Mitzi Okou

If you attended the inaugural “Where Are The Black Designers?” conference a few months ago, then you’re probably familiar with this week’s guest — Mitzi Okou. This interaction and visual designer made quite the splash this year, and now that the dust has settled from this summer’s event, I figured it would be a great time to have her on Revision Path.

Mitzi talked about growing up in Atlanta and shared how her time as a classical cellist ended up fueling her career in design. We also discussed the Where Are The Black Designers? conference, and Mitzi gave some behind-the-scenes info on how it all came together and what she plans on doing next to keep the momentum going. Mitzi has definitely gotten the attention of the design community, and I’m intrigued to see what her next move will be!

Tevin Stuurland

We’re back in Europe this week (not literally) to talk with interaction designer Tevin Stuurland. He just graduated from college recently, so this was a great time to chat about work and the future, especially during this unprecedented pandemic.

Tevin walked me through what he’s doing to keep busy these days, and he discussed growing up Black in The Netherlands, the ups and downs of learning design in college, and shared some of the contributions people of color have made to the Dutch design scene. It’s amazing to learn about the experiences of Black designers all over the world, and I’m glad Tevin could share his thoughts and perspectives!

Sponsor

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

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Arielle Wiltz

The COVID-19 public health crisis is affecting us all, taking us out of the lives we led before and forcing us to move forward through a fog of uncertainty as we try to find our way back to some semblance of normalcy. Such is the case with this week’s guest, Arielle Wiltz. While she is typically based in NYC, she was sheltered in place in New Orleans when we spoke. We started off discussing her work at frog design, including how she’s taking the current relocation in stride with everything else happening at the moment.

Arielle also shared how she transitioned from being a dancer to being a designer, talked about her volunteer work with ADCOLOR, and she shared some of the new things she’s learning to help keep her focused and motivated during this time of transition. Arielle may say she just fell into design, but it sounds to me like that’s just the kind of inspiration others need to hear in order to see themselves in this industry as well!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Arielle Wiltz:
My name is Arielle Wiltz and I am an interaction designer currently at frog Design. It’s a design consulting firm, one of the largest ones globally actually.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Now, what’s a regular day like for you there? And I know that this is probably a odd question to ask given what we’re going through right now with this pandemic, but talk to me kind of like what your regular day-to-day is like.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. My regular day-to-day before the pandemic, well it’s usually, typically within frog, we’re in teams. So the teams are filled with like strategists, depending on a project, industrial designers, VD designers, interaction designers like myself.

Arielle Wiltz:
And we usually really coming together to brainstorm on whatever the project that we’re currently working on. So sometimes there’s a lot of white boarding the day and sometimes it’s a lot of heads down. It’s like executing the project. Other times you may be, for myself, especially being an interaction designer, we’re doing user testing, trying to understand how the users feel about the experience that we’re creating.

Arielle Wiltz:
So it really varies every day how we work and function. But usually when you’re on a project at frog and you’re with your team, you’re with your team for months. So you’re with that team the whole entire time. So it’s usually like you in your little corner with your team working, brainstorming, ideating.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like there’s a lot of just heads down work that you get to do to focus on a project.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, it is a lot of heads down. So one of the things I’ve found is like me working by myself, a lot of times frog is really big with collaboration. They believe in a lot of bringing ideas together especially from different disciplines. It’s rare that I’m just working with people who are interaction designers. I’m usually working with people who are in all different types of disciplines.

Arielle Wiltz:
I haven’t had the luxury to work with industrial designers but I have worked with strategists before and VD designers of course and design technologists. So a lot of times we’re really working together. And then once we come with an idea or concept, we’re go into like execution heads down.

Arielle Wiltz:
But I think it’s so beautiful. One thing I learned from frog that I absolutely love, it’s creative process. When I was in school studying, I used to feel like it just came from thin air. How do you go from A to B? What is happening?

Arielle Wiltz:
But with frog and working collaboratively and frog is really big on design research and pulling from all the research to really conceptualize and coming out with these amazing ideas. Because one thing about frog is we push for the next big thing. So I think that’s really phenomenal that I had the opportunity to learn this there.

Maurice Cherry:
How did you get started at frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
Actually it’s very interesting. I just really applied more so. So my journey to user experience interaction design is really a fluke. One thing about the career that I’m in or the discipline I’m in, people go to the top schools. Right. People go to School of Visual Arts, schools in Europe, school in Asia. They really work vigorously on their portfolio. They attend a lot of internships.

Arielle Wiltz:
Me, I just studied graphic design at Loyola and I didn’t even want to do it anymore. So I was really big into art nonprofits, helping out my community, decided to move to New York because that’s what I always wanted to do. So I moved without a job or a place to live. And with my first job just doing digital project management, I just fell into it. So I fell into it and I just build my way into becoming a designer. A lot of ups, a lot of downs because I didn’t have a lot of the resources like people at those types of schools.

Arielle Wiltz:
But in 2016, when I found that I was able to build my foundation regularly at a full time job, I worked really hard at it. So when it came time for when I applied at frog and I learned how to present how to articulate my story, I think that’s what really won them over.

Maurice Cherry:
What kind of projects are you working on right now at frog? As much of that as you can mention.

Arielle Wiltz:
So, I can’t mention much but frog… I could tell you about the type of projects. So a lot of projects within frog, which is different from other companies that I work with. Because, like I said, frog is not one of the largest but one of the top design consulting firms in the world.

