, just put it out there and get feedback. You can always iterate on your own time but don’t let that stop you from releasing the thing, you know?

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. Put the work out. Don’t worry about it. You can always go back and fix it, but put the work out. I remember the very first one that I did — very first piece was a Will Smith and Cardi B that he ended up reposting. I’m going to believe, to date, it’s still the third highest viewed post on his social media account. And I remember getting ready to really get granular and get into each pixel, make sure it’s perfect. And I stopped myself and said “you know what, this is good enough.” And I know sometimes you hear that, oh, “good enough is never good enough.” Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is good enough depending on the place you’re sending it and what you want to use it for and the time that you have and the effort that you have. And so I would say that examine that before you really spend a lot of time on something that may not matter in that context.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I think that’s good advice. Now you’re working in…the area that you’re working in is known kind of generally as synthetic media, which I feel like is the talk of the tech industry these days. Generative AI, personalized media, deepfakes, like you said, with some of the social clips that you’ve done. And I’m sure that you’ve got thoughts on all of this. So I do have some questions. I’d like for us to chop it up a little bit and talk about some of this stuff. Now, the most obvious thing is synthetic media has the potential to kind of blur the line between what’s real and what’s fake. When you’re working with synthetic media, are there sort of ethical considerations that you think are completely essential for doing this work? Like, when a project comes in or when you’re working on your own project, what are sort of the ethical considerations that you have around creating something?

Carl Bogan:

So I will start with saying deepfake porn is a scourge on society, and they need to legislate that into the ground. It’s not okay. And I say that because that’s where all of this started.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

I say a lot of the tech industry is born from video games and porn. Well, this is no different. And actually, as quiet as it’s kept, a lot of creators would use a forum on a deepfake porn site because that’s where all of the information was on how to do this, how to do that. It was sort of an oddly placed forum in sort of a deep, dark place on the Internet. Sort of, I would imagine, in the same way that YouTube was created and how to get compression rates down and so on and so forth. So I don’t know how it still exists. I won’t list the website because it’s not important. But the sites that do indulge in that practice, I think they should be held to a much higher standard and shut down, so to speak. Because permission and consent in synthetic media is extremely important. Which is exactly why I and many other creators do not do work or use anyone’s likeness for money where they did not consent to it. And so if someone came to me and said, right now, “hey, I want you to put Steve Harvey in a commercial, I’ll pay you money,” I have to say no, because I did not get Steve Harvey’s permission to do that. And so when it’s all fun and games on the Internet, I’m not getting paid for it. It’s fine. It’s parody. As soon as you take money for it, it steps outside of parody and it’s paid for hire. And now you’re infringing on his likeness. Now, that being said, here’s where it gets tricky. You take Steve Harvey’s likeness, you put it into the machine, it turns those pixels into numbers. The numbers turns into whatever goes into the latent space of the training, and it spits out something that looks like Steve Harvey, but legally, is it Steve Harvey? Because I always ask sort of this thought experiment: if you have two twin brothers who are identical, one is a senator and one does pornography, what happens? It hadn’t happened yet. But is the twin brother who is in pornography, is he allowed to practice his pornography as well as next to his brother who’s running for Senate? And so that’s sort of, at least from where I’m standing — how do you handle likeness and what [someone then] does with something that looks like you, right? And so we’re kind of reaching this grey space of what to do with that and I don’t think anyone really has the answer right now. But I will say that having ownness over your likeness, not in the way that it has been done for the last 20 or 30 years, but in a new way…that hasn’t yet been created, I believe that’s going to become very important.

Maurice Cherry:

Last year, right around this time, I was working with a startup. We were doing a magazine and we were doing this issue on Web3 and it was really like my first time diving into, in a deep sense, learning about a lot of these issues. And it was amazing. Like, just hearing about the concept of digital twins and people considering licensing or putting some sort of restrictions around their voice, because someone could take like…someone could take this podcast and the hours of audio that I’ve done and put that into some type of, I don’t know, whatever sort of generative AI type of thing and spit out something that I’ve never said, but they’ve cobbled it together from the words that I’ve said over the years and stuff like that. It was fascinating in like a Black Mirror sci-fi kind of way. But I could see there being some really heinous implications if that is used for nefarious purposes.

Carl Bogan:

Five years ago I was talking to several generative audio companies, and none of them were really that good, if I’m just being honest. But something happened the last six months, because in AI, six months is like six years. And now, all of a sudden, from this one podcast, my voice can be cloned. Your voice can be cloned. And we can be singing Frank Sinatra or saying really inflammatory things about different races and cultures. And so where is it going to be in six months from now? I don’t know. But I will say the technology is allowing for less data to do better impressions visually and audio wise. The future of that I believe is going to…someone’s going to come out with a way to identify or there’s going to be some protocol that everyone’s going to have to adopt if they want to seem as if they are with the time. Sort of like the Truth campaign which got rid of a lot of smokers or stopped a lot of people from smoking. It was a social movement and if you were seen smoking, you were seen as sort of a disgusting act. And because of that, many people do not smoke. And I don’t think the Truth campaign or the Truth company get enough credit for doing that, but I believe it’s going to take that sort of social movement in order to prevent people from being ripped off. Or I think you’ve heard of the kidnap scam where people take your voice and they say, “oh we have Maurice. Maurice, say something.” And you’ll say, “help me, help me give them whatever they want,” just that little bit. And it triggers your family to then go into their banks and their coffers and pull out whatever money they have to satisfy the demands of the would be kidnappers. But little do they know you’re just on vacation in Hawai’i.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

And so that is a real thing that will also happen. And not to be too dystopian or anything, there’s so many other good things that are going to happen.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, yeah.

Carl Bogan:

But these are just the immediate things that are sort of the low hanging fruit. Especially because we’ve been in the media lately and we’re making tools and we’re using tools but we’re not really getting ahead of them fast enough. But not necessarily saying that these things will happen, it’s just that they can happen. But oftentimes things that can happen will happen.

Maurice Cherry:

That’s true. That’s true.

Carl Bogan:

I forgot. Is it? Occam’s Razor. No, I think it’s something it’s one of the laws.

Maurice Cherry:

It’s probably like Murphy’s Law or something like that.

Carl Bogan:

Murphy’s Law. That’s what you have. Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, to that point, you know, you’re right. I mean, I even think about, you know, some technology that we have now that we take for granted, like cell phones and things like that. Those were inspired by science fiction. So you kind of have this interesting, almost symbiotic relationship of how the technology can be influenced by fiction and then that ends up influencing what people actually do with it in real life. It’s a weird sort of process and I think you’re right; it is going to have to get to some point where there’s some type of protocol or regulation. I know the government has been talking to Sam Altman from OpenAI about artificial intelligence and how it can be used. So I can see the government trying to put some guardrails around this. But in the meantime, what do you think? Actually before we do that — side note, you mentioned Truth. I was on a Truth street team in 1999.

Carl Bogan:

Thank you for your service.

Maurice Cherry:

No, you mentioned that and I was like is the Truth campaign still a thing? It’s still a thing. It’s been around for 25 years. Damn.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:

Wow.

Carl Bogan:

Now little did we know that they would go from cigarettes to vaping which I think depending who you ask is better or worse. But at least we don’t have to smell it.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

So maybe that was the goal. I’m not entirely sure.

Maurice Cherry:

But to go back to that whole thing about protocol in the meantime, what do you think we can do to sort of cultivate some literacy or some critical thinking around how folks can sort of, I guess, navigate and discern between what’s synthetic media and what’s authentic media? Like we’re already starting to see political campaign ads use kind of this generative video or generative AI for some things of course. I think probably earlier this year you were starting to see people do those AI avatars and stuff like that. And I know one way that people were sort of saying, like, “oh, well, you can tell this is fake. Look at the hands, because they could never get the hands right.” But now they’re starting to get a little better with the hands. But in the meantime, until this sort of protocol is implemented, how can people start to spot the fake, I guess?

Carl Bogan:

Well, for video, it’s easier right now. So for fully generated, like, prompted video, the data is not there. The computational math hasn’t really been done yet on the full models to make them fully realistic. Yet six months ago, it was much worse. Six months later, it’s much better. Six months, it’ll be even better. And two years from now, it’ll be almost impossible to tell. Sort of like Unreal Engine. And they got really, really good at generating rock formations and trees and landscapes because they’re using scans of actual rocks and trees and landscapes. Science plus computing power plus data equals reality, essentially.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

And so eventually, we won’t be able to tell. And so I actually work with a larger group put on by MIT. It’s sort of like a disinformation panel of people all around the world, and we get on a call once or twice a year. We talk about where things are, what can we do to help usher in a safer future, a more honest future, and a more ethical future for everyone, so that we don’t end up in a Black Mirror episode, which we’re rapidly racing towards. And so one of the easiest things, I believe, that always comes up is just an identifier, whether that’s a logo or a bug in the bottom right corner or somewhere on the screen that lets you know what you’re looking at has been generated. That’s it. It’s nothing terribly difficult to do, but there just has to be one commission or one protocol that everyone signs up for says, you know what? I’m going to be a part of the winning team in terms of wanting to make sure that disinformation is not spread, whether that’s innocent or whether it is really damaging. There was a person who went to the Met Gala. Allegedly, she wasn’t there. Someone posted her in a beautiful gown on thee red carpet, and she was at home in her pajamas, so that’s not a big deal. But then you see, like, you’re saying, the political information where you see Trump kissing Fauci.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

And that’s a big deal. And so these are just images, or the images where you see Trump running from arresting officers.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, I remember those. I remember seeing those. Yeah, yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Which is weird because you would imagine with the video capabilities of deepfakes and whatnot, and especially with voice generation, you can do a much better fake, but the more data points you have, humans are really good at spotting things that are not real. And so with images, they say a picture is worth 1000 words, but people are generally pretty bad at noticing what’s fake about one single image just because of the way we’re wired. Ever since we’re born, we open our eyes, we start collecting data about what’s real and what’s not, about what does a human face look like, what proportions, what are the microexpressions, so on and so forth. But you can’t capture any of that from a single image.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, you know, what you mentioned there is sort of an interesting corollary to what I tell people all the time about design. I often have encountered people over the years that are like, “oh, I’m not creative, I’m not a designer,” that sort of thing. But I tell them that everything that they have used or encountered in the world is a byproduct of design. Like the clothes you wear, the chair you sit in, the car you drive. Someone had to really think about that and cater that to a human’s usage or what have you. And so we know when something has been designed poorly. We don’t have to be a designer to know that, but we have enough just sort of like tactile experience with designed objects to know when something is poorly designed. So it’s kind of a corollary to what you’re saying with we see and know enough as humans to know when something is just not like maybe it’s in that uncanny valley, but something is just not quite right about the image that we’re seeing. Like the Pope in a white puffer jacket or something like that. Is that real, you know? That kind of thing.

