Charlene Atlas

The introduction of the metaverse to the general public was one of the biggest topics in tech last year. As we all learn more about the metaverse and what it means for the future of the Internet, I thought it would be a fantastic idea this year to talk with some of the folks out there who are involved with the metaverse in some capacity.

Meet Charlene Atlas, an interaction designer for undoubtedly one of the biggest companies to stake their claim in the metaverse — Meta. We started off our conversation talking about her resolutions for this year, and she spoke about her work on the Reality Labs team. From there, we discussed the metaverse and some of Meta’s plans, and Charlene shared how she became interested in technology, gaming, and eventually got into the AR/VR space.

Charlene is just one of many people who are helping to create the future of the Internet, so I hope you get inspired by her work and discover a way to chart your own course!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Charlene Atlas:
Hi, my name is Charlene Atlas and I am on a mission to break our content free from flat screens. As an interaction designer in Reality Labs research at Meta, formally Facebook, I work with scientists, researchers, and engineers to envision and create the far future of virtual and augmented reality.

Maurice Cherry:
Break our content free from flat screens, I like that. It’s funny, I’ve had some folks on the show before that have done AR and VR, mixed reality. And I always keep bringing this up about, I don’t know if you remember this television show in the ’90s called VR Troopers.

Charlene Atlas:
No, I’m not familiar.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, people that listen to the show are probably tired of me mentioning it. But there was this show called VR Troopers, very much in the same vein of a Power Rangers, it was very much like a Japanese like Sentai, Karate Kid show. And they were basically these kids that fought in virtual reality. It’s so interesting because I think about that time and then I think about the topics that are discussed now around virtual reality and the metaverse and how that was fiction when we were kids. And now it’s reality as adults, which is just wild to think of.

Charlene Atlas:
There’s a lot of things that we thought in the past we couldn’t do you that we can do now. And so I’m hoping that in the future too we can achieve the impossible, what we think is impossible now, for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
So we’re recording this right before the new year, just so folks know. But I’m curious to know, how has 2021 been for you, any grand discoveries or anything like that?

Charlene Atlas:
Well, it’s been pretty interesting for me because in late 2020, I had my first child in September.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, congratulations.

Charlene Atlas:
Yes, thank you. So he’s about 14 months old now. So it’s been a pretty interesting year for my husband and I, having our first kid. And he’s just changing so much every day and it’s great to watch him grow. And doing that all during the pandemic has definitely been another layer of challenge and adventure. But we’re doing good. Yeah, thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice. I guess going forward, thinking about 2022, do you have any particular plans or resolutions or anything?

Charlene Atlas:
I think the main thing for 2022 is that we really want to see our families. So none of our family has actually met our son yet. So really want to figure out all of this pandemic stuff and be able to see our families back home.

Maurice Cherry:
I can imagine that’s, oh, wow, with a new baby. I’m sure your parents and other family and stuff. And then his his dad’s parents also probably want to see him too because wow. Hopefully you all can make that happen.

Charlene Atlas:
Thank you. With his age, he can’t get vaccinated, that kind of thing. And then you have older parents and so it’s like, it’s not the best combination for the current situation. But I feel hopeful that we’ll get to see each other next year.

Maurice Cherry:
Fingers crossed, I hope that happens for you, I really do. So you work as an interaction designer at Meta, which, of course, most people know about as its former name, Facebook. What does interaction design mean at Meta in terms of the work that you do?

Charlene Atlas:
So I’m particularly in Reality Labs, the organization that focuses on augmented and virtual reality. And within that, I’m in the research organization. So even though I’m called an interaction designer, it’s different from what you might assume of web design or 2D interface design. It’s more about how are we going to interact with this new medium of virtual and augment interfaces. And so that’s what I mean when I say interaction designer. My team that I work on with research design is a different field from product design, in that you’re not focusing on making a product that you’ll then release in a few years, it’s more that you are working directly with scientists and engineers who are making completely new technologies to look at what is the user value, potential user value in the future of these technologies, what are things we could change to have more impact in the future, and maybe even what are new technologies we should invent to really meet the needs of people in the five to 10 year timeframe.

Maurice Cherry:
I can imagine it’s probably really interesting to think that far out as it relates to technology and what you want to accomplish and things of that nature. What does a typical day look like for you?