Arielle Wiltz:
But what they do is people come to us and really want us to reinvent and reimagine. So think of any type of healthcare. How can we reimagine healthcare for the 21st century? Frog is known for building one of the first Macintosh and working with Steve Jobs. So that’s the history of frog really from industrial design to now into the digital age.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so a lot of projects when companies come to us and, whether it’s finance or entertainment or like I said, healthcare is really just reimagining the experience. Reimagining how it can be done, coming up with completely new concepts that hadn’t ever been done before. So that’s why I say the creative process is just so unique to me and so amazing on how do you actually get there.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you’re also the lead of frog’s Diversity and Inclusion group there in New York. As much of that as you can talk about, I’m really curious because I don’t hear about this a lot at design agencies. How did that group begin? And as you’re sort of leading it up, what sorts of things does the group do?

Arielle Wiltz:
So frog initially did start having a D&I, this amazing creative director in Austin, who I had the pleasure to work with, Alexa, she used to own it. But I feel like in New York we didn’t really have anything. So one day, again, one of my mentors at frog, John Wasserman, he was like, “Who wants to lead D&I?” Because we had a Slack channel.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so at the time I was on a bench and I was like, “Sure, I’ll lead it.” And so we started to have just workshops with people there. Frog, they’re diverse in a sense but when it comes to the numbers, as far as blacks, Latinos, is very low. So we were just like, everyone in it, no matter if you’re a designer or not. We all came together and we were just discussing what does diversity mean to us and et cetera.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so from those conversations I started two programs. One was breaking barriers, which is just a talk series open to the public where we invited people, but we for sure had people speaking, people of color. Because one thing in design, I didn’t believe 20% of it is people of color. And as far as blacks, there’s only 5%.

Arielle Wiltz:
So my goal was for us to actually see it because I think that’s the big thing a lot of times is I don’t see it so I don’t think I can do it. I really pushed for that to just have all different types of people of color to sit in those chairs and actually speak about their story.

Arielle Wiltz:
So, that was very successful and my baby. My favorite thing is for our mentors where it was a selective program where we reached out to, again, like I said, when it comes to these companies, a lot of times they hire from the top schools and I was like, “You know what? Let’s look at the state schools. Let’s look at the local community college schools, because the truth of the matter is there’s talent and innovators everywhere.”

Arielle Wiltz:
So we found, I believe, 28 people apply and we narrowed down to two amazing mentors, shout out to Sarah and Lisa. And they worked vigorously with two creative directors and came up with amazing portfolios who are now working at amazing companies. So on Buzzfeed and I believe Grey Advertising.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. Yeah. And that was the first time doing it. It was really prototype. I just hit the ground running as we were going up, I created it and made it. I did have help for, like I said, the mentors, the mentorship program was a lot of work. And we all have design jobs as well. People have like departments just to do that.

Arielle Wiltz:
But we worked really hard at it and I’m just so proud of my mentees and the difference that they’re making. Just being their authentic selves in these spaces. And I think that’s brings me joy, honestly. Seeing other people coming through the doors who look like me or represent another culture. That’s what design needs because it could be very Eurocentric.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it totally is Eurocentric, in the United States absolutely.

Arielle Wiltz:
Totally, totally Eurocentric.

Maurice Cherry:
Now these kinds of D&I groups, I mean I feel like I hear about them a lot from tech companies. Tech companies will have some type of a group. Actually we had, back in December, Kendall Howse who works for Red Hat and he heads up their D&I group. But there’s something that I kind of hear from tech companies. I don’t really hear it from like agencies or design consultancies like what frog is. Why do you think it’s important to have this kind of group at a company like frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, it’s so important because us as designers, especially in today’s age, everything that you do, everything that you experience has been designed out for you. Where it’s like urban design, industrial design, the product that you’re using, the experience that you’re having.

Arielle Wiltz:
For example, tele-health that everyone’s using right now, especially with the pandemic. It’s like everything’s been designed for you. And if the majority of people who are designing are white male, consciously or unconsciously, you don’t know, it becomes bias. Correct.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I think it’s so important to have a diverse representation, not only just of as race, as ability, is of anything just to diversify it so other people can feel included and an experience and don’t feel left out. And especially since technology has taken such a hold with our society, people are being left out, which is so unfortunate.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like one of my missions, especially as a designer is to make sure I do my part in bridging a gap. And so to me that was what the mentorship was as a part, to bridge the gap as far as what product design and brand design. Even with brand design and making sure that images of different types of people from different cultures are included.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I definitely feel like it’s important. Especially when you’re working at a company, that whole goal is to innovate. One thing I love to say is diversity is innovation. Just imagine having a group of designers, engineers, industrial designers, strategists, all in a room from all different types of backgrounds, including economical backgrounds. Because that’s a issue too. Really thinking and brainstorming and strategizing a problem. Imagine the solutions that can come out of it. So that’s why I feel like it’s just extremely important, especially now to diversify the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best thing about what you do at frog?