Carl Bogan:

Exactly. I was reading a book about that, about design. I believe the author called it the Norman Door. Have you ever gone up to a door and you didn’t read the push or pull sign? But it had a handle, and handles generally mean grab and pull.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

But you grab the handle and then you push in where you’re supposed to push. And so you feel kind of stupid. You grab the handle and you pull toward you and it goes and then you see the word, it says push. Well, that’s not your fault, right? That’s bad design. Yeah, flat surfaces are for pushing and pulling gives you a handle and there’s no two ways about but, you know, depending on where you stand.

Maurice Cherry:

Like I like that analogy. That makes sense. One thing that I love what you’re doing with Myster Giraffe, and you talked about this earlier, is kind of…you’re using synthetic media to kind of amplify otherwise, I think, marginalized voices and faces. Honestly, looking ahead, what developments or advances do you see in synthetic media, and how do you plan to kind of contribute to that through Myster Giraffe?

Carl Bogan:

So what I would like to see, for one, is I’d love to see the world’s first synthetic host for an awards show. I think you can really get away with that for an awards show because the stakes are low.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Or like a Dancing With The Stars or something where it’s purely entertainment. There’s no real weight on it. And then what I’d also like to see is…I’d like to see someone take the reins, if they haven’t already yet, and design a show specifically to allow you the choice of who you want to be the main character. So let’s say you have three identical body types. You have 5’10”, brown skin, clean shaven. There are several actors that can fit in that category. And so if you take three of those actors and you have one sort of dummy body, if you will, run through the scenes, run the acting, and still tell a good story. Right. And then let’s say, much like Bandersnatch on Netflix, you could choose your own adventure. I would love to be able to sit down and choose who I want to see in that role for that film and then watch it three different times to see how I feel about it. Because a lot of the times how we feel about actors changes how we feel about the film. And so if Jim Carrey was Vin Diesel in Fast and The Furious, the whole movie would feel different.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Carl Bogan:

Even if he wasn’t being funny in the moment, he would feel funnier because of who we know Jim Carrey to be. And so sort of experimenting and playing with that juxtaposition I think will be cool to see. I think also allowing us to…there’s no reason why when shopping online, we shouldn’t be able to see ourselves in the clothes that we want to wear. Why do we have to buy the clothes and send them back? We should be able to see how we look in them before we waste the fuel and polluting the environment, not knowing how it’s going to look on us. So we should be able to deepfake ourselves pretty much wherever we want to, whether that’s in a…I’ll give an example. Let’s say Cardi B comes out with a new music video, but she comes out with a version where you can put yourself in it and then everyone can put themselves in it as a means of creating another viral sensation. I mean, there’s so many different flavors of ethical ways to engage with people, allowing them to have fun with it instead of it being all sort of doom and gloom and, “oh, no, they’re gonna come get you.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. You mentioned that about the shopping, and that immediately made me think about what Snap is doing with augmented reality. Like, I think it’s like a Snap…I think it’s called like Shop Suite or Shopping Suite or something like that, where you can do just that. You can sort of use augmented reality to see how clothes will look on you before you buy them. So you can get a sense of like, “oh, this might work for me.” I think Target does this, Amazon does this, for some products where you can use AR to see how like a piece of furniture or a plant or something might fit in your space before you actually buy it. Because you know, if you go to the store, you got to measure, then you got to go to your spot and measure and make sure that it fits and all that kind of stuff. Whereas now you can just use AR to kind of approximate for the most part how something will look on you or in your space. So I could see that being fleshed out more certainly as technology kind of gets better.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. I’ve seen them for shoes. I’ve seen people…I just saw someone was just acquired or started working with Amazon for putting, trying shoes on, which is great because the hardest part about trying on shoes is that you have to go there and they don’t have your size, so on and so forth. But being able to see that the shoes are on your feet now, you still can’t feel them, which is the other half of that, but at least you’re halfway there. But I think there’s a lot of ways to use the technology and use your own face. Or my favorite one, or actually two of my favorite ones — one of them is…there’s a quote that says, “today is the youngest you’ll ever be ever again and tomorrow you’ll be older and older and older. So for online creators whose faces are their money or their investments, they spend a lot of time on skincare and wellness products and Athletic Greens to make sure their skin is glowing and they never bank the data. They never bank the data. And so right now you could take 30 minutes out of your day or every year 30 minutes and bank your data and keep…and sort of put this version of you in carbonite. So in five years from now, gravity, sun, wind takes us all down eventually. Why not be able to call on that older version of you to essentially freeze a digital version of you in time and have that be your Internet facing version forever?

Maurice Cherry:

I like that.

Carl Bogan:

That cuts down on having to get plastic surgery if you don’t want it, having to get Botox if you don’t want it. Just having an independent version of you that only lives online. Sort of like a Max Headroom that never changes. And I believe that’s going to be a way we’re going to interact with the Internet sort of in the near future. Sort of like a Ready Player One way where you just have your avatar and you can choose to show up how you want to show up because you should have freedom and individuality on the Internet.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Carl Bogan:

And the second one is — and I’m really passionate about this and I haven’t found the right candidate yet because I don’t know if I’m approaching it correctly — is that I would like to offer a burn victim the chance to restore their face digitally for use on the Internet, depending on how severely they were burned and so on and so forth. But if they have enough data of their face before the accident, you can restore their faces if they so choose.

Maurice Cherry:

If they choose, yeah.

Carl Bogan:

There’s so many different use cases that have yet to be seen that I’m really excited about either Myster Giraffe creating them or other people creating them.

Maurice Cherry:

You know, you mentioned the thing about the digital host, and immediately I was like, if there’s any media entity that I think that could probably pull that off and it would work, it’s probably BET. Like, BET had “Cita’s World” back in I was hoping you would like early 2001, but not only that, they brought Cita back. I think it was in 2021. BET had a reality show called “The Encore” that had these like it had like, Black girl groups from the it had like 702 and Total and I think Kiely Williams and some other folks and they were like all in a house, like, trying to make a hit or something like that. And Cita was the host. I mean, granted, it was only like, on a television, but it was like a more updated version of Cita that would be the so, like, if anybody, I think, could pull it off and at least has a precedent for it, BET, I’m putting that out there.

Carl Bogan:

You know, I’ve used that example and depending on the room you’re in, they won’t know it. They don’t know who Cita is. They’ve never heard of Cita.

Maurice Cherry:

Right!

Carl Bogan:

Cita who? Cita who? But that was ground– And this was 20 years ago. Yeah, actually, I was reading the story behind that and it was a couple of brothers out of Atlanta, I believe, that came up with the idea. And it was very popular and it fell out for whatever reasons. But I think you’re right about that. I think they definitely have the prestige in order to bring that back or to be the first. Let’s just say…let’s hope Tyler Perry gets to buy BET and puts it up.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, speaking of Atlanta, I want to kind of shift the conversation because we spent a lot of time, you know, just kind of talking shop, But learning some more about you as I was kind of doing research for this interview…you’re from Atlanta originally?

Carl Bogan:

I am from Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry:

Tell me what your time was like here.

Carl Bogan:

So I’m from Atlanta and I went to elementary school through high school and college. I started out going to…I got a band scholarship to go to Clark-Atlanta University. I was in the drumline, like most of the people in 2001 who played an instrument at the time. Only stayed there for a year, went to Georgia State for a couple of years for a graphic design foundation. Wasn’t really thrilled with the program, wasn’t really into graphic design as much as I thought it was. I was more into the motion. And so I left Georgia State after two years and went to AIU for the last year and a half to focus on visual communication, where I really dug into 3D, specifically Maya and After Effects and whatnot. Graduated, did an internship at Riot Atlanta, which I believe was absorbed by Company 3, and got my start. Left there three months later, worked in graphic design and motion graphics for the next six months, then I said, “you know what, I’m just going to go for it.” So I left to go to Los Angeles.

Maurice Cherry:

And so for your time here in ATL at Georgia State and then at AIU — I’m kind of trying to place this in terms of the time frame. I’m guessing this is like right around late 90s, early 2000s kinda?

Carl Bogan:

I graduated college in 2005.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay. So a little bit later. Okay. But I was trying to think of what the curriculum might have been, because what it sounds like is what you wanted to learn, there might have just been maybe just a limit in terms of how much the school could teach you.