Charlene Atlas:
I’m involved in a lot of different projects. And so of course there’s meetings with the research teams, there’s doing the usual designer things of making specifications for how an experience should be built. So we build experiences that use some of these new technologies. We often also have to build what we call time machines, so this idea of creating an experience that’s simulating things that we expect will exist in the future so that we can better evaluate things that we want to create. So there’s a lot of prototyping and also a lot of writing. So at Meta in general, we value writing a lot. So there’s a lot of writing of what are people’s future visions, what are ways to approach work. Also if you have any new ideas, you usually have to write a one pager of some kind to start getting traction around it. So it’s mostly a lot of writing, making mock-ups, talking with researchers to understand what question we need to answer to really get the technology in the right direction to really make the impact we want to have in the world in the future.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me more about Reality Labs. You mentioned a bit about what the makeup of the team is and I guess the technology that it works on. But can you just go a little bit more in depth about that?

Charlene Atlas:
So rally labs, so we have more of the product side that focuses on our current work. So things like the Meta Quest, Meta Quest 2, VR devices that we have out in the wild. But then the research side, we have a lot of different research teams inside that focus on a variety of topics like graphics. So cutting edge graphics research, optical research, display systems, perception science, like how do people perceive what they’re seeing. So we really have a team for each piece of what we think will be necessary to build the future for VR and AR that can really become the next wave of technology for the world.

Charlene Atlas:
So if you think about that shift that happened from command line interfaces to the GUI, that’s the level of shift that we’re trying to make with AR/VR in the future. So basically we’re trying to cover all of the different senses that humans have, all the different things that people might need to be able to do. We have world class researchers in each of those areas that we can work directly with and see how we can put all that together into something that can hopefully be a transformational change in the future.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about the metaverse which Facebook debuted at Facebook Connects a few months back. On a high level, so our audience can understand it and also so I can understand it, what is the metaverse?

Charlene Atlas:
The metaverse, as we’ve talked about in the public, is an embodied internet. So this idea of connecting with people that you care about and really feeling present with them is one of the key pieces of it. And this isn’t something that is limited just to my work in AR/VR, but it’s really something that exists and can be accessed by lots of different devices. Just like now, we are in a call or if we’re in a video call or if you’re on the internet, there’s lots of different ways to access the internet and lots of different ways to join a call or what have you. So it is really about putting the pieces in place so that we can move beyond where we are right now with just having these mediated surfaces right between us and instead feeling like we are together and can really engage as we would in real life.

Maurice Cherry:
So it’s really just like, and then correct me if I’m wrong here, it sounds just like a natural extension or progression of say the internet that we know now.

Charlene Atlas:
If you think about the internet now even this isn’t real, what we’re doing now. It’s being replicated, there’s so many steps of audio being replicated and represented. So really we have our senses, we interpret what we receive and we feel or have a sense for what’s going on. And that’s the same thing with a metaverse, is just that it’s something that’s going to take years to build just because of the scale of what we’re trying to do. But you can think of it as that next step of how do we really feel like we’re together. This is a huge leap, what we’re doing right now of what it was like decades ago. So that’s the leap that we want to make into the future.

Maurice Cherry:
As you said, that reminded me of the scene in the matrix where Neo goes to meet the Oracle for the first time. So Neo goes to meet the Oracle and before he meets her, he has to sit in this little waiting area. There’s this kid that’s bending these spoons. You know what I’m talking about, this part of the movie?

Charlene Atlas:
Yes, I remember [inaudible 00:12:16].

Maurice Cherry:
And the kid picks up the spoon, he picks up the spoon and then he hands it. Well, he bends it then he hands it to Neo. The kid is like, “Don’t try to bend the spoon, instead try to bend yourself and then you’ll realize that there is no spoon.” So for me, I’m going a little esoteric here, so bear with me, to me, the way that I think about that with the metaverse is that just like how you’re saying this isn’t real because of the recreation of voice across electrons and distance. We’re not talking really in real time, it’s like a simulation of that. So when you think about the metaverse and that extension of that, it’s taking what we already know now with the internet and it’s ways and culture and stuff like that, I would imagine. And thinking about what that means on just a grander scale.

Charlene Atlas:
It’s helpful to think about, what are the barriers that exist now? And going back to your question before for of, how do you project that into the future? That’s part of what we think about. Is like, what are the things that people have issues with now? What are the technologies that exist that are on track to land at certain points in the future? And so then now knowing those technologies are going to be in place, what can we enable for people? What are the experiences we can enable? And these are experiences that, as I said, it’s not going to be that you can only access it on a particular device. It’s going to be, anyone can access it on their own device, in their own way. And all of those different access points have to be available experience for people.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m glad you mentioned that about the access. Because what I remember from Connect is that most people were using the Meta Quests 2, which people know also as the Oculus Quest 2, that was its old name. But people have seen that device in terms of, oh, this is how folks are accessing it. And like you said, there’s going to be different ways to do it in the future because the Meta Quests 2 is, of course, not the only device that you can use to access virtual reality and stuff. You can use a cell phone or you could use another device from another company or something like that. So it sounds like as this builds out into the future, there’ll hopefully be more of a, I don’t know, like democratization of technology to access it. But I don’t know if that necessarily all has to stem from Meta, it sounds like.