Arielle Wiltz:
You know what? I have to say, I work with extremely, extremely amazing creative people. I have been blessed that I have worked with people who really… I had two for sure managers or creative directors that have really pushed me to think at levels that I couldn’t even imagine. Also just, like I said we worked collaboratively, working very closely with the visual designer-

Arielle Wiltz:
… collaboratively working very closely with the visual designers, because that’s who I often work with. I learn so much from them. So I think that the thing that I really enjoy working with is, I feel like I’m blessed to have worked with, for example, I said Alexis from Austin, a creative director that’s no longer there, Jared, my manager, Henry. To work with people like that who really push me and just really, I feel like I’m being taken to another level from that. Then working with my coworkers, too. My VD coworkers for the most part.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
That’s the ones who I usually would work with. I think that’s what’s really cool about it, because you’re working with the top people there, so…

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So given that collaboration is such a big part of not just the work that you do at Frog, but also it sounds like just the culture of working at Frog, how have things been different now with this pandemic? Because now, I’m assuming, you’re working from home. Probably everyone is working from home, I’m assuming, right?

Arielle Wiltz:
Right. Everyone’s working from home right now. Yes. Yes. Oh man, it’s been so different working from home. I feel like I’m working more working from home than… I’m not really having a lot of downtime. I’m on a screen the whole entire time, and we have a lot of meetings. This project I’m working on now, we have a lot of meetings just to make sure everyone’s in the loop, and like I said, with agencies it’s usually a lot of fast paced work as well.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I won’t say difficult, I would say new, you know? It’s different. It’s different in a sense. I feel like say this pandemic lasts until June, July, people would get used to it, but it’s definitely new. I know the company did set up parameters of how to work from home and they leased out different softwares in order to do it, which is all cool, but just really adjusting yourself to do it.

Arielle Wiltz:
I usually would wake up early, have breakfast, do this, do that. Now I’m so tired because I feel like I go, go, go, go, go the whole entire time. It’s not like I’m leaving work then coming home, my work is at home. So that’s been really new for me, but yeah. We still have meetings. Every [inaudible 00:17:17] is basically running the same way as it was running before, it’s just the adjustment of working from home that I feel like everybody at my company, or everybody everywhere if they don’t really work from home, is kind of struggling with.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Does it feel like Frog is extending some kind of, I don’t know, grace during this time? Because this is a big shift for everyone, I’m assuming. It’s not just the change in working from in an office to working at home, but having the right set-up in terms of your desk or chair or laptop or monitor, or even now you live in New York but you’re currently in New Orleans. So now you’re not even at your place, you’re at a different place, trying to adjust to this. So hopefully Frog is extending some grace with how you all are working from home, and not expecting right away the same level of creative output, I guess. I don’t know.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, well you know what? When you work at, like I said, a company like Frog, they’re always going to expect top notch creative output, you know? That’s just how it is. But I think what’s beautiful is my creative director right now, every single time we check in, she really does a check in. Like, “How are you?” It’s not just like a regular, “Oh, how are you doing today?” It’s like, “Seriously, how are you?” If you’re feeling stressed or whatever, “Okay, maybe you need to take a walk. Maybe you need to step away.”

Arielle Wiltz:
So I think it’s really the creative directors who really taking in and up to account different things, like, “How are you doing right now? What’s going on with you?” If you don’t feel well… Really checking in. Checking in way more than before. That’s what I love about the creative director now. Every day she’s really just checking in and saying like, “How are you?” And really having a conversation about it.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like that’s really important right now because not only at Frog, I feel like any company or most companies, it’s still work. People are still going, people still trying to make deadlines, and it’s really hard right now because… I’m fortunate right now that I don’t know anyone who’s sick or anything like that, but for people who do, or people who are going through it, are sick themselves, or… Man, I can’t imagine. Even the health system, like we were saying earlier, being so overwhelmed right now. So I think everybody at some level is feeling it, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
But yeah, like I said, the creative directors, they’re aware of it and I think that’s what’s good about it. We’re human-centered design. We’re making sure things are human-centered within the teams too, so that’s really needed right now, and it’s happening.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s what I was saying. I hope that companies are extending just that grace because it’s… I don’t know. We know who people are at work in an office, but people’s home lives and their work lives are completely different. Some people use work as, I won’t say as an escape but that kind of feels like the best way to put it. They may not have the best home life, and going to work is the thing that’s sort of their brief respite from whatever they might have to deal with. Whether that’s, I don’t know, kids or a spouse or dealing with aging parents or anything like that. There’s a lot of things that can go into play, and working from home, it’s the option that we have to take right now-

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s just, it’s a lot. And then on top of all of that, just the overall impending news of the pandemic and what’s happening.

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It wears on you.

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, definitely. It definitely wears on you. I remember one day before I came to New Orleans I was in New York. It was right before I started on a project so I was reading through files and getting prepped for it, and I was watching MSNBC the whole entire day. It created so much anxiety for me. It was when people were still trying to figure everything out, and that’s something that’s a big concern. Like I said, I’m fortunate, but 100% there are mothers who are working from home now, dads, and people who have a ton of different businesses that they are running right now, and now to work from home and do everything plus manage your kids, managing like you say, your aging parents, or possibly even if someone is sick right now.

Arielle Wiltz:
So that definitely goes into play with everything, but like I said, being the design nerd, I think it’s the time where people should, like I said, start mobilizing more. So utilize your skills to help others right now. There’s right now [inaudible 00:22:00] going on with UX for Change, and they’re working, partnering, with data center, I believe, that’s really heavy hands on what’s going on right now. And actually all these designers, data scientists, engineers are coming together to actually help solve a problem.