Carl Bogan:

Absolutely. Everything was still books. YouTube didn’t really exist in the way that it did now. I believe They just got started and everything was 240p. And so if you wanted to learn it, you get a book and you get a DVD and good luck. So that’s not my preferred way of learning. Neither is most people’s based on the success of online courses. But I would say I didn’t really learn what I needed to to be competitive until I left Atlanta. Unfortunately, I had to come to Los Angeles, which at the time, and I think before the pandemic, they were still the number one market for motion graphics and visual effects. Now it’s much more global, so I don’t know if they’re still number one, but I do know that a lot of filming still happens in Atlanta, but rarely, if ever is there any post-production done in Atlanta. It still comes back to Los Angeles.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, you know, we talked about this a bit before recording. You were like back then, the only places you really could have gotten a job was, like you said, TBS. What was the other place you mentioned? I forgot already.

Carl Bogan:

TBS, The Weather Channel…

Maurice Cherry:

The Weather Channel! That’s right. The Weather Channel. Or if you’re lucky, Cartoon Network.

Carl Bogan:

Correct. That was sort of it. It was sort of a one horse town in terms of post-production. Now it’s maybe a three horse town, which is great. I’m happy to see them growing, but there’s still not a lot of shops and certainly not — I know Method Studios opened up an office there, maybe a couple of others, but it’s definitely not a booming industry there yet.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Atlanta, I feel like, has always been…and God bless them. I was working in the tourism industry like in 2005 and 2006. And I got to tell you, Atlanta was kind of as a city, and I say this only from, like, a tourism perspective, not from a cultural perspective, but from a tourism perspective…Atlanta was kind of failing because we had lost as a city…we had lost this really big convention. I think it was the Home Builders show. And that was like something that brought in like a billion dollars worth of revenue into the city every year, and then they just chose another city. Hurricane Katrina happened in…I think it was 2005. I think Katrina happened, and Atlanta picked up a lot of their convention business, and that really kind of turned things around, I think, for the state to the point where they were able to lobby to state government. And then state government started putting in these tax credits for entertainment. And then that’s how these production studios started coming here and filming. I’m curious as to what Atlanta would have looked like if we hadn’t…I mean, benefited is probably the wrong word, but if we hadn’t benefited from being able to pick up that business from New Orleans, because a lot of people, at least back then, really didn’t want to come to Atlanta. They had a really negative perception of Atlanta, partially from Freaknik, that just carried over into the next decade, but then also know people would come downtown and there was nothing to do. Like, they come downtown, and after five o’clock, everything is dead. And conventioneers would often be angry about thee fact that they can’t walk from their hotel to the restaurant without getting accosted by homeless people. And I don’t want to bring my family here, and there’s a whole bunch of strip clubs, there’s a lot of Black people. I just don’t know what to know to do…that whole thing. And the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau was really trying hard to, like, we need to find a way to brand the city. Like, we need something like Milton Glazer’s “I Love New York” or something like that. And they paid this agency like $8 million to put together this Brand Atlanta campaign. Were you here when Brand Stlanta happened? I think you might have been maybe on the way to L.A.

Carl Bogan:

Might have just left. I left in 2007.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, they did this whole Brand Atlanta campaign, and they paid for this really bad logo that was like a combination…like, if you took the Target logo and the Ubisoft logo and put it in a blender, it basically just looked like a bullet hole, which probably was not a great visual for the city. It’s like ATL in this red bullet hole. And they had produced a song called “The ATL” with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Ludacris, because I remember being in the [Georgia] Dome when that happened, when they premiered it, I was like, “this is really bad.” And granted, people still come to Atlanta for the music, and the entertainment and stuff, but they wasted so much money on that branding campaign, it was ridiculous. I say all of that to say that Atlanta really sort of benefited from that in some ways in the creative industry. But like, I think in other ways, you know, it took a while for the schools to catch up because Atlanta is pretty unique in that we have so many HBCUs, but then we also have kind of some top tier schools like Georgia Tech or Emory or something. And there’s also like art schools here. There’s [The] Art Institute [of Atlanta]. Well, Atlanta College of Art got absorbed into [The] Art Institute [of Atlanta], but the Portfolio Center, SCAD now has a campus here, but they didn’t back then. And now the city, I think, is known for its creative output. But for creatives that are here, and I can tell you this from trying to do the show, it’s been so hard to try to get Atlanta people on this show. They don’t want to do it. Or there’s always some excuse, or…and I mean that this is probably neither here nor there. But I say that to say I think Atlanta outputs a lot of creative work. I think it’s tough to be a creative and stay here because the infrastructure is just not supported from the business end. It may be from the community end, but not from the business end. There’s a lot of folks, a lot of really talented folks I know that have had to pick up and leave because the opportunities aren’t here.

Carl Bogan:

The opportunities aren’t there. I would agree with you. I just shot a music video in Atlanta maybe five weeks ago. Hopefully it’s going to release soon. And shooting the music video there with a small budget and three days of prep would have been impossible in Los Angeles, be completely impossible. I was able to show up on a Friday afternoon with nothing, no talent. Well, I had the main talent, but no supporting roles. It was a two day shoot, had zero locations, and in a day and a half I had everything. So I had the warehouse location that had proper lighting and had the white psyche and they had the robotic arm. I had the people who knew other people. I mean, it’s a very small community. The people working in post-production or production in Atlanta is a very small, insulated community. But I was able to find one person who let me into that community enough for me to get the resources that I needed. And so as much as I say Atlanta is not ready, it is ready if you have that one person. But if you show up to Atlanta and you know no one, you’re going to have a really hard time with trying to make it happen.

Maurice Cherry:

That is true.

Carl Bogan:

So, you know…it can be tricky, but they kind of saved my bacon. So I do want to say that. Now, that being said, all the post-production went back to Los Angeles, but in terms of getting stuff shot, finding makeup artists who actually know what they’re doing, B-camera operators, producers. Those people do exist in small amounts. There’s no strike going on there right now, so I think they’re okay.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I’m pretty sure there might be some strikes here. I haven’t heard of anything but then I also haven’t really been looking, so I’m not sure. Now, right before you started, Myster Giraffe, you joined Aliza Technologies as their chief technology officer. This was in 2019. Tell me about that experience. How was that?

Carl Bogan:

So I had been freelancing for about a decade at that point, and I was looking for a new opportunity, and I really wanted to build something instead of just being the hired mercenary to solve this problem, which I really like doing, and I’m talented at it, but I just wanted to sink my teeth into something. So I reached out to a buddy of mine who has a company — shout out to Zerply — who does a lot of hiring for the VFX industry, and he connected me with someone who was looking for someone to build a team to create digital avatars. And at the time Lil Miquela was coming out, she was making a lot of noise being the first big one, the first American influencer to be an AI robot, and people didn’t really know what that meant, instead of just I don’t know. It’s sort of like a weird time. Anyway, Brian Lee of the League of Zoom Company, the Honest Company, and ShoeDazzle, had this big idea to have a universe of influencers, and he needed someone to help build the team and get the influencers created digitally. So I was hired in 2018 to facilitate that as a consultant. So I hired people from around the world working from home and getting those sort of…this quarterbacking that process, getting the designs from the concept artist to the sculptor to the renderer to the look of that person. When everyone was created, he said, “all right, we want you to come in here and lead the team and get everything going in person.” So April 1, 2019, got in the office, and besides building computers and setting up networks, asked, “where can I provide the most value?” And he said, “I want you to figure out how to animate these characters.” Prior to that, two months prior to me starting, I talked about deepfake, and they didn’t know what it was, so I told them about what it was and how maybe we can use it to animate the characters, because initially I gave them a budget, a VFX budget, and it was very expensive. And I said, welcome to VFX. And they said, can you make it cheaper? I said probably. So I told them about deepfakes. It was open source code out of the Eastern bloc, so from day one, I start specing out a machine to start learning on, and I don’t have a machine learning background. But what I do have is a method of solving problems from working in VFX, so I didn’t have to have a machine learning background or to solve a problem, so long as I would approach the problem methodically and chart my progress, so on and so forth. So three months from April 1, we were seeing really good signs of progress, and the task was to turn 3D data into a data set that could be used for machine learning to make animation 80 times faster and cheaper. And so three months later, we’re seeing some progress. Six months later we started filing patents. We got granted five patents, and those patents still hold. And that was sort of my role at Aliza was many things, but mainly focusing on the animation of these characters and how to get them, how to use a real human to drive the character, replace their head with a CG character in order to save time and money.

Maurice Cherry:

I’m curious if that work kind of helped feed into what you were sort of doing with Myster Giraffe. Not to say it’s like on-the-job training, but I’m curious if that kind of helped you out in that aspect.

Carl Bogan:

It was absolutely off-the-job training because I would do it on the weekends or in the evenings, because I was trying to, as a person who was not a deepfake artist at the time, I was just practicing. And so what Myster Giraffe started was it was really just scratch paper. I have this idea, I want to know what happens if I use less data for this, or I want to know what happens if I use three different types of data here. And so each of the first, I would say ten or twelve videos was just me trying different things. And then it became, well, I wonder how people are going to respond to this sort of thing. And it just became this sort of social experiment of how are people going to respond to this? Whereas it started as, I wonder how this is going to look if I do this XYZ, how much data do I have? What kind of data do I need? How big does video have to be? So on and so forth.

Maurice Cherry:

So it sounds like that was just a really good, I think, like you said, you had to have something where you could focus on building one thing as opposed to kind of doing these off, I guess, freelance type work, like working, doing one thing here, doing one thing there. You kind of had some stability, it sounds like.