Charlene Atlas:
Yeah, right. And as we’ve said, in the different releases, we’re not trying to… It’s not that it’s like we are making the metaverse and nobody else is. We’re building for the metaverse, we’re getting ready, we’re getting ready for us all to be at that point. Just like the internet isn’t owned by any particular company.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s helpful to think about it that way, in that Meta is building for the metaverse and that Meta is not creating the metaverse. I’m trying to make sure I get that distinction down.

Charlene Atlas:
This is like nobody is making the internet. Yeah, exactly. You’ve got it.

Maurice Cherry:
I get it, I get it. I’ve been around on the web for a long time. And I remember even in the early days of the web going from web 1.0 to web 2.0, just the big shift, especially as it related to social media and how do we communicate with each other now in these new ways that we didn’t before. Because web 1.0, and I’m dating myself here, it was basically just research. All you did was just look up things and read them. Email existed back then, but it was in a very rudimentary state. And there certainly weren’t a lot of social spaces unless you thought about maybe a forum or Usenet or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
And then social media really started to take hold, let’s say what, maybe in the mid 2000s or so with Facebook being one of them, but Twitter and other things. And then as those platforms and experiences grew, this whole other culture arose with it as these things grew. So I see now, it sounds like we’re starting to transition from web 2.0 to web 3.0 or web 3 with the metaverse. There’s going to also be that same type of culture change in a way.

Charlene Atlas:
And definitely similar to what you just described happening on the internet, is what I hope at least will happen, and what we talk about a lot at work will happen in the metaverse of creators having the chance to create new things. That’s one of the reasons even that I’m a designer, is that I just love that you can put something out there and people can find new ways to use it and find new ways to express themselves. So I think it’s going to be really great for giving creators that chance to find new ways to express themselves.

Maurice Cherry:
And even with that expansion and culture, there’s a lot to think about in terms of just like… It’s weird for me to think about it this way because I distinctly remember how the web really clicked over from one to two. And now how it’s about to click over from two to three. I even from one to two, there were so many new things that were created with the advent of social media and user generated content. The whole economy around online advertising, that’s a whole industry that did not really exist in 2000. And now you do Google ads or whatever. There are people that have made millions just off of advertising on the internet. Now you can think of, with the metaverse, there could be different economic opportunities like that, or how do brands get in on this? And what about intellectual property and all this stuff? Like how do you factor in all those considerations in your work?

Charlene Atlas:
Some of the things we’re doing now that are a peek into the future is that Spark AR. So we do have AR that you can do face filters, that kind of thing on your phone. And we recently hit 700,000 creators on that platform. So people are already finding new ways to use these new mediums to create. As far as all these other things that we have to consider that you mentioned, something I’m really proud of that our group has done is release our responsible innovation principles that you can look up online. So we’re really laying out these are the principles we’re going to have as we build this new thing. Because we know that there’s going to be all of these questions and we want to build out in the open and we want to address things out in the open with everyone. So there’s definitely a lot to figure out and we’re doing our best to make sure we do it responsibly.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s so exciting to really think about the path that you all are really forging with this and to take all these considerations and things in mind. It’s interesting you mentioned that about Spark AR because I just saw a tutorial on TikTok, of all places, on how someone can easily make like an AR drawing, a Spark AR drawing using Procreate. So this person had a Procreate drawing. And for people listen, Procreate is a drawing application on the iPad. Basically they took those layers and dragged them into a Spark AR thing and was able to… It looked really easy. It was a TikTok, so they illustrated it in like 60 seconds. I was like, “Oh wow, you can easily make AR things just like this?” Yeah, I can see how that economy or even that just opportunity for creators to make new things in this space will really unfold. Especially once more people start to understand the technology, are able to get their hands on it and really just understand the possibilities behind what can be done.

Charlene Atlas:
You can download Spark right now and make stuff. I was making stuff the other week, just it’s pretty easy. So that’s really great, what you just mentioned because you never can fully imagine all the things that people might use it for. And it’s really great to watch people discover new ways, new mediums of art and expression.

Maurice Cherry:
So we’ve been talking about the metaverse, let’s bring it back to the real world. Let’s talk more about you because, of course, you’re the guest for this episode. So tell me more about where are you’re from, where did you grow up?

Charlene Atlas:
So I am from Maryland over on the East Coast and my family is from Haiti. So my parents are from Haiti and they met in New York and moved to Maryland and had my brother and I.

Maurice Cherry:
Growing up, were you exposed to a lot of technology?