Arielle Wiltz:
So I feel like this is the time, now, where people should start doing this. I know a ton of fashion designers right now within the health system that things are going on, just making face masks right now. So I feel like this is the time for us to really hone in and come together and help solve these issues, like you said, because I can’t even… Like I said, I’m not dealing with that but I can’t even imagine for someone who is dealing with something like that right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The last time I went out was the 14th of March. I remember this because I was already a bit skeptical about going out because I had just come back from LA a few weeks before that and I was sick when I came back. Now, when I came back, the sickness that I had, I sort of chalked it up to allergies because we have terrible pollen in Atlanta. But I chalked it up to allergies, just the fact that I was in and out of planes, I had switched hotels during the trip, I was at a conference. I figured all of these things just came into play with, “Oh, I’m feeling kind of sick.” Not flu-like at all, but just more annoying than anything else, right?

Maurice Cherry:
So I had been getting better leading up to the 14th, and I remember this because I was going to go vote. They had early voting then because our primary is on the… Or was, I should say, on the 24th. They’ve now pushed it back. So I went to go vote early in the morning. It took me, I don’t know, maybe five or 10 minutes, and I remember walking into the voting area in the library and the women there were like in hazmat suits.

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:
These are the poll workers. Gloves, huge jugs of hand sanitizer, masks, hazmat suits. I’m like, “Is this ground zero?” It felt like I walked into an emergency room or something. But I remember going to vote, came home, and if I would have known that would have been the last time that I really could have left the house I would have, I don’t know, made a liquor store run or something, but I would have done something else.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s just that all the news about all this is happening so quickly with shelter in place and what’s going to happen in terms of financial stimulus. This has affected so many other businesses out there. I mean, I feel very fortunate in tech that the company I work for hasn’t been affected by it in terms of furloughing employees or anything like that, but depending on how long this goes on, there’s no telling what this looks like. There’s no end in sight.

Maurice Cherry:
Now hopefully, knock on wood, by the time this podcast comes out we’ll be outside chilling. Hopefully.

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But right now, I’m on day 17 and I’m just like, one day at a time, I’ll just see how it goes.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, for sure. I spoke about how with design we could provide tools with healthcare workers or the government, but even just simple pleasures like… Not being able to have a human connection, you didn’t even realize how good it feels to go by your friend’s house and just chill, hang out, give them a hug. These little things you really miss doing. But one thing I love is how technology right now… With Instagram Live and D-Nice and the Quarantine Club, having a club at your house, feeling human, having some type of connection again with someone other than the same people you see all the time in your house. That feels warm to me. Really needed right now, you know? To still feel like you’re human, not just really just stuck in the house and I can’t go anywhere except just get groceries [crosstalk 00:25:57] if that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. If that, yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
So…

Maurice Cherry:
So, I haven’t been going out to the grocery store, only because I’ve been trying to heed the advice of stay in, order, because that’s the best way. They can drop it off. So, but even doing ordering through Instacart or something, they’re like “There’s nothing here. Half the stuff that you wanted to get is not here.” I don’t know, it’s just a lot going on right now that can make it tough to focus on work because there’s so much other stuff that’s happening and you’re just at home. It’s all like that’s the epicenter of everything, because you can’t really go out and do anything.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. I think another thing that this hasn’t… When I speak with my friends right now it’s really helping us focus on self care tools and what to do right now to really just not increase your anxiety with everything. My theory, like I told you, I was fine until yesterday when I really started thinking, “How long is this going to last?” I started freaking out because I was like, “Wait, how long is this going to last and I’m going to have to be here and do this and that. What about my normal life? What about what I was doing all the goals that I had summer? What I’m trying to do?” So it’s a adjustment, but I feel like I am learning more self care tools that I probably needed while I was in New York, because New York itself can be hectic.

Maurice Cherry:
Well yeah, that’s true. That’s true.

Arielle Wiltz:
So yeah, so really readjusting it and when we come out of this we’ll definitely continue doing those things because even, this is so basic but even like eating. I noticed that when I’m New York, waking up and then going on the subway, then work, then sometimes I’m working past normal hours depending on the project, I just forget to eat. That’s so crazy and insane, but it really does happen. So since I’ve been working from home I make sure to have my meals and do things [inaudible 00:27:58] and really just take care of myself, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
And I think that’s, no matter what we do or what you’re doing, make sure you take care of yourself. Especially in this because your immune system is what’s going to help you if you do get sick and you don’t want to, by any way, shape, or form, have it down.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, and you’re in New Orleans, which as of the time that we’re recording this is one of the big hotspots for the virus now.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yes. Yes, New Orleans is because people are assuming, I don’t know for sure, but people are saying because of Mardi Gras with so many people here it was able to spread it rapidly. Yeah, so it is one of the hot spots. New Orleans, I think the difference is New Orleans is more spaced out. So for example, my mom, she works out every morning so she might do a little run, but no one’s outside. We live in little subdivision and it’s spaced out.

Arielle Wiltz:
Unfortunately people are not staying at home like they should, but yeah, it’s pretty bad in New Orleans, actually. Really bad, actually. I know a couple of friends of mine who know someone who has it right now, or even died from it. My mom mentioned one or two people, so it’s really bad here now. Especially when you’re in a city. What I love about New Orleans, it’s so warm here, so hospitable, and for you not to be able to do something that’s so natural down here, it’s been very difficult and hard.