Carl Bogan:

Yeah, I had some stability. I had now had a full time job for the first time in a decade, which was odd because I had not been in that role, but at the same time, I wanted that role so I could sink my teeth in. And so when everyone was settled and in the bed on a Saturday night, I’d show up to work at 8:00 p.m. and stay ’til 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. Wow. And just experiment, experiment, experiment. So there’s a lot of bloods and tears on intimate draft. I would say out of everything I’ve posted, that’s only about 10% of the work I certainly that’s only about 10% of the work I show. The other 90% is in a graveyard of stuff that is either too inappropriate to show because of it’s funny when you try to tell a story sometimes and you’re also trying to use comedy. Sometimes you try to toe the line, but you accidentally fall over to one side or thee other, and if you get lucky, you’ll stay on the good side. But sometimes thee experiments end up on the not so funny side and then you have to bury them or the data doesn’t work out. Like, I’ll give you an example. Some of those videos I’ll sit on for two or three years, and I’ll know I want to use them, but because I don’t have the right data, it doesn’t work out. So Michael B. Jordan, I’ve been trying to get the data of him for two years, and when he was with Lori Harvey and when he was doing different press campaigns and so on and so forth, I couldn’t get the right data. But because of this newest run for Creed III, I was able to get the right data, which made that video happen. So it wasn’t really up to me when I got the data. It just had to sort of arrive and now I could move forward with it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, interesting, because yeah, like you said earlier about consent, you couldn’t just put this together if the footage didn’t really exist or you didn’t get that permission from them. But now that he’s doing this press work, he’s out there. You’re now able to sort of gather these sources and then use that to put together a clip like that.

Carl Bogan:

That’s correct, yeah. There’s tons of people I would love to do, but I just can’t get the right data for them. Like Prince. He’s gone now, unfortunately, and he looks so different every time you would see him. But it’s hard to really nail down a good data set of him. So it just may never happen. But that’s okay because that’s how it should be.

Maurice Cherry:

Personally, over the years, how would you say you’ve evolved as a creative?

Carl Bogan:

I would say I’ve become more thoughtful in what I create. I also spend less time creating and more time thinking. I used to create for the sake of creating, which scratched a different itch. But I think as I’ve gotten older, I want my creations to have a bigger impact with less effort. Because I believe that’s…when you’re creating a painting of a Campbell Soup can, you know, it seems like student work, but yet that’s one of the biggest American pieces. And so I think the more and more I do Myster Giraffe or anything for that matter. I try to spend more time thinking than time doing. That way I can do it correctly the first time without having to make a lot of changes to end up at the same place.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, this work with synthetic media, I think is only going to improve as technology improves. What kind of keeps you motivated to continue with this?

Carl Bogan:

I would say the storytelling aspect of it all. There are so many stories that need to be told. Whether they’re in still format or whether they’re a full video, whether it’s found footage, whether you have to go on set and shoot something. There are so many stories to be told. And I think that to be Black in this country is to have your culture cherry-picked for what it’s worth. But rarely do we get a chance to be at the forefront of technology and to tell the stories that we like to tell. Which is why there are so many slave biopics we don’t need anymore. Yeah, we want afrofuturism and afropunk to see the newest Spider-Man and to see the character that was the British punk character, but he was Black, was mind blowing for a lot of people because most people have never seen a Black British punk character in their lives. And while that was an entire movement, maybe the 70s, 80s, and 90s and in Europe, we never saw it in the U.S. And so I think just being able to see something and tell a story around it just because we want to, I think that is important and powerful because we’ve never been able to do that before. So now that the technology is being more democratized, I think is the best time to do it now.

Maurice Cherry:

To that point, I’m pretty sure that there are listeners that are hearing what you’re doing and they might be interested in wanting to try to get involved in synthetic media creating it or something in some way. What advice would you give them if they want to try to delve into this deeper?

Carl Bogan:

I would say to start just by absorbing as much knowledge as you can. Everything you ever wanted to learn is now on the Internet. Everything, every single thing. And if you don’t want to learn it, you don’t have to. But if you want to, just go read, go watch a TikTok video, watch a YouTube video, read a Reddit entry, go on a forum, ask someone. But there’s no more excuses for not doing. Everything is available right now.

Maurice Cherry:

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Maybe this is a little hard to kind of see because of how the technology is changing so rapidly, but what kind of work do you want to be doing in the future?

Carl Bogan:

My immediate goal is to produce the very first deepfake leaning entertainment show. That’s my first goal. There’s a deepfake show that has not been created in the U.S. Yet. There’s one in the U.K. that didn’t do so well. But I would like to create the first deepfake entertainment show in the US. And then from there have a slew of game shows, talk shows, so on and so forth, proving that you can use the technology in an ethical way and have sign off on everyone who watches it.

Maurice Cherry:

I love that. I think you can make it happen too. I really mean it. You’re in L.A. You’ve got skin in the game clearly for doing this. I mean, you’re a pioneer as far as I’m concerned when it comes to this. So I feel like that’s definitely going to happen for you.

Carl Bogan:

Well, I appreciate that. From your mouth to God’s ears.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to wrap this up, where can our audience find out more information about you? Where can they see the clips, the studio? Where can they find that information online?

Carl Bogan:

Sure. So you can find me online on Instagram at @mystergiraffe, which is M-Y-S-T-E-R. Giraffe. G-I-R-A-F-F-E. Or you can just send me an email at carl@mystergiraffe.com.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Carl Bogan, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Like I mentioned before we started recording, I was super excited to talk to you and this conversation did not disappoint at all. I mean, like I just said earlier, you’re a pioneer when it comes to this. You’ve had skin in the game for years. You’re making work that is one I think showcasing and celebrating Black culture. But you’re doing it in a way that is fun, it’s informative. It’s not like you’re not trying to incite anarchy or anything like that. I mean, really, you’re at the forefront of this as far as I’m concerned. So I really am interested to see how far you can take synthetic media in the future and I really do see that show for you in the future. So thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing your story and everything. I really appreciate it.

Carl Bogan:

Of course, thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the time together.

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.

Jordan Taylor

If I had to give an award for “Most Chill Revision Path Guest”, Jordan Taylor would win the prize with no competition. But don’t let the relaxed vibes fool you, because his skills as a designer and creator are anything but laid-back. And even better, he has roots here in Atlanta. Keep listening to learn more about this hometown hero!

We started off talking about his recent move to NYC, and he gave a peek behind the curtain of being a designer at the world-famous design firm Pentagram. From there, Jordan talked about growing up and attending college in Atlanta (taught by past Revision Path guest Nakita M. Pope!) We also touched on a few other topics, including Atlanta’s design scene, and what Jordan wants to see more of from the larger design community. Jordan is a uniquely talented, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of his work in the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Jordan Taylor:
I’m Jordan Taylor. I’m a graphic designer at Pentagram. I work on a lot of different projects, mostly branding, but a fair share of editorial and motion design, a few websites here and there.

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

Jordan Taylor:
My year has been pretty great. I recently moved to a new place for the first time. I’m now living out in Brooklyn, New York. I moved up here for work and it’s been a chance to go on new adventures, see different things, meet new people. It’s been pretty interesting. A lot of changes.

Maurice Cherry:
When you sort of look at the year in general where we’re at now, we’re recording this right now in mid August. Is there anything that you want to accomplish before the year ends?

Jordan Taylor:
Oh, I’d say that right now I’m in a place where I’m trying to figure out what my next thing is. One of the things I really want to accomplish for the years over is starting to make those steps toward whatever that looks like, whether it’s an expression of self or new business endeavors. Just starting to really get back into more self-activated things. You know how they say you are always going to need to fall a couple times when you’re on your journey somewhere. I’m ready to start taking those baby’s first steps toward whatever new horizon I’m heading toward. I feel like I’m in that kind of place.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Now, you’re at Pentagram, which is a extremely, extremely well known design consultancy. Talk to me about that.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. Pentagram is so many things. I’m there now. I’ve been working there coming up on two years in September. When I started, it was as a remote position. I started as an intern, but I was working from home still down in Atlanta. The journey there was just so unexpected. I just didn’t think that it was a place I was going to get to. When I started really diving into design, you get introduced to different ways of doing things and what brand design looks like and who the kind of designers to know are. You find out about different names and you end up finding out about Pentagram.
It just is a crazy experience to walk in there and actually see these people in person and not from even a crowd for some sort of forum that they’re putting on. It’s been really interesting just even beyond the partners, you have all the people working there on the different teams and you find out how a team works and how they approach projects and different ways that people think. It’s like a big incubator. It is really been… The way I got there was so much so of just putting my head down because it was the middle of the pandemic and just trying to get to the best place I could after leaving school.
So in a way, I don’t always fully take it in, but in those moments that I do, it just really hits me and it’s like, “Oh, I’m actually in here every day,” if that makes sense. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of just like air of ridiculousness to me. It’s actually worked out to this level.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like it’s hard to put into words. I mean, I’m listening to you stabber to talk about it. But I mean, I can imagine you’ve got such design heavyweights like Michael Beirut and Paula Scher and Eddie Opara whom we’ve had on the show episode 234 if people want to check that out. But I can imagine having that much, I guess, the weight of it all is probably a lot to think about from your perspective.

Jordan Taylor:
And then at the same time I still have work to do every day. I still have four or five projects to work on. So it’s a balancing act. You try to make yourself known and get to know people. But at the same time, you’re still trying to keep the main thing, the main thing, and I guess do the work that got you there.

Maurice Cherry:
And you’ve done that. I mean, you’ve done the work that got you there. It’s not like you just walked in off the street into Pentagram. Like you said, you had your head down working and we’ll get more into your background or your story, but you deserve to be there.

Jordan Taylor:
Absolutely. Yeah. I say all these things about how it feels to be there, but I don’t think I ever really felt I didn’t belong, maybe just that I didn’t expect for anybody to actually figure that out, if that makes sense.

Maurice Cherry:
What does a typical day look like for you at Pentagram?