Charlene Atlas:
I think my earliest memories are in school using a huge floppy disc to play games in the computer in the library, so there was that. My brother was really into video games and so I played a lot of games. It was through that playing games with my brother that really got me interested into technology. I really wanted to make games since I was pretty young because I just loved how much fun it was to play with him. I remember looking in the manuals back when there used to be manuals in the games, there’s a list of names there and it’s like, “Oh, I could do this? I could do this, make games?” So I just started a journey of trying to figure out how I could do that. And I wrote a letter to Sega asking what classes I could take all of these things. So it started me off there.

Maurice Cherry:
Did they write back to you?

Charlene Atlas:
They did. It was a really nice letter they sent. And they said take math and this and that. So when I went to high school, I actually did a science and technology magnet program that I got into for high school. So I did a lot of science and technology courses there.

Maurice Cherry:
Very cool. And of course that interest and passion eventually ended up leading you to USC, where you double majored in computer science games and East Asian languages and cultures. That sounds like quite a course load. Tell me about your time there, what was that like?

Charlene Atlas:
It was pretty interesting because… well first of all, I applied and accepted without ever visiting it. Because I was living in with Maryland and I was applying to schools. And this school, they had this computer science program that focused in games. And it wasn’t even that they had it yet, it was going to be ready in a year, and so I’d have to do the regular computer science and transfer into it. But I was just so excited to be able to go to a four year university where I could learn about other things, and East Asian languages as my other passion as well, and get to focus on making games. And it’s this great program, it’s a joint program between the cinema school and the computer science school. So I just was like, “I have to go there.”

Charlene Atlas:
Then I also was in marching band in high school and the USC Trojan Marching Band is one of the most famous bands around. I was like, “I got to be in this marching band.” So I convinced my parents like, “I got to go to this school.” And I went there. Something interesting is that I actually did get to go there before the school year started because I got into a program at USC for high school students for making games separately. So I went there over the summer, did the high school program, and then continued on to attend the school.

Maurice Cherry:
What was it like doing the marching band at USC? Because they’re a pretty well known band, the Trojans, right?

Charlene Atlas:
Yes, Trojans. So yeah, it was definitely intense. It’s a full-time job almost, especially since I was in the drum line. I was in the drum line so there’s extra practices for drum line and then there’s practices for band. Then you’re getting up at 5:45 every Saturday before the games because you got to do practice in the morning, then you got to do the marching all the way to the stadium and doing performances on the way, then you got to do the pre-game, you got to do the halftime show, the post-game. So it was a lot of time and so it was tough doing the computer science major, the band, the East Asian languages with the focus in Japanese major. I did some part-time work to help pay for school. So it was pretty busy, but it was so fun being in the band. And I got to do all kinds of…

Charlene Atlas:
In addition to doing the Rose Bowl, going to the Rose Bowl four times in the Rose Parade four times, I was able to also do various LA gigs, since we’re known as Hollywood’s band. So I’ve been on the Grammy’s, I’ve been on BET Awards, game shows, and stuff. So it was just a really interesting thing to be doing in college and just getting to have these experiences.

Maurice Cherry:
And then on top of that, you also even got a chance to study abroad too.

Charlene Atlas:
So I did take five years to finish because with the two majors plus I went to study abroad in Tokyo. So went to Jochi Daigaku, which in English they referred to it as Sophia University. And it was really fun. I stayed with the host family, I took my classes. The classes were pretty hard, maybe I shouldn’t have studied so much, I should have traveled around. But I was like, there was a lot of classes that I was taking in addition to Japanese language. So it was fun, a great learning experience. And I assumed that I would be back, I always thought I would live in Japan long term. But it was a lot of fun and it was great to reconnect to Japan because I had also gone there in high school as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, what brought you there in high school?

Charlene Atlas:
So my school in Greenbelt, Maryland, I basically had a sister school relationship with a school in Japan. And it’s called Yokohama Suiryo High School. Basically there’s an exchange program. So we would have exchange students come in and stay with us and we would sometimes stay over there. So basically every summer, there would be a trip to Japan. So one of the years I went. And the years that I went, one of my friends actually convinced our Japanese teacher to take us on an extra part of the trip where we would bike across the country. So there’s this road called the Tokaido Road, and it’s an old route and has a lot of historical significance. There’s an art print series that’s based on it. In any case, my teacher had done that trip with someone before because it’s a trip that people just take either walking or biking. And my friend convinced him to take us on it. I don’t know how he got the approvals for it, but he basically took us, a bunch of 15 year olds, across the country for two weeks on bikes, 400 miles.