Arielle Wiltz:
Or even for example, I know, which is so hard, but people can’t even see the grandparents right now. New Orleans is very family knit community, and so people can’t even see the grandparents or even take care of their grandparents. I know when my grandparents were alive my mom used to go and take care of my grandmother, so I couldn’t even imagine being in something like this and we can’t even take care of my grandmother who was differently able. She was in a wheelchair. So I can’t even imagine people who are dealing with that right now and how difficult it can be.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been able to at least keep in touch with her, like call or anything?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh no, she’s not here any more but I’m just saying.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, oh. I’m sorry. Oh.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, no-

Arielle Wiltz:
More.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh. Oh, I’m sorry. Oh.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. No, no, no. She lived a long, beautiful life though. But I’m just saying, I’m just thinking about the times when my mom did do that. That I know so many people are probably doing that now and can’t. That’s difficult because you don’t want to go there because you don’t want to get her sick sick in any way. But at the same time she needs to be able to do certain things because she’s differently able. She’s unable to move because of the wheelchair. I think that’s really difficult right now. Because not everybody can afford to put their loved ones in nursing homes or can do certain things or provide assistance. A lot of people are doing it themselves. To even be in a situation like this right now, it has to be very difficult.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. To kind of switch gears here a little bit, I know we really ended up talking about this for a good bit of time, but you mentioned New Orleans, you’re from New Orleans, you grew up there. What was it like growing up there as a kid interested in design?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. Oh, so it wasn’t so much that I was interested in design. I was just a very creative kid. One thing I do is write. I write Medium articles. I used to write a lot of stories. I was in dance in school. I thought I wanted to become a professional dancer, even studying in college. I was a dancer. Also I was part of different activities within church. I feel like that all kind of brought in my skills to become a good designer. That’s one thing that I’m really big on is STEM to STEAM and including the arts because I feel like that all contributes to innovation. Even if the person decides to become a scientist or technologist or engineer, having the arts really help push your creativity. Because that definitely helped me because, oh man, I used to dance. There’s this program in New Orleans. New Orleans have a lot of free dance programs and it’s NOLA NOBA.

Arielle Wiltz:
Man, I used to dance every single day. Go to dancing school, dance, dance. Very disciplined. Studied ballet, studied modern, studied jazz, and just that discipline, that creativity, I really felt brought into my skills as an interaction designer more so innovating different ideas within technology.

Maurice Cherry:
I was just going to ask, how did you go from dancing to design?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. When I was in college and I was studying dance, I became injured in one of the programs and so when I was injured they was saying, “Oh, you’re going to have to like…” How this program went was fall, you take this course. Spring, you take this course. Back and forth. They was like, “Oh, you’re going to have to sit out for a year.” And I’m like, “A year?” I was so focused on graduating on time, which still did not happen, but I was like, “A year? I don’t want to wait a year.” I was so upset and I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to change my major.” I didn’t even really know what I wanted to do but I knew I still wanted to be somewhat creative. So little that I knew because I didn’t know really much about all the different types of designs and I was like, “Oh I heard of graphic design before. I guess I’ll get into that.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Again, like the story of how I got into anything was all a fluke really. I was like, “Okay I’m just going to get into this. I’m going to become a graphic designer I guess.” I wind up, because I transferred schools and I was at Loyola studying graphic design and I wound up not being so into it because I guess I didn’t get the full grasp of it at the time being so young. But once again I fell into interaction design. I was like, “Oh wow.” Using my analytical skills because I am quite a nerd when it comes to research and analyzing and then being creative and combining both together. I thought it was just like the perfect job for me. Like, “Oh my God, this is like everything that I’ve been wanting to do.” Because I’m very analytical and I like a process. It was like this is the process to get to point A to B. It doesn’t come from thin air. It’s very rigorous. But it’s some type of silver lining to it.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, that was my experience more so. But yeah, New Orleans definitely helped me out, especially when we were speaking earlier about my involvement with diversity inclusion because I attended NOLA NOBA. Again, design is again very elite. I mean not design, dance. Dance is very elite. For NOLA NOBA to have programs in the inner city with top design dance teachers who taught in New York, Europe, et cetera, teaching us. That was just everything. It felt like things were possible that you probably thought you couldn’t even do. That’s one thing that I really admire and really grateful for having that background as being a dancer.

Maurice Cherry:
What did your parents say when you kind of switched it up like that? I mean from dancing to design. Did they have anything to say?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh no. My dad wanted me to be a doctor. He had his heart set on it, so my parents, they weren’t into it. They weren’t into it at all. They weren’t into me studying dance. They weren’t into me… They really didn’t get into it until… They weren’t into me moving to New York at all. I think they really didn’t realize my journey, my path that I chosen until like I started becoming successful into it and now they go bragging. Like, “Arielle, what do you do again.” I’m like, “I’m a designer.” “What is that again?” I have to explain it over like, “I’m an interaction designer.” “What does that do?” “Oh, it’s computers.” I’m like, “It’s more than computers.” “Well, we’ll just say computers.” They’re very proud but my parents have been supportive. But I feel like most parents of people of color, especially like black parents, they want you to be a doctor, engineer, think that they know you should do. When I was like, “Oh, I’m going to become a designer,” it was like, “What is that? We don’t get that.”