Jordan Taylor:
A typical day for me when I first started there as an intern, one of the big things that I was really aware of was that I was probably not going to understand how anything worked. So I would reach out to my mentors, one of which was Louis Mikolay. He used to work at Collins. Now he’s at Apple. I reached out to John Ferguson and McCoy Smith. I just asked them, “You all are professionals. You all are in this design world. How do you actually keep track of all the things that you’re supposed to do in the day? How do you know how much time to allocate to a project? If you got multiple projects going on, how do you know when to start the day or when to end the day?” Because it was working from home and starting out. Everything was a little too soft for me.
Long story short, I got into making to-do list to start the day or sometimes I make one to fill out the whole week. If I knew what the week had, coming ahead of me. After that, it really depends on the day to day what point I’m at in the week. But I’ll usually try and get the smaller projects out of the way or the little things, or just check my emails and make sure that nobody is kind of hitting me with a curve ball before I really get my day started.
And from there, I collaborate with my team to make sure that I know what their expectations are for the day. And then it’s working things out. If I am on a magazine project like Netflix Queue, it may be a lot of concept. And so it’ll be like, “We’re building a deck to introduce to the client. And then from there you might break away from that side of it and go to the print side and you’re coming up with different concepts and directions.”
So you’re doing a lot of art directing, but then right after that, I might have to create animation assets for a branding project where we’re trying to activate the brand for a presentation. So it’s a lot of flipping switches is what I call it. It’s a lot of flip this on, flip that off, go over here, do this. And then you just end up at 6:00.

Maurice Cherry:
And that’s the day.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You, I guess, touched on some of the projects you’re working on. You mentioned this magazine, Netflix Queue. What kind of other projects and stuff are you working on?

Jordan Taylor:
The projects I’m working on right now, I can’t really speak about. Some other projects I have worked on before, we did a wonderful rebrand for a college out in Pennsylvania who that was transitioning into university status called Moravian university. I worked on tech brand who was building out a whole kind of workspace system along the blockchain. So you really had ownership of your information called Skiff. I also work on the ACLU magazine that comes out twice a year. So it’s a wide range. And then there’s things that I help out with in spots here or there.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re doing print projects, digital projects, kind of a little bit of everything, it sounds like.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. A lot of flipping those switches and within those, the Netflix magazine has a digital arm and a print arm. So I’m on both of those.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Sometimes we might have to create a cover animation for the website and then you also have to create print stories. I mean, build out those assets. So your vision for the brand in all these different formats and it’s all happening at the same time. Whereas with the ACLU magazine is strictly print, but it involves a lot of art directions.
So I’m commissioning illustrators. I’m commissioning photographers. I mean, we’re like staying on the pulse of what’s going on with the Supreme Court to find out what their rulings are going to be before the next issue. And then with something like Moravian, you just got old fashioned branding. So you’re building out color systems and typography and things like that.
I mean, it sounds exciting to be able to use your skills to bounce from project to project in that way. One of the last big creative projects I worked on actually was also a print and digital magazine for my former employer, because I just got laid off. But for my former employer, I was putting together a print and digital magazine. The first issue is out. Actually the second issue was ready the day they laid our whole team off. So I don’t know if the second issue will even see the light of day, even though it’s literally at the printer on the shelf. Don’t know if anyone’s ever going to see it.

Jordan Taylor:
Sounds like Limited edition.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And the third issue we were in the middle of working on, which was actually going to be on Web3 stuff. We commissioned illustrators. We had all the same things you were mentioning, writers, all that kind of stuff. Don’t know if that one is ever going to happen. I love the magazine thing because it was my first time ever working on something like that. I would love to do more things like that.
It just seems like two things with Pentagram. One, you get to work on so many different types of projects. And two, I guess, because Pentagram just has this like… To me, maybe not to other people, but to me it has this untouchable… I don’t want to say cult status because its name happens to be Pentagram, but it’s one of those things like, “No, don’t apply to us. We will choose you to work for us.” Like that sort of thing. I don’t know if that’s just part of the mystique of Pentagram, but I like that.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. I mean, I conflict on that. So a bit of how I actually ended up finding the position, I had joined Where are the Black Designers slack channel. [inaudible 00:14:28]

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Mitzi.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. One of the project managers at Pentagram posted the opening and I was like, “Oh, this is crazy. I don’t even know they did this.” And the week went along and I was like, “Oh, should I do it, should I not?” I applied through there, but that’s not usually how it happens and it’s something that Pentagram is trying to get better about is like casting a wider net and bringing in more perspectives.
I don’t know. The idea of that exclusivity, it creates the mystique you know, but I feel like in a world where we’re starting to just keep reconsidering these ideas of diversity and inclusion, when you’re at the top and you think you know what’s best, you don’t really allow anyone else to come in from the outside and influence and keep you there, you’re just moving off of… I don’t know. I feel like it makes it easier for you to lose sight of what’s actually going on around you if you’re not actually interacting with the people, so to speak.

Maurice Cherry:
I get what you’re saying. I totally get that because I think a lot of agencies probably have that same sort of problem. Yes, they want to have a level of exclusivity with the work, but I guess they don’t want to appear like they’re for everybody I suppose.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. It’s a tough balance, which I get. Look, just as a person who felt like they were on the outside, looking in and very much based on what I have come to find out just being in the workplace is not a common way of finding out about openings there. I just would hate to for the other person who’s in that same position and just wasn’t on the slack channel that day or that week.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. They just missed out.

Jordan Taylor:
And they’re just as good as I am. I just think about stuff like that and I’m like, “Oh, it conflicts me a lot.”

Maurice Cherry:
Well, let’s switch gears here a little bit. I want you to remain conflicted in the interview, but because this is about you and about your skill. Like I said, you deserve to be there certainly. Let’s switch gears here. Let’s talk about you. Tell me where you grew up.

Jordan Taylor:
I grew up 30 miles east straight down Act 20 from Atlanta, Georgia in Lithonia. It’s a Black suburb. It’s a pretty decent place to live. It was a lot quieter until Atlanta’s always constantly growing and expanding. So people started moving out there a lot more. But I was out there since I was two years old, like ’96 and then I moved out of the Atlanta area last October.
I spent a long time out there, just deep in that culture, moving around town, making friends. I was a part of the Atlanta public schools system throughout with a little bit of DeKalb County Schools in elementary. I feel like a country bumpkin sometimes being in New York now. But I feel like my experience in my kind of neck of the woods was just so interesting. I just got to see so many different things and so many different ways to live out my Blackness, I guess. My whole family is from the Atlanta area. So it just was a really warm, just loving experience the whole time. I miss it a lot. I think about it every day.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you grew up in Atlanta during a time. I mean that to me feels like peak Atlanta like the Olympics Freaknik ’96, that whole time. I came to Atlanta in ’99. So right after that. But I’m from Alabama, I’m from Selma, so I’m not that far from Atlanta. I’m roughly about three hours. We would always come to Atlanta, honestly, every summer or every time, I don’t know, our class did well on the SATs or something. It was always like, “We’re going to Six Flags. We’re going to Six Flags.”
So I’ve always been in and around Atlanta and then finally moved here when I was 18. But I know exactly that feeling that you’re talking about. And it’s something that I’m sort of exploring a little bit, because I’m working on a book proposal. And as I’m working through it, there’s such a positive thread of Blackness throughout Atlanta that I don’t think a lot of people really get.
I think people see Atlanta, they see the entertainments, they see the music. They see, “Oh, it’s a really Black city.” But it’s a warmth, I think that a lot of people don’t really understand unless you’re either from there or you’ve really lived there for a long time. I mean, I feel like I got it a little bit just from visiting so much, but certainly my formative years and my teens… Not even my teens, but really my late teens and my 20s in Atlanta is just irreplaceable. It’s hard to put that feeling into words about the… It’s not even so much of a positive Blackness, but as much as every example of excellence that you see around you is Black.

Jordan Taylor:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
I think sometimes that can be hard even for other Black people to see depending on where they grew up. But Atlanta really sort fosters that and it’s not in any sort of weird supernatural extraordinary way. It’s like excellence is just all around you.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. A very casual Blackness.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s such a good way to put it, a very casual Blackness. That’s such a good way to put it.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. For me, people are constantly on this notion of Blackness is not a monolith. That’s what I mean, what we’re both talking about with that casual Blackness. I wouldn’t put myself in a certain frame. I always talk to my friends like we all played sports, but we all like anime. We all ended up doing different jobs. I have friends who were in the arts, but I also have friends who are paramedics, and I also have friends who are party promoters.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s no division.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, there’s no division.

Maurice Cherry:
I a hundred percent know exactly what you mean. I mean, I went to Morehouse, so I absolutely know of what that division can definitely look like. But yeah, man, I mean, you grew up here in a great, great [inaudible 00:20:49]. I can tell why you miss it. I can definitely tell why. Was art and design kind of a big part of you growing up here?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say it was, but it was more from a sense of… It was something that I was just always interested in. You get older and you look back on your life and you realize you were doing things the whole time that were preparing you for something you didn’t even know you were preparing yourself for. So it wasn’t more so that design or the arts was constantly around me.
Nobody in my family is like a designer. My mom is a school counselor. My dad works at the EPA. It was just constantly something that I was interested in. I watched a lot of TV, a lot of Cartoon Network, a lot of Nickelodeon, a lot of Disney, a lot of anime, a lot of Toonami. Those kind of things are what introduced me into the arts and made me appreciate art a lot more.
So I think the first thing I ever tried to draw was Goku on one of my school notepads. And from there, I kept drawing and drawing and doodling. But it wasn’t something that I really embraced as something that would ever be a part of my future. It was more so just something that I enjoyed and it was an outlet for me. It helped me express something that I really cared about. And then I got opportunities later on in high school to express those things in different ways. I knew I had that drawing talent and my mom would put me into these art programs over the summer to learn more about the technical side.
I did one in old Fort Worth at this summer camp where we had to choose a discipline. So I went with the drawing one, because it was the one that I was the best at. I got those things, but it was never something that I thought that I was actually ever going to be doing with my life. When I was about to graduate high school, I planned on doing engineering. Focusing on that is part of my college curriculum. Because like I said, I was preparing myself for things that I didn’t actually know were available to me. I was like, “Okay, well I’m good at math and science, but I also want to create things.”
I didn’t know how to express that completely. So my dad was working at the EPA. I was like, “Oh, he’s an engineer. Maybe I’ll be an engineer and maybe I’ll get to tinker on things or build something one day. But it wasn’t something that I was fully embracing. I definitely went to the high museum way more during my college days than I ever did during grade school.