Charlene Atlas:
That was really, I think, a turning point in my life because I had never biked more than a block before, then I had to bike 400 miles. So it was important for me and then also honestly to help my relationship with my father. Because my father was like, “You can’t do this.” After the first practice ride, I was collapsing into his car. He drove a cab at the time, so I get in the back of his cab and I’m like, “My legs.” And we’ve only gone like four miles and he’s like, “You can’t go to Japan, you’re going to hold people back.” All of this, he’s saying all this stuff.

Charlene Atlas:
But then we came back and my teacher told them how well I did. We did tons of practice rides basically before we went. So I got so much better and my teacher was like, “Hey, she really can do this.” My teacher, Mr. Suison, I can’t thank him enough. He really convinced my dad and showed him she can do these things. And ever since then, he’s behind me 100% for anything that I do, including when I said I needed to go across the country to USC. So that was helpful.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s quite an experience. I’d imagine that really builds fortitude, especially in high school.

Charlene Atlas:
And it’s pretty hilly at certain parts. Have you ever seen those Japanese prints with the huge mountain? It’s extreme in the picture, but we were on that thing. So it was pretty hard, but I really of tried to push through. Around that time, Eminem’s Lose Yourself song was popular. And so I was just repeating that in my head like, “This is your shot. Come on, this is your opportunity.” I’m just trying to get through.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like a Gatorade commercial or something.

Charlene Atlas:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s really helped me, I always feel like I can do anything.

Maurice Cherry:
And of course, as I did my research for the interview and saw you had a lot of great experiences in college. I can imagine even just doing the band is a lot, with all of the different appearances that you had to do. But studying abroad. One thing that I mentioned before we started recording is that you interned at NASA in college. I interned at two NASA facilities in college as well. What was your internship experience like there?

Charlene Atlas:
Actually my internship was during high school. So my high school, that I mentioned Ellen Roosevelt, it had, as part of the science and tech magnet program that I was in, you had to do a senior project. And you could do it either as your own project or as an internship. And fortunately, right next to my school is NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. So I was able to do a computer science internship there, that was really cool. I’ve always loved space, and so it was great to work there. I worked in the cryogenics lab. And basically what they do is they reduce the temperature on sensors. It’s a technology for reducing temperature on sensors so that they can be sensitive enough to receive what the sensors need to receive from space. So the intention is that these things would be sent out into space and they need to be kept cold enough to do their job basically.

Charlene Atlas:
So the project was to… They had this program running their machine, their cryo machine, and it was called a, what was it called? It’s a very long name, it was like adiabatic demagnetization refrigerators or something like that. They were running this program on it, but it was super slow. So my project was to rewrite it all in LabVIEW, which is this sciencey way of doing programming, a visual programming language. I think they were using, I forgot what they were using before, but… So I rewrote it and it worked a lot faster and they were so happy. It was supposed to actually get sent to space, but then all of the funding got pulled. I think something about George Bush happened and then all the funding was pulled for all of their stuff. But that almost got to go to space. But later on, a holo lens was sent into space with some of my work on it. So I feel like I’ve been vindicated there.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, that’s so interesting. When I interned at NASA in college, I did two internships. I did one at AMS, which is out in Moffett Field near Mountain View. What was interesting is I interned there and it was around the… I think when I got there, first of all, it was my first time in California, but I got there and I remember people on the NASA campus where buzzing about this new search engine called Google, have you heard of it? I remember all of that because it was right around, it was summer in 2000. And people were really buzzing about this new, yes, this new thing it’s down in Mountain View called Google or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Then I did Marshall Space Flight Center in Normal, Alabama, my junior year. But then they also pulled the funding for our program because 911 happened. So they pulled it and then the funding went towards Homeland Security. So the goal initially was oh, you intern at these two places. And then when you graduate you’re set up to work for NASA, that was what I was going to do. But then they pulled the funding and it’s like, well, sorry, good luck. I’m trying to find something now. So that’s interesting that that ended up happening or a similar thing. I don’t know, maybe this might have coincided around the same time, I don’t know. That’s really interesting.

Charlene Atlas:
Because I graduated around, let’s see, 2005 or something. So maybe, I don’t know. But I think probably it’s likely that projects funding gets pulled all the time maybe.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s true.

Charlene Atlas:
[crosstalk 00:31:35].

Maurice Cherry:
There’s one thing that NASA is really known for, is not getting a lot of funding. So that makes sense actually. While you were in college, you got a chance to intern at a gaming company, Electronic Arts. Was that your first foray into really working on games in that way?