Maurice Cherry:
I think also part of it probably is them just… I think it might be less about wanting to be a doctor or engineer and more about being in a successful role where you can take care of yourself and hopefully them too.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s more about the possibility or the probability of that because I mean we know that there are working artists and designers out there, but when we think about jobs that have some level of respect or prestige or make money, it does end up being those kinds of doctor, lawyer, engineer kind of things. It’s less about being a designer or an artist or an illustrator or a musician or anything like that, you know?

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah, 100%. But that’s the thing that I love about what I do is because yes, I am a designer. I’m an interaction designer. But the reason why I truly decided to go this path and with my career is because I always loved helping people. That was one of my passions because in the beginning I was working at art nonprofit and making sure I was bringing the arts into the cities where people weren’t exposed to or kids aren’t exposed to it more so. So I was thinking about going… I was working at campus at the time, a digital project manager. I already started assisting the UX design, so I already was kind of doing it. So I just wanted to learn more about it. Like I said, I’m a researcher so I was on a computer. I found this company and they created this really, really amazing technology that allow patients with, I believe ALS, be able to communicate their needs in control. Things like for example, turning the lights on or off or turn on the TV or not using technology.

Arielle Wiltz:
When I saw that I was like, “Oh my God, I’m still contributing in some way.” I may not be the doctor in the hospital, but I’m creating the technology for the doctor in the hospital. That’s when I was like, “This is what I need to do. This is what I want to do in my life.” That’s when I rigorously pursued it. I feel like really letting people know the different opportunities in me in choosing to become a designer is one of the big things. Or even being in the creative field because I feel like sometimes people just think we just color and draw all day, but that is not the case at all. Like no. No, I definitely do not do that.

Maurice Cherry:
When did you decide to make the move to New York? Because it sounds like you kind of had your roots there in New Orleans with your family and going to school there. Why the move to New York?

Arielle Wiltz:
Again, like I said, this has been my journey. This is probably the beam of my journey. A fluke. I was just like, you know what? I was working at amazing nonprofit called Young Audience of Louisiana, amazing nonprofits. I was working there and I was making decent amount of money to be in New Orleans. Moved from office manager to marketing associate. Because one thing you realize is when you have any type of degree in design, the first thing they make you do, no matter what you want to do, you could definitely step out of design, they’re like, “Oh, you studied graphic design? We need help with this.” They pull you back in. It was just like I was working one day and I always wanted to move to New York since I was a child. I just went to my mom because I was still at home. I believe I was 24, 25 and I was like, “I’m moving to New York.” My mom was like, “With what money?” I was like, “I don’t know. I’m just going to start saving and I’m going to move.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Then I went and I picked the day in the calendar I was like September 6. That’s when I’m moving. My mom was like, “Why is it set for 6th?” I was like, “I don’t know. This is just the plan.” I did it. It was just so crazy. I tell my friends, I can imagine now my best friend Tracy, it’s like, “Where are you going to live?” It was just, I didn’t have a place to live. I didn’t have a job at the time. Everything kind of fell into place because of course I wasn’t homeless. But yeah, I was working in restaurants for a good time when I first moved to New York. Shout out to the restaurant industry. Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
What I did know is I did know that I wanted to be in digital so I did have some type of plan. I was like, I want to work in digital, but I didn’t know about all the different types of disciplines. All I knew was I studied graphic design. I don’t like graphic design. So those were the two things I knew. I knew I wanted to work in digital and knew I didn’t want to be a graphic designer anymore. From my research I was like, “Oh, I want to become a project manager.” But I thought that was being a product manager. I didn’t know the difference. So I just started applying for those jobs.

Arielle Wiltz:
That’s really how it all happened. Basically just fluked. It was just like something in my spirit. I’m very intuitive so I try to listen to my spirit and just go forward with that. But go forward with a plan though. I do have plans in place when I do things. When I decide I’m going to do something, I go forward with a plan and make a schedule and really sketch it out moving forward. But yeah, that’s really how it happened.

Maurice Cherry:
I saw from looking at your LinkedIn, you worked at a company called Tigerspike for over two years as a UX designer. What did you take away from that experience?

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh wow. Tigerspike really gave me my foundation because when I was a canvas at the other companies too, it was really me just trying to find myself. Like how do I fit in in this world? I was studying at general assembly part-time because I couldn’t afford the full time program. Working full time. Trying to become a UX designer at the time. Then finally doing just some freelance gigs or contract gigs. But once I got to Tigerspike, that really set my whole foundation of being a designer. One thing I had to say about Tigerspike. Tigerspike, it’s now smaller in the US, but it was the first time I met another black designer. I know that may sound crazy but that was… I remember it like yesterday.

Maurice Cherry:
I was going to say, not for this show that doesn’t sound crazy.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah. I know. No, no. It was definitely not. I remember I was… So the recruiter at Tigerspike, She helped me get a contract job and so my contract was ending. She’s like, “Oh Tigerspike…” She now worked at Tigerspike and she was like, “Oh now we’re hiring for this project. It’s going to be contract to full time. I’ll let you know if you qualify.” So we were talking back and forth because they needed someone more senior. I knew I did not have anything for a portfolio. I had one general assembly project and I made up projects.