Maurice Cherry:
But it sounds like your parents though, at least supported you in that, I guess you could say at that point was a hobby, was you really liking art and drawing. They didn’t try to dissuade you from it.

Jordan Taylor:
No, they never dissuade me from anything. I think I get a lot of my laid back kind of attitude from them because they’re very much… They were very much always, as long as I handled what I was supposed to be doing at school or whatever, then they would let me do whatever I wanted to in the peripheries. They never really tried to shut me down from anything and I always appreciate them for that.

Maurice Cherry:
So you ended up going to Georgia State University. And Atlanta’s got some well known design schools here. I mean, let’s see. If you were… I’m trying to think was it… No, Atlanta College of Art wasn’t around during that time. But I mean, we had Art Institute of Atlanta. I think SCAD was just maybe starting to have their campus here. I don’t recall. But there’s also things like the Portfolio Center, et cetera. I don’t know if Georgia State really is ever in that conversation of great design schools or curriculums in the city. How was your time there?

Jordan Taylor:
I really enjoyed my time there. So my introduction to Georgia State came a bit later in college. I transferred there. I first off went to Fort Valley State University. It’s a HBCU like an hour south of Macon, I think, near Warner Robins.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep, I’m familiar.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. Oh, you know about Fort valley?

Maurice Cherry:
I know about Fort Valley.

Jordan Taylor:
That was where I went because I thought I was going to be engineers. My mom was like, “Okay, go to this agricultural school. They have an engineering program. You can do that.” And while I was there, I found out more about graphic design. I would hear about it here and there on the internet, but I didn’t know how it worked. I found out what Adobe was. I was like, “Okay. Well, my laptop is not good enough to do any of that kind of stuff.”
But I ended up taking an elective my second year there and it was for graphic design. I think our first project was that we had to create a fake brand and then we had to make envelopes for the brand. Our teacher taught us how to use the blend tool. We could use the blend tool if we wanted to, but otherwise we had to just come up with something else. Long story short, I got an A in the class and I was like, “Wait a minute. I just made something and it felt like art.” I got an A and I don’t really want to be an electrical engineer. That’s fourth floor.
I called my mom right before I was about to go back home because the semester ended and I was like, “Hey, I looked it up. Georgia State has graphic design program.” Because I think I looked into all those other schools, but like I said, my mom never stifled me from anything, but she always made me very aware of what she could and couldn’t do. So I knew she wasn’t about to pay for me to go to SCAD.
I called her, I was like, “Hey, I got an A in this graphic design class. I want to transfer up to Georgia State.” I’m going to major in it. They have a program up there. She was like, “Wait a second. It is the first semester. Could you at least finish the next semester and make sure you want to do this?” I was like, “No, I got to go.”
But she made me finish that next semester. I spent that whole semester in my free time learning how to use illustrator. When I finally started, I was so eager. I started taking classes at Georgia State over the summer because I wanted to get in there because I couldn’t use my laptop. I was using the school stuff at Fort Valley to design. I was like, “Okay, I don’t want to spend a whole summer not working on this because I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know how good any of these people in these classes are about to be when I start.”
So I spent that whole summer in the Georgia State computer lab, just working on Illustrator. Photoshop, I was kind of like, “Ah, there’s kind of too many different ways to do things on there. I’m just going to keep doing Illustrator.” I mean, I had a great time in Georgia State’s graphic design program. I would say to anyone that’s thinking about it based on our conversation right now that it really helped cement a lot of the basics and a lot of the fundamentals of what design is, how do you approach it? What does it mean to create a creative identity?
I took a lot of the introductory classes because it’s broken up into two different sections. So you take the intro classes and then you have to go through a portfolio review to get to the final stage and actually graduate with a design degree.
I didn’t make it to that second part because I was missing a project. I learned so much from the experience that I knew I could design. They even said it. They were like, “Some people might not make it. That doesn’t mean you’re not good.” There’s plenty of people that don’t make it. Because there’s so particular and they have such a hard cutoff in terms of the numbers because of the size of the program right now.
They really encouraged you to keep going and that’s what I did. I was like, “I know what I’m doing. I know how to build a brand. I know how to use Illustrator and Photoshop. I made all these projects. I didn’t do all this for no reason.” So I just stuck to it after that and stayed in contact with all my teachers from all my introductory classes because they continued to keep their doors open for me. I would definitely recommend it.
Anybody thinking about going to SCAD or those other art schools, I would say to look into Georgia State because their program is really great and they really supported me the entire time.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, it sounds like they really kind of helped prepare you to get out there and be a designer. Even though, as you said, you didn’t go through and do the project portion of it, but you still came out with enough know-how to know how to be a designer.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you enrolled at The Creative Circus a couple of years after you graduated from Georgia State. What made you do that?

Jordan Taylor:
I enrolled there because after I didn’t make it to the second portion of the design program, I continued to work. I started trying to find different outlets for what I could do. So I was like, “Okay. I’m not in the program.” So I would do things for people here and there. I got a intern position at the APEX Museum, which was right down the street from the Georgia State campus. It’s a Black history museum. They really gave me a great chance to try and do my things in actual application and step with their own identity.
There was just something in the back of my head, as I kept learning about design and learning about Eddie Opara, and Michael Beirut, and Paula Scher and those kind of people. There was something beyond that, that I didn’t really know how to do yet. So along with those other things that I was doing in terms of working, I was also trying to meet more people that were also designing.
So I joined the AIGA student chapter in Atlanta and I ended up meeting one of the teachers at The Creative Circus because the meeting I went to was at The Creative Circus. So I got to see little bits and pieces before I walked into our meeting space. I was like, “Hey, is this an art school?” Because I didn’t even know what it was. It was like off a Cheshire Bridge off of a back street.
She was like, “Yeah, this is an art school.” I was like, “Do you all have a design program?” And she was like, “Yeah, we have a design program.” It was a Nakita Pope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, Nakita. Love Nakita. She’s been on the show before.

Jordan Taylor:
She’s like, “Yeah, we have a design program. I’m actually one of the instructors for it. If you ever want to come back, I’ll give you a tour. You can sit in on one of my classes.” She let me walk around for a bit before I had to leave. And they have all the work on the walls from previous students’ projects. I saw that stuff and I was like, “I don’t know how to do any of this.” I was like, “I thought I was good at it and I don’t know how to do any of this. But if they know how to do this, I think I can figure it out.”
Long story short, I talked to my mom. I was like, “Hey, thinking about going back to school. It’s going to cost yada, yada, yada.” She’s like, “Wait a minute. [inaudible 00:32:11] stick with me.” That took some discussing because my parents had already paid for four years of school. So I went there. It did what I expected it to… It took me to a whole nother level in terms of understanding. What it really helped me with was concepting, being able to build an idea and then flush it out graphically in a multitude of ways.
So what I learned from Georgia State in my introductory classes was that what makes a good logo, how to pick out typography, things like that like the building blocks. And then when I got to The Creative Circus, they really pushed those different levels of self expression and leaving no stone unturned when you’re trying to tell the story of something. So it all came together to put together the picture.

Maurice Cherry:
And for folks that don’t know or haven’t heard of The Creative Circus, it’s this private for-profit college recently closed its doors, which is such a big loss to the Atlanta design community. I hope they come back one day, but The Creative Circus and Nakita Pope who you mentioned as an instructor there. I think I’ve been there a couple of times. I know, I remember seeing, I think it was Douglas Davis had given a talk there when he was doing his book tour for his book about creative strategy and the business of design.
Nakita and Douglas knew each other because they both went to Hampton. Although, I don’t know if they went at the same time or not, but yeah, The Creative Circus, great, great resource to the city. Sad that it’s closed. But no, it sounds like you got what you needed from there. And you also have interned at a few places in Atlanta. You mentioned Apex over on Auburn Avenue. You interned at the Mammal Gallery, which is downtown Atlanta. You interned at MetroFresh Uptown. These are three somewhat different types of design experiences, it seems like. What did each of those places really teach you?

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, they were so interesting looking back on them. It was very much, I was still in that phase of trying to scrounge together different experiences any way I could. I was out of college and I just had to dive into things that I was interested in. I was like, “I love my people. Let’s go to the Apex.” I was like the Mammal Gallery back then. I’m not even sure if the Mammal Gallery is still open, but they used to put on concerts where they would bring in these underground performers or these emerging artists. I was really into that because that was the mix tape era and SoundCloud era.
So I was like, “Hey, I love this place. Let me ask if they need a graphic designer.” Because everybody needs a graphic designer. And then with MetroFresh Uptown, that was taking something that I needed and trying to bring something that I wanted into it.
So I got the job because I needed a job because I was working. At The Creative Circus, I made it past the first quarter and it was time for me to try and figure out how to keep paying to be there. I’d done a lot of food service jobs. I picked that one up because I had heard about… I don’t even remember how I heard about the opening, but I’m not going to dwell on that. And because I was working at a new location for them, I was like, “Hey, do you all need signage? Do you need somebody to draw murals? Do you need somebody to make pamphlets for you to pass out in this office building? I could do all that stuff.” And it worked out from there.
But it prepared me for what I would do like the next internship that I was in for a really long time because it gave me a chance to be a part of something and know what the identity was and how to bring that out in that graphic language.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And that other place that you’re talking about, that’s Atlanta Contemporary. You were there for pretty much, almost five years. That’s a really long time. Talk to me about what that experience was like.