Charlene Atlas:
Yeah, it was great. I went down to San Francisco area, worked at Electronic Arts. And yeah, it was my first gaming company job. So I was a software quality assurance test intern. So basically testing the game, creating automation, and doing programming for testing the game and improving the quality. It was really fun, I worked on, let’s see, I think I worked on SimAnimals on the Wii, and a little bit on Dante’s Inferno. It was a great experience to get that chance. I guess a similar situation what you just described, they were going to hire me full time. They were saying like, “Oh, we’ll come back to you and hire full time.” But then they froze hiring. So it was another thing where I felt like, oh, maybe I’ll work here, this will be where I work, but then it didn’t work out.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting how that stuff ends up happening in college. And then for me, I had to scramble and find oh, well what’s going to be the thing that I end up doing? Because I was in school on a certain path like, yeah, I’m going to go this way, and then you get this big curve ball thrown at you. In your case though, you ended up getting hired by a pretty big tech company right around the time you graduated is that right?

Charlene Atlas:
Microsoft came to our campus, came to what we call the game pipe laboratory in the games major and talked with us and asked me if I would come interview. So I ended up working at Microsoft as a software development engineer in test or an STET, which is a role that they don’t have anymore. But basically the role, how they describe it, is that you are the last line of defense for the user in terms of the game. So working on Xbox, working on the Connect game. So connect is the first motion controller, if you remember it, of basically you could use your whole body to control the game. And so worked on the launch titles for that as my first work there.

Charlene Atlas:
And then while I was there, we started working on HoloLens. So HoloLens started and it was a pretty nascent project when I got involved, to the point that the test team was basically the only people who could run the demos. So I was involved in a lot of high level demos, just making sure things would go right and all of that. The HoloLens is basically a headset mixed reality computer. So while I was working on HoloLens, I actually switched to design, and I can get into that story if you want. But yeah, Microsoft was my first corporate gig.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about that because you were there for a little over eight years. So you had a long time to really settle into the work that you were doing. But you started out, as you mentioned, in engineering, you started out in engineering and then you transitioned to design, what brought that shift about?

Charlene Atlas:
So as I mentioned, the test role was advertised as you’re there to protect the consumer, you’re their advocate. Then while I was on HoloLens supporting HoloLens, my test team was assigned to the studio that had a really great design design team, and I started learning more about design. Also around this time, one of the creative directors in the org started posting pages from universal principles of design in the bathrooms for some reason, in the bathroom stalls. I was like, “What is this?” This is the most interesting thing I’ve ever read. Because if you know that book basically each page, you can learn this whole, a principle of design and how it’s shown in the real world. I was like, “This is amazing, what is it?” So a few things came together there.

Charlene Atlas:
I had also been looking into, how long do I want to stay in test? I started literally going around interviewing people who had been in the test field for 20 years to see, what are you all working on? I want to be you someday. And then after talking to them, I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” That’s what I’m doing now, but just on a bigger scope project. So all of these things came together and I just talked to my manager and I was like, “I think I want to switch design.” I talked to the creative director for the studio we were supporting about and he started giving me some tasks to do and I did well with those. I had been helping one of the designers with user tests. So having people come in and try out the application. And we started this list of metrics for how much people were enjoying it. And I really loved seeing those metrics like go up.

Charlene Atlas:
I was supposed to be in charge of putting in code into the build to collect data on how things were going, filing bugs, all of this. But I was like, “Who cares about the bugs if it’s not fun?” So I realized that I cared more about, and I always have cared about experience. But apparently at this moment I was like, “Oh, design is the one, this field design is the thing that I thought I was doing or that is accomplishing the goal that I actually have of making an experience for people that matters, that they feel, and that they have fun.” So they gave me a chance. And funnily enough, the creative director, he said part of the reason he gave me a chance was because I’m a musician. So he knew that I had at least some creativity.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, interesting.

Charlene Atlas:
So I was like, “Oh, I’m glad I did that.” I guess, do music my whole life. So I interviewed and then I haven’t looked back. So that was back in… Basically I’d been in test for about four years and then 2015 or so is when I switched to design. So I got to work on the launch experiences for HoloLens and then go on to work on incubation projects and windows before I came to Meta.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting how something that you were doing as a, I don’t know if I would necessarily say it’s a hobby, but like another interest of yours, music, ended up being in a way this entry point for you into design. Which I think hopefully for people that are listening, illustrates how important it can be to be well rounded when it comes to the work that you do. It’s one thing, of course, to focus on what it is that you know, but then if you have these other interests, they can often guide you in many different ways. Like growing up, when you mentioned the science and tech stuff, I was captain of the maths leagues in high school, I majored in math in college, and I was also a musician. You mentioned musician, I was a session musician in my 20s and stuff like that.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting how eventually design ended up becoming my career, because I didn’t want to be a math teacher. I liked math, I didn’t like it that much to go and teach it. But I certainly liked it enough to get a degree in it, which that’s probably a whole other story. But it’s interesting how those other parts of yourself or those other interests and things that you have contributes or can contribute to other opportunities and things that you can pursue.