Arielle Wiltz:
She told me, say it was Monday, she told me Monday I had an interview. Then so on Tuesday, I stayed up all day and night creating a project because I know I didn’t have a portfolio and I know I didn’t have anything. I just stayed up all day night working on it. Right. No sleep. I go in the next day delirious but determined to do well. I was so shaky and nervous because when you go into the space, it’s predominantly [inaudible 00:13:21]. It’s not me. I don’t see myself. I walked in and I see this black woman, her name Rachel Robbins, automatically just like relief came through me. It was my first time seeing a black designer and she was high up too as well.

Arielle Wiltz:
I presented her my work, her and two other designers my work, and it was just such a calming relief to see someone so familiar in that space that I think that’s one of the reasons why I did so well because I was no longer nervous and scared. I felt like, “Okay, she’s there. I don’t know how her experience, I don’t know her background, but this woman looks like me, so if I don’t get in here, I could make it within this industry.” I think that really helped me get my foot in the door. Like I said, it was like the foundation of design for me. Very rigorous but amazing team, amazing company. I was even able to travel to London. It was my first time in Europe and I worked there for three months. So just the opportunities were endless working there.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Sounds like you came out of that with a lot then.

Arielle Wiltz:
A lot. Yeah. I was, like I said again, just very blessed on his journey. The journey has up and downs, but the highs be really high sometimes. You’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe I just moved here when I didn’t have a place to live and now I’m in London.” That was just really amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s funny you mentioned that. The place where I work at now, Glitch, the first week was split between me being in New York and being in London. The first day at work was they flew me up there, did paperwork and everything in New York that Monday. Flew overnight to London, was in London. That was my first time in London. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday-

Maurice Cherry:
And that was my first time in London, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. That Wednesday actually was a conference that my CEO was at and my boss was attending. So it’s my first time meeting these people and it’s at a conference where I’m expected to represent the company on day three of working at the place. And then flew back on the Thursday, Thursday afternoon/evening. And then, was in New York on Friday. And then back in Atlanta on Saturday. I was like, “This is wild.”

Arielle Wiltz:
Wow, I know. And for you, you hear about… I know being from the South and being from New Orleans, you hear about people who live like that, traveling all the time for work.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
And going to big cities, but actually for you to experience that, it’s like wow. Especially how old was I? Probably 27, 28 experienced, something like that first time. And no one in my family ever did anything like that. So for me to do it, it was just a surreal experience.

Maurice Cherry:
So I also saw that you do some work with ADCOLOR, you’re on their advisory board. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Arielle Wiltz:
Sure, yeah. So on the ADCOLOR advisory board, what we focus on is the Futures. So Futures are junior level people who are in their careers and we focus more so on building skills for them to develop so they could carry on throughout their professional career. Especially, another big thing is diversifying the industry, not just what people call it, but also different genders as well as different abilities. And the list can go on and on. And so what we do is, our goal is to create these programs for them. So when the conference come in, we have the Futures come a little early and create these programs to help them develop these skills, as well as we help out really voicing and speaking out for ADCOLOR and what it’s about. Isn’t it amazing? I’ve only been in it one year so far. This is my second year.

Arielle Wiltz:
And it’s been a really amazing experience because we’re working with people in all different industry because you’re also… It’s primarily ad, but now especially technology people in tech companies like Google and Facebook on the board, as well as people in different marketing industries as well, people with different backgrounds. But we all have the same mission and goal and that’s just to diversify an industry and the importance of diversifying industry. So I think it’s an amazing experience because it’s again, holds on to what I really believe in. What we say in ADCOLOR is rise up and reach back. And that’s one thing that I feel like I just been doing before ADCOLOR. Now and probably after ADCOLOR, I’ve been doing that with my life, just really trying to rise up to the best that I can, but always trying to reach back to others to make sure they can come on as well and try to really narrow the gap. So that’s what ADCOLOR is about and it’s been a dope, dope experience.

Maurice Cherry:
When you kind of look back over your career, I know you’ve been mentioning getting into design and the opportunities that you’ve had as a fluke, but when you look back over your career, what are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned about yourself?

Arielle Wiltz:
Biggest lessons I learned about myself, resiliency for sure. Because as I’m telling a story, there were a lot of lows. There was a lot of times, especially when I first moved to New York, I was really struggling financially and trying to make it. And there were times where I just really thought maybe I need to go back home, maybe I can’t do it. But I’m telling you hard times really help you. You know how they say hard times help build character and you’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” Because you’re going through the hard time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
But when you look back you’re like, “Yeah, I know.” It really did help me built my resiliency. I feel like everything that I went through, no matter it was like the harshest of making it into New York or it was very heartbreaking for me because I did wanted to go to one of the top design schools. And when I was speaking with my mom at the time, it was like, “Well, we can’t afford it right now.” You can’t really afford it yourself, with how you’re trying to pay for things. So how it’s going to happen? So really me trying to strategize and figure out ways on, okay, I want to become this use experiences. I want become this interaction designer. I want to work at these companies. How do I get there?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
So really building that skill of becoming strategic. And I feel like also the skill of being a fighter, man. Really being a fighter in a sense of standing on what I believe in. As far as, like I said, diversifying the industry, making sure more of us are in a space and not just talking about it but actually being about it. Actually trying to create these programs. Like I said, the mentorship program for our mentors was very prototype. It was not a refined program by any means, but I just created it. And now we have one Latina and one Middle Eastern, amazing women working in the industry now.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Arielle Wiltz:
So you got to start somewhere. So one thing I will say is you learn to just go for it. This is what I want, okay, kind of like about to get into design thinking. But this blue sky, this is I want. Now okay, how do you get from point A to point B? How are we going to get there? Kind of like the creative process that I’ve been speaking about. How are we going to get there? What are you going to do? And those are the things that I really learned from my experience.