Jordan Taylor:
I love the Atlantic contemporary. I talk about the place all the time. For anybody who’s listening and is in the Atlanta area, it’s free every day. I think they’re only closed on Sundays. They might be closed on Mondays now, but they’re definitely closed on Sundays. It’s a contemporary art space, but it’s also an art center. So they do a lot of events where they bring in the community and they have children’s events. They do weddings, all that kind of stuff.
But it was that kind of last step in finding things that I was interested in. I was like, okay. So I worked at a Black history museum. I’ve done things for music space. I’ve done things for restaurants. What else am I interested in? If I could ever get a job at a museum, that would be really cool. I was like if I could ever actually make graphics for something based in the arts, that would be incredible.
So I went around to all the spots that you can think of. I went to the High Museum, I went to MOCA, I went to the Atlanta History Center. I was just Googling these places and then I would spend the day and go to them. And eventually, I went to the Atlanta contemporary. I was like, “Oh, do you all have any openings?” They were like, “No, we already have a graphic design.” I was like, “Oh well, okay. Do you do internships?” They were like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Do the interns do any graphic design?” They said, “No.” I was like, “Well, if I intern, could I do some graphic design?” And they were like-

Maurice Cherry:
You were trying. You were trying to get in there.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. And they were like, “I mean, maybe. Sure.” So I just took those opportunities wherever I could get them. It was a chance for me to interact with the community because people would come in for different exhibit exhibition openings and people would have the artist talks there and things. They had a whole pavilion in the back where they housed certain artists within their studios. So I got to interact with there. That was cool.
But then here and there, if they had an event, they were like, “Hey, Jordan. Could you make some signage? Hey, Jordan, could you make a flyer? Hey Jordan, could you do the vinyl descriptions for the artwork this month?” It would trickle in slowly. I built up a rapport with everybody that I was capable of doing these things. And then it turned into a full time position after that. When I got that chance to do that because the previous graphic designer had actually moved to New York because I had been there so long, I recommended different ways of going about how they express themselves with their social assets and things like that.
I was like, “Hey, I feel like this could speak a lot more clearly to what you all actually have going on here.” It’s so interesting and fun here. I think that this could be expressed a different way. So it was a chance for me to build a proposal. And then from there, it really bled into a lot of things. I was creating their monthly social posts. I was creating special animated assets whenever they had a special event going on.
I was doing their event graphics. I was doing the way finding within the museum, or within the art space, excuse me. And then I was also still doing the vinyl descriptors for the exhibitions also. And then I even got to help with one of the art pieces one time. They had this mantra that they wanted to put on the wall, but the guy walked in with just… It typed out from a typewriter on a piece of paper and he was like, “I wanted to look exactly like this, but on the wall.”
I was like, “Well, aren’t you the artist? You don’t know how to do that? But that was a chance to really collaborate with the artist and get their vision across, but then also I had to collaborate with the more practical people, the vinyl makers and figure out how I could create his vision and make it sense to them as the go between. So it was a lot.
I mean, I met a lot of incredible people. Just an invaluable experience. It pops back up every time I’m trying to do something. Earlier when I talked about flipping those switches, that was the first place where I really had to flip switches. I might animate, but I might be doing social stuff, but I might be making a visitor’s brochure.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like you really spread your wings there creatively. You got to do a lot of different things.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah, because of the nature of the space as a contemporary art space, it was very open to new ways of doing things or new approaches. They had their shareholders or their investors that you had to run things by in the final round. But all in all, it was very, like you said, a great experience to spread my wings and figure things out on the fly.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’re currently in New York. Of course, that’s for work for Pentagram. But I’m curious when you think of your time here as a designer in Atlanta, what was the design community and scene for you? How would you describe it maybe to someone outside of Atlanta?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say the design scene here… Or in Atlanta. I’m not there anymore. It’s a lot broader than you think it is. There’s a lot of incredible people just kind of like… You got to get in there, but once you get in there, there’s a lot of amazing people out there doing their thing, making their way. What makes it different from what I’ve encountered so far up here in New York, New York is very much a design city. It’s like, “Oh, the subway system and this and that.”
But in Atlanta, what I really liked about the community out there is everyone was very much so making a way for themselves and finding their pocket or their niche and figuring things out. And the community comes together for different things like AIGA events and stuff. I would say the a G is a good way to find out what people are doing and find your group or what you’re most interested in. But everyone out there was being really resourceful or everyone out there had found their groove. They knew how to work it through all the ups and downs. One of my mentors, his name was Joe Price.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I know Joe.

Jordan Taylor:
You know Joe?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Taylor:
Great. He was freelance, but he had been freelancing for so long when I met him. He just was constantly like… He’s so good at rolling with the punches. Even during the pandemic, he just knew how to figure things out. But at the same time, because it’s such a more kind of non-mainstream thing to be a designer, I guess, he’s so quirky. I don’t think he thinks he is. Joe has pet squirrels in his workspace. It’s a little nook in his backyard. Just full of different design ephemera just all over the place. Just stacks of books on books, on books. It’s really incredible. I think it’s pretty great, but you got to get in there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jordan Taylor:
You’re not just going to get swept up in it, you got to get into it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Joe gave me the coolest piece of, I guess, design swag or ephemera that I’ve ever gotten from anyone. But I mean, I’ve been to conferences and I’ve talked to people all around the world. This was years and years ago. No one else has ever given me anything this cool. You’re going to laugh at this. It’s a beverage koozie like you put on cans.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. But it’s a paper bag. You see folks on the corner get a 40 or whatever and they’re drinking it right out the paper bag, it’s a paper bag koozie. And it’s actually a bag like you put the can like a regular 12-ounce can. You put it in the bag, and it’s got his logo on it. It is the coolest thing I have ever gotten from any designer anywhere. And I’ve gotten posters, books, figurines.
And the thing is, I can’t find it anywhere. I don’t know where Joe got those from. I don’t know where he got those printed, the website of the bottom of it no longer exists, but I still have it. It’s in my silverware drawer, in my kitchen. It is the one coolest piece of design thing I ever got. It’s just a paper bag koozie. It’s paper bag on the outside, but it’s insulated on the inside. You just put a drink in it and then you feel like you’re drinking out of a paper bag. It’s the coolest thing.
No, that sounds amazing. I never heard that. I’m going to have to ask him about it because that sounds incredible. It’s all crinkled and you put a paper bag and it’s like… All that.

Maurice Cherry:
And from a distance, someone will think you’re just drinking out a small paper bag or something, but no, it’s a beverage koozie. It’s so cool. It’s so cool. Did you feel like there were any sort of particular challenges that you had to face here as a designer that you might not be facing in New York?

Jordan Taylor:
I think the main one is just that… Like I said, it’s not a super… It’s just not as popular of a career path, I guess in Atlanta. So when it came time for me to find a career path or find a job or a gig, it was a little difficult. I found myself ending up at the same spots whenever I would try and find different avenues. The amount of times that I applied to Turner Broadcasting, it would shock and appall you. I applied to play so many times throughout college.
After college, I was constantly Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, TNT, blah, blah, blah. It was so many times. And then as I got more into the design community, I found out more about different places that were available or even design shops like Matchstick and so forth. But I just think that there just aren’t as many options as there might be up in New York.
But like I said, when you meet more people in the community, everyone has figured out their way and found their kind of niche and how to move and the space. But for me starting out, it was a little… There wasn’t as much of a depth of options as I thought they were going to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you ever get an interview with Turner?

Jordan Taylor:
No. I never got past the video interview part. I did the submitted questionnaire and then one time I got to do a video interview, but never actually got to go there in person and sit down with anybody.

Maurice Cherry:
You’ve got a line in your bio that says your approach to design is similar to one of your patented long walks around town. What does that mean?

Jordan Taylor:
Okay. It’s not like long walks on the beach type of thing. It’s actually a connection.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Yeah, unpack that for me.

Jordan Taylor:
Like I said, when I moved back to Atlanta after Fort Valley and I decided to become a designer, I would have to go into the city. So for five years I was going into the city every day from my house in Lithonia. So I was taking public transit. I was taking MARTA every day. I would get on the bus. This might be too granular for your wide audience, but I would go to Indian Creek and then I would take the train into the city. And then I would either have to walk or take another bus wherever else I was going.
So doing that constantly is what I mean by those patented long walks. And what I mean when I say that my design is similar to those is that if you spend enough time on the ground, just walking everywhere, you’re going to see some interesting things. You’re going to appreciate more of what’s going on around you because you’re transitioning from a more forest area because there’s so many trees in the Atlanta area to like you go through the urban areas and you’re passing by restaurants, you’re passing by clubs, you’re passing by all these different things.
You see a lot of weird stuff. You see a lot of interesting things. You might see some not so great things. But it all leaves an impact. I think that’s what I mean when I say it’s my patented long walks on the beach. So things might get a little weird. I might try and take some interesting left turns here or there, but it’s all for the sake of giving that impact.
I want you to feel like you’re actually a part of the journey. I want you to feel like a story is being told to you. I want you to feel like there’s a lot of meaning and purpose behind what’s going on here. Because I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t have that sense of purpose to get up, leave my house and go do all these different things every day.
When I was going to find my different internships, I walked there. When I was going to school at The Creative Circus, I walked there. And by walking, I mean it included public transit, but my feet were on the ground. I was like-

Maurice Cherry:
I hear you.