Charlene Atlas:
And that’s actually what I’ve always loved about game development because games are something where it’s a mixture of art and science. So I’ve always wanted to make sure I had a lot of interest and things I could pull from to create in my game development. Then I also feel like both music and design are about making people feel something. My approach to design is that I think of this magic moment of, what is this feeling I want to have someone experience by using this prototype or using this thing someday when it’s a product? What is that feeling I want them to have either in what they’re trying to do or connecting with someone else in this? Music is like that too, where you can make someone feel something. So I think it’s a really interesting connection that they have.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, what are you excited about at the moment? This is probably a vague question considering what you’re doing with Meta and all of that. But what’s the thing that’s really exciting you right now?

Charlene Atlas:
Like the group that I’m in at work, an interaction design group that I talked about earlier, I think we really have an opportunity. And I think we’re go going down some really interesting pathways as to, how do we actually move forward? Like I said at the beginning, how do we move away from how we do computing right now? So I’m really excited about some things that we’ve released publicly recently on our tech blog about our tenure vision for AR and about some of the things we were building such as a haptic glove for being able to actually feel virtual objects, to wrist based interfaces that can be controlled by EMG or electromyography in your wrists so that you can do very simple interactions. So I think it’s just a really big opportunity we have to finally, after decades of doing things one way with computing, of keyboard and mouse and standard way of doing things, we actually have an opportunity to really improve just how we do things in general. So I’m just really excited to be a part of that.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, your career to date, just one, going through what we’ve discuss so far, has been super prolific working for Microsoft, working for Electronic Arts, and even all of your other activities with music and going to Japan and everything like that. As you look back at your career, who are some of the people that have like really stood out and have helped you as mentors?

Charlene Atlas:
What’s interesting, I’ve touched on some of them in this talk, which I guess is saying something. My teacher back in high school, Mr. Suison, who took us on that trip. He didn’t have to…. I assume he took on a lot of risk taking a group of teenagers across a foreign land. But that really helped develop me as a person and define me for a long time, so I really appreciate that. I mentioned that person who took a chance on me, Cameron brown. So the first creative director I had who hired me as a designer, and he really took a chance. I think there’s a lot of times in our lives when people just…

Charlene Atlas:
If you make the right connections, people will give you an opportunity that if you take that opportunity, it really can change the course of your life. I really appreciate being able to do this design work from that opportunity because it really is aligned with just how I think about how I want to make an impact in this world. So I really appreciate everyone who’s contributed to that. And really takes a lot of people over a long period of time to get us all to where we are right now.

Maurice Cherry:
If there’s someone that’s out there that’s listened to your story and they want to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

Charlene Atlas:
Well, as far as following my footsteps, I think it’s really important to figure out what makes you excited and what makes you feel passion for what you’re doing. One of the things that got me the Microsoft job, I learned at some point, was that they really wanted me make sure I show the passion for what I’m doing. They gave me advice through the different rounds of like, “Make sure you show that your passionate for what you’re doing.” Because that really will drive everything you do after that, and so that’s what I focus on. I just focus on wanting to make… What is the impact I want to make? And how can I do that? And how can each day go towards that?

Charlene Atlas:
As far as getting into this field, the AR/VR field it’s surprisingly easy these days to really jump in and learn things. There’s Unity game engine for building experiences. For example, we actually have a program called Oculus Launchpad. So promising VR creators from underrepresented backgrounds, we actually give support to them to build experiences, put their products out there. So there’s a lot of resources at Meta for people to get involved. But there’s also just a lot out online. Spark AR that I mentioned, build something. So like in general, I would say figure out what your passion is and then actually start just doing something, bias towards action. So if you have an idea, build that idea. If you don’t know how to do it, figure out how to do it. There’s just so much you learn from just trying to build something. Because if you just try to learn a topic without actually building something, you’re going to be missing out on a lot.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would have went into if you didn’t go into tech?

Charlene Atlas:
It’s interesting. I feel like depending on which point of my life we’re talking about, I think it would’ve been different. So I’ve always loved space, so sometimes I think about maybe even someday in the future, working more in the space field. I just really love the idea of humans going to another planet and all that. I don’t know how I would contribute necessarily at this point. But I just love that idea. Also with the interest in Japan, which stemmed from my interest in video games initially, I sometimes think about, I could have gone into, of course, with the other major, I could have gone into translation or being maybe a Japanese teacher. But probably if I was going to go down that path, I’d probably go into translation because I really loved the idea of helping people connect.

Charlene Atlas:
And that was one of the biggest things I learned from my exchange experience. Was when we would have students come visit us or we would visit them, we were all just high school students, we were all silly laughing high school students, even though we were from different countries and spoke different languages. That’s something I learned really early on about people, that we’re not as different as we think. So I love that idea of helping other people communicate between each other, even if they’re speaking a different language. So just in general, anything that involves connecting people is something that I would go into.