Maurice Cherry:
What keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Arielle Wiltz:
Especially these days, oh man, man, man. Yeah, you’re able to think a lot now. So now I feel I’m really honing on what’s my Northern star and that is diversity and inclusion. And how do I do that? Kind of like go to parks, that’s my choice of weapon. My choice of weapon is design and innovation and technology. So how I’m utilizing it is, I’m trying to focus on product inclusion now. That’s one of my main goals. I’m actually now that I have so much free time, I’m starting to take courses in algorithm design, AI, and machine learning because that’s the latest revolution that’s happening right now for us.

Arielle Wiltz:
And again, we as a people are being left out in a lot of things. There’s a lot of biasness happening when things are being built. So I’m trying or not trying, I am learning these skills and learning how to apply them as a designer and how I can utilize my human centered thinking into it. So that’s what keeps me motivated right now. And I now know what I love to do. I now know who I am and how can I play a part of it. So now it’s just honing in all these different skills to make things happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025 hopefully, we are well past this pandemic by then. Where do you see yourself? What do you want to be doing in 2025?

Arielle Wiltz:
Ooh, I would love to become a director at some level. That would be a big goal of mine. I also would definitely want to start probably creating a more formal program with the mentorship program. Whereas kind of like, you could say a school, but more on the free end for us and really provide all the professional resources that the top schools will have.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arielle Wiltz:
That would be something that I want to do. And also like I said, I have all these amazing skills that I have learned from Tigerspike and from frog of how to innovate and come up with ideas and concepts. And there are so many amazing people who come up with these dope, dope, dope ideas in tech or just services. But then they need help with the creative process of how to go about really executing it or how to really solve this problem like what products need it.

Arielle Wiltz:
And so I want to start offering a service to more so focusing on us and focusing on us as black people, focus on us as brown people as well, and really providing those services because we need all of us in those entrepreneurial spaces as well. So providing those types of services. I’m actually kind of starting on that with a friend of mine. She’s investment banking, so she’s more so knowing how investor relations and how that work and I’m more on the creative side. So hopefully by 2025 we are fully established and functioning and really one of the top companies doing it.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, look at that.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Sure, so I’m on LinkedIn, my name is Arielle Wiltz. Also Medium have me writing articles. And right now they’re in pandemic, but I’m definitely going to start back up writing more articles on diversity inclusion within design and the workspace and now product inclusion. So on Medium, my name is Arielle Wiltz. And as well as I’m finalizing my website, it will be www.ariellewiltz.com

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Arielle Wiltz, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I know that we’re recording this during a very tumultuous time right now just in terms of our society and everything. But I mean, I have to say talking to you has been so refreshing today. Your enthusiasm and your drive for really just kind of carving your own path to becoming a designer is something that I think I needed to hear today. And hopefully for people that are listening, they can hear that too. Hopefully, they can pick up on just how excited you are about the work that you’re doing and I really think that you’re going to go far if you keep that attitude, that positive attitude, it’ll take you far. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Arielle Wiltz:
Thank you so much, Maurice. This was a pleasure.

Sponsors

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

This episode is brought to you by Abstract: design workflow management for modern design teams. Spend less time searching for design files and tracking down feedback, and spend more time focusing on innovation and collaboration. Like Glitch, but for designers, Abstract is your team’s version-controlled source of truth for design work. With Abstract, you can version design files, present work, request reviews, collect feedback, and give developers direct access to all specs—all from one place. Sign your team up for a free, 30-day trial today by heading over to www.abstract.com.

Shaun Mosley is one busy guy! By day, he’s a software designer and interaction designer, and as part of Intuit’s Design System team, he helps build the components and interactions for popular financial apps like Mint and QuickBooks. Outside of work, Shaun is a relatively new resident to the Bay Area, a podcaster, and a proud papa!

We spent a good bit of time talking about Shaun’s journey as a designer, what he’s looking forward to in 2019, and he shared the best advice he’s gotten which has helped him grow. Shaun’s motto is to “trust the process”, and I think doing that has really helped him succeed!


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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I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of this year’s HBCU Month on Revision Path (as well as this year’s World Interaction Design Day) than with a conversation with Marcus Mosby. Marcus is a senior interaction designer at Fjord in Austin, TX, and his passion lies in designing and creating experiences that help improve the lives of users everywhere.

We started off with an introduction to interaction design, and Marcus talked about the processes and tools he uses, and gave tips for other designers looking to get into the field. From there, we talked about his time at Clark Atlanta University, and he shared what it’s like to design for different cultural considerations, and even gave us a peek at his photography work! There are a lot of paths you can take to get into design, and Marcus wants you to know that the sky’s the limit!


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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 Glitch. Glitch is the friendly community where you can build the app of your dreams. Stuck on something? Get help! You got this!
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Revision Path is also brought to you by Google Design! Google Design is committed to sharing the best design thinking from Google and beyond. Sign up for their newsletter!
Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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