Jordan Taylor:
… back and forth. It’s weird. It’s fun. It’s got a lot of purpose behind it. I feel like that’s how I design.

Maurice Cherry:
As you started saying that, for some reason that just reminded me of the first verse of Elevators from Outkast where you’re talking about taking MARTA through the hood, trying to find the hookup caught the 86 Lithonia headed to Decatur.

Jordan Taylor:
I rode to 86. That was my bus.

Maurice Cherry:
My bus was the 13 because I went to Morehouse and I was living in the west… Oh, well, I wasn’t living in the west end when I was at Morehouse, unless it was on campus. But I used to live in Buckhead in the Darlington before the Darlington got run down and now it’s like multimillion dollar condos or whatever. It used to be the 23, now it’s the 110. But I take the 23 to Art Center. I take Art Center to Five Points. I take the 13 from there. And it puts you off at the strip of Fair Street and Brawley, James P Brawley, which is the Clark Atlanta strip. That was class every day. I remember it finally. I have not ridden the 13 in years, but I remember that very fondly.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah. I feel same way. Whenever I go back home and I see that bus when I go visit my mom or whatever, it’s a very funny feeling. Just like, oh, that used to be my life. I spent plenty of days running that thing down.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, me too. Running down to 13. People that are not in Atlanta don’t know this, but the buses are terrible. There’s only a few that are fairly reliable. The 13 is pretty reliable. The 23, which is now the 110. The six to Emory is pretty reliable. I would imagine the 86 is probably pretty reliable too, but a lot of in-town buses, good luck. If you miss it, you’re waiting 30, 40 minutes for the next bus. It’s ridiculous.

Jordan Taylor:
No, absolutely. I mean, the 86, it came, but I wouldn’t say it’s super reliable because I would have to show up 10 minutes early or I’m going to be an hour late because like you said, it might show up on time. It might show up 10 minutes early. It might show up 10 minutes late. But either way, if you miss it, you’re waiting another 40 minutes until the next one. No, definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember taking the 23 and sometimes what happened is… I don’t know if this happened on the 86, but the driver would get out and go into McDonald’s and get something to eat. Just leave the bus, people on the bus waiting to get where they got to go, but they got to get a McGriddle. They got to get their food and come… You better not be mad about it either because they’ll put you out.

Jordan Taylor:
No, thanks. But my bus driver would always… Well, it didn’t happen all the time, but he stopped. I had a few bus drivers stop and get out and walk and go get some chicken wings and they come back. They would walk to the gas station.

Maurice Cherry:
Yep. Oh, man. That’s a very particular just Atlanta transit thing that, that’s funny. I think about that and I just get a warm feeling like nostalgia.

Jordan Taylor:
But like I said, it’s ridiculous. It just is Atlanta. It just is that journey.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about design?

Jordan Taylor:
I would say for where I’m at right now, the best advice I was given was not too long ago. I was talking to Eddie Opara, just trying to take advantage of the situation I’m in. I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to meet this man.” I was like, “Okay.” We just had a conversation. I told him where I was at like where I was talking about earlier, how I feel like I’m just in this space where I’m trying to figure out what’s next. What do I want to keep doing? Or how do I keep moving forward? What he told me was that what you got to do as a designer is kind of figure out what your voice.
You spend all this time learning the building blocks, learning the technical things like, “Oh, how do I use After Effects? How do I use InDesign?” And all this kind of stuff. But sometimes you can get lost in that and not realize that you have a way of expressing yourself. You have a voice. I feel like I do those things, but I don’t have my own world that I built out a vision for how people just immediately are like, “Oh, Jordan made this. This speaks to his sensibilities.” I’m very much more so in the production stage of where I’m at right now.
So I think that was something that, “Oh, was really helpful to me.” He was talking about how you have to pick what means the most to you. Is it about paying it forward in which case maybe you do a lot more kind of teaching or instructing? Or is it about expressing the essence of what we do. In that case, you might do a lot more forums and TED talk type things.
But it was really helpful just figuring out what means the most to you and how do you make that known to people? What is your identity as a designer?

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really good advice.

Jordan Taylor:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Next time you talk to Eddie, tell him I said what’s up.

Jordan Taylor:
Okay. Yeah. I should see him soon, so I’ll tell him.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Jordan Taylor:
I think what keeps me the most motivated is just… I know there’s so much more coming. There are a myriad of things that have gotten me to this point like the music I love, the artwork I love. I’m constantly making mood boards on Are.na or Pinterest of things that I think other people are doing and that are cool and they push me forward. But I think the things that keeps me the most hopeful for what’s coming in the future is that I know I have a place and I know that I’m in control of it ultimately. I just have to keep going forward and seeing what’s next, looking for those new opportunities.

Maurice Cherry:
What more do you want to see from the design community? I feel like you are at this very unique place as not only just a young designer, but also a young designer at a place that has such a storied reputation, I would say. What do you want to see more of from the design community?

Jordan Taylor:
I want to see more of Black people. I want to see more of me, more of us. I just want to see more of it. I think that we’re such a creative people. Our influence is so ridiculous. I think that when you think about that in the grand scope, the statistics around how many people of color are like, or how many Black people are designing is so disproportionately low when I’m thinking about the kind of impact we have on the sway of things in the American culture.
I think that also something that I want to see more of is just based on my background and I guess a little bit of just being around my mom all the time. I want to see more people designing at earlier ages. I want that kind of stuff introduced to kids earlier and earlier. I think with the onset of the internet and TikTok and all those kind of things, I think it’s becoming a little more standardized at earlier ages and younger and younger kids are getting into it.
But I did a talk for my mom’s elementary school a few months ago, just introducing them to what design is and the amount of feedback I got from not only the kids, but the teachers that didn’t know that it was an option and were just so blown away about the possibility of what design is and what it can do. I think that just needs to continue happening.

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

Jordan Taylor:
In the next five years, I want to be doing more work that speaks to who I am. I wanted to speak to my interests. I wanted to impact the people that I care about the most. I wanted to continue to be as proud of my work as I am right now. I feel like I’m really proud of what I do, but it also isn’t a hundred percent mine. So I think that’s where I see myself in five years. Just really taking more ownership of my designs and applying them to what means most to me.

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

Jordan Taylor:
You can find me on Instagram, @jiggyjordan. It’s J-I-G-G-Y-J-O-R-D. I have a website. It’s a keywordjord. K-E-Y-W-O-R-D-J-O-R-D. Other than that… I mean, I have an Are.na page. I enjoy that a lot. I’ve been really getting into that. Do you use Are.na at all?

Maurice Cherry:
This was back in 2019, 2020, I worked with a designer, this really cool student named Perjohn. We used to work at Glitch together. He kind of turned me on to Are.na at first, because he was using it kind of as a sketchbook of sorts. I’ve never used it outside of that though. What is it like?

Jordan Taylor:
So to me it’s a cooler Pinterest. I find a lot of design inspiration on there visually, but I see all kind of people doing different things on here. I’ve seen entire mood boards that are just full of random ideas. I’ve seen tons of people making video references, motion references, entire mood boards that are just free type faces. I mean, I enjoy it a lot. It’s a little grungy and underground, but that speaks to the stuff I like.

Maurice Cherry:
I’ll have to check it out. What’s your name on Are.na?

Jordan Taylor:
It’s just Jordan Taylor. I think that’s the best way to find me on here. That’s the other thing. It’s a little hard to discover people on this thing, but I’ll message you. And if anybody else has any trouble finding me, they can let me know, I guess, on Instagram or something.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Jordan Taylor, I want to thank you so so much for coming on the show. I really wanted to have a young Atlanta designer on the show. I know you’re not in Atlanta anymore, but I think just your story of quiet perseverance and drive from growing up to going to school and even pursuing these internships, I think that’s something that a lot of people out here need to see, because I think we see enough of the alternative, which is I went to this fancy art school and now I went to this fancy agency or whatever.
I think people see enough of the alternative and don’t see the folks out here that they’re quietly grinding. And I get the sense that you’ve really been quietly grinding, building your portfolio, improving your skills. And that’s gotten to where you are now at Pentagram of all places.
I can’t wait to see what you do in five years, man. I’m really going to be keeping an eye out for you. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jordan Taylor:
Oh yeah. Thank you so much. I mean, this has been incredible. I appreciate it.

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If you saw this year’s 28 Days of the Web, then this week’s guest is probably already familiar to you! Meet Daniel Dickson, a creative director in NYC for the super popular music video service Vevo. Daniel works on the brand side of Vevo, where he manages his own design team and works closely with the music industry as well.

Daniel and I talked about his beginnings here in Atlanta, and how he structured his career to lead him to New York and his current position. He also talked about the challenges of building a creative team, his former work at Nickelodeon and Tribeca Film Festival, and what motivates him the most. Thank you Daniel for being an inspiration!

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If you’ve ever thought about having your own online course, then you’ll definitely want to listen to this week’s interview with Janelle Allen! She’s a learning designer with a background in education, and her company Zen Courses helps people create online curricula using a process and a system that’s structured for success.

Janelle starts off talking about how she got into learning design, and we take a look at the current environment of online learning and discuss the pros and cons. Janelle also shares where her passion for education comes from, and she goes a little bit into her passion for deejaying! Janelle can teach you the ABCs and then make you dance on the 1s and 2s! Dope! Get into this week’s interview!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
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