Charlene Atlas:
And I’ll just also say AR, VR, augmented reality, one of the things that excites me so much about it is this idea of being able to be present with people, like I talked about earlier. Basically I feel like AR, VR is the next best thing to teleportation. So I wish I could teleport to go see my family or go to places I haven’t been in a long time. But I feel like I’m working on the next best thing. So I guess also if teleportation ever becomes a thing, I would definitely work on that.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting you mentioned that about space because one, space is super, super interesting. But like right now, I feel like there’s this whole thing around governance of space. Because no one owns space, it’s space, nobody owns space. But you have the international space station, you have other countries that have launched satellites and things like that. And there’s tons of space junk just orbiting the planet or in the planet’s fairly low orbit or something like that. And it’s like there’s no real governance around space or cleaning up space, I mean space in terms of just what’s around the earth and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Because there have been some times I think this year where a couple of people were talking about, “Well, how come we can’t just take all the planet’s garbage and launch it into space?” I’m like, “That’s ridiculous.” If you think about it on a logistical level, humans create a lot of waste. Do you know how much time that’s going to take, how much fuel that’s going to take? And like just dumping it in space doesn’t solve the problem. Anyway, space is infinitely interesting. And I do feel there are a lot of opportunities there even with the whole new Space Force thing. But from research capability, certainly with other planets and things. But if earth is our home, which it is, then our yard is filthy, there’s toys and stuff, it’s a mess. So maybe, I don’t know, focus on that, I don’t know. But that’s a whole other thing.

Charlene Atlas:
I think space exploration and the work that we do on augmented reality, virtual reality relate in that there’s a lot of uncharted territory. That’s one of the things that make it really exciting right about space, is like, who knows what’s out there? We got to get there, we got to see stuff. And that’s what my group does. Is we got to go out there and figure this out. Because basically every day there’s a long list of unknowns that we’re dealing with and it’s just a very high ambiguity space. So honestly, it can be frustrating sometimes. But it’s also exciting because the potential for what we can learn is just so huge. And that’s what I like about both of those areas.

Maurice Cherry:
High ambiguity spaces are a lot of fun because you then really get to carve out what you want to do and figure things out. The fact that nothing is really concrete means that you can do what you want, but also establish rules and things. So I like working in those spaces, it’s really fun. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I think just based on the work that you’re doing, of course, it’s going to be future focus. But if you really could look into 2026, I think two, five, six, what kind of work do you see yourself doing or what work do you want to do?

Charlene Atlas:
Like I said, we work in the five to 10 year timeframe. And so I’m hoping that five years from now, we’ll be in a place where some of the things we’re working on have landed or we’ve figured out what we shouldn’t be doing. I just really want to be helping us get to that place where things are getting more defined and we’ve landed in a good place. So right now, I… So I’m an individual contributor, I don’t manage any people, but I do drive a lot of, what we call, cross group collaborations. Like you have an idea and you can drive it with a lot of different people.

Charlene Atlas:
So I would love to keep doing that work but at a greater scope. And just really helps carve out the strategy for how are we actually going to land this thing? Because even once we’ve figure out a lot of things like, “oh, we figured it out,” we have something in the lab that works, is great. But then it’s like, okay, now we really have the work do of how do we actually transfer it to something that people could actually use? So I think five years down the line, I’d love to be a leader in the organization that’s helping to find some major piece of this future we’re trying to create.

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

Charlene Atlas:
You can go to charleneatlas.com and on there you can also find the link to my LinkedIn. Definitely hit me up if you’re interested in working in Reality Labs. Also the tech.fb.com, the Tech Facebook blog has a lot of our latest research information posts.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Charlene Atlas, I want to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. As I was doing my research for all this, and I mentioned to you before that I’m going to this metaverse conference thing tomorrow, that I’m super excited about. But as I was putting all this together and really just digging into your background, you have accomplished so much. It’s mind boggling to see the work that you’re doing now, and because it’s such an uncharted space. I hope that people will get a sense of your passion for this, as you’ve mentioned before, about people being passionate about this. I hope people get a sense of what your passion is for this. And hopefully that can fuel them to see what new possibilities might be out there for them, especially as we embark upon a new year. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Charlene Atlas:
Thank you so much, Maurice. It was great talking to you.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

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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.

It’s time for Revision Path’s annual audience survey! Give us your feedback on the podcast, and you could win a $250 Amazon.com gift card from us! Head over to revisionpath.com/survey today. The survey closes on May 31, 2020. Thank you!
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.

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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!


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