Harrison Wheeler

If you’ve been a longtime listener of Revision Path, then you probably already recognize this week’s guest, Harrison Wheeler. Along with being a senior design manager at LinkedIn, he’s also a podcaster with his own show called Technically Speaking. (And I’ve been a guest twice!)

Our conversation started off with a peek into life at LinkedIn, and he talked about working and managing remotely, as well as about how he’s changed as a manager over the years. We also talked shop about podcasting, the metaverse, the future of design in business, and Harrison shared some of the best career advice he’s received. I love checking back in with guests and seeing just how they’ve grown over their career, and Harrison is proof that hard work and dedication pays off in the long run!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Harrison Wheeler:
Hey, Maurice. My name is Harrison Wheeler. I am a senior prog design manager at LinkedIn, and I’m going on four and a half, five years. Time flies.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Welcome back to the show, man. It’s good to have you back.

Harrison Wheeler:
I know. Yeah, we were just chatting beforehand. It’s been what, almost four or five years since I … No, it’s been longer than that. What I’m talking about, I’ve been at LinkedIn for, like I said, almost five years. So it’s almost been like seven years.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You were at Base when we last talked, which is now part of Zendesk, I believe.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But yeah, it’s been a while. So we definitely got a lot to catch up on in terms of your career and everything.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. It’s funny. I’m trying to think. I think I might have been in Chicago or had just moved to California back when that was recorded.

Maurice Cherry:
You had just moved to California.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, man.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2021 been for you? What did you learn about yourself over this past year?

Harrison Wheeler:
Look, if 2020 was rough, so I think I’m a glass half full kind of person. So I will say that 2021 definitely felt like a bit of emergence out of that. Just looking back, I mean, a few things. And so I think really being unapologetic in terms of just turning things off and making time for myself. I think making time in the space for yourself is super important for that. I think, additionally, we all know this, but your voice matters. And I think probably it’s a bit of a reflection in terms of where I’ve grown and the position and the role that I have within my organization, within the design community. It’s important to have that voice and then also give back. Perspective is very important. And I will say many things have also accelerated within the last couple of years.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so when you think about how a lot of the workforce is now, like tele commuting, what sort of constraints does that create? Are we creating opportunities for people to get in? Are we also conscious of some of the effects of the work that we do? And so how can we bring more consciousness to the work that we’re doing, to the decisions that we’re making on a day to day basis?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think really also with this past year, because … and I want to say this partially because of the vaccine in a way. It’s really thrown workplaces in general into a bit of a learning moment in a way. Because of course in 2020, when we didn’t have the vaccine, everything was like, we’re going to move to remote work, we’re going to do this. And then the vaccine comes and then offices are like, well, I guess maybe we can start going back. And then the variants come through and they’re like, well, maybe you should stay at home. There’s been this weird push, pull. Of course there’s been the creation of these hybrid schedules, but I still think companies are trying to figure out what they’re going to do next and they’re not doing well at that. But I think that’s to be expected because this is so unprecedented.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I mean, I’ve had a few thoughts on that. I’ve had an opportunity to at least exercise what the hybrid concept is like. And just reflecting, again, over the past couple of years, I think we’ve seen a lot of evolution, at least from a design perspective, the tools that we use. You have the online multiplayer, you’ve got tools like Loom where you can do asynchronous video recordings. Obviously Slack is a big part of it. Having soundboards or sound rooms as a way of communicating without necessarily needing to be on camera. I think the list really goes on in terms of how remote work has been optimized. But the moment that you step into an office, it is a relic of where we left off. And so there is a gap there.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, one of the things that actually I’ve been thinking about is, how does this play a role in the design rituals that we have. Not necessarily from a remote perspective, but when we have folks in an office and then we have folks on camera. Because there are some really interesting nuances. Like, we’ve all had pretty good high fidelity cameras at home, but the moment you’re in an office, you now see someone in three dimensions. So maybe their voice sounds different, maybe the audio is a little bit distorted. Folks might not see what’s going on in the chat. Folks might be having side conversations. Some of these things aren’t new per se, but now we’ve got a more equitable type of situation that we need to be considerate of. And so, how can we build in process, practice? How can we ingrain it? I think for me, how do you think about that at scale? And so, there’s a software component, there’s a hardware component and then there’s also just the general human to human communication component. So yeah, it’s really interesting, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s funny now that I think about that, because when the pandemic really started, I was working for a company that was very much remote first. And they had an office and I had been to the office. I don’t even remember the last time I was in their office, maybe 2019 I think. But that was three or four jobs ago. Since then, now I’ve worked at a number of different companies in remote positions with people who I’ve never met, who I’ve had to work with oftentimes across very wide time zone births to try to get creative work done. And yeah, it’s a change, it’s a big change. And just trying to adjust to it, making sure you’re getting the best work out of people. Of course, I think, one, with being sensitive to just the general overall global issue that we’re going through with the pandemic. But also, it’s going to be a different kind of thing when you meet them in person. At the other places, I’ve not met a single one of my coworkers in person in over a year.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I think it’s truly fascinating, that social component. I think on the show, I don’t know if I had gone to this point yet, but a lot of the engineering team that I was working with was based in Poland. And so I think we hadn’t developed ways to communicate. Technology wasn’t there, so the ways to communicate were extremely difficult. So then you really had to see and visit somebody to understand their body language. But I think now, we’re so good at communicating with each other. I think seeing each other in the flesh it sort of like, oh, how do we compute this now?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m running into that a bit now because the place where I currently work, we’re split between San Francisco and Paris. And so I’m working with Europeans in the morning, working with the US folks in the afternoon trying to … And it is all very much a sync. I mean, I’m right in the middle. So when I start my day at 9:00 AM, it’s the afternoon already in Paris and it’s still early morning in San Francisco. So I have to try to juggle how I work now based on that, because we’re not all on that same eight-hour block.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
When you think about 2022, are there any certain resolutions or goals that you have that you want to try to accomplish?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, resolutions or goals. I would probably say I need to do a better job at taking a vacation. I’ve been saying that for a long time, but I think this past couple of years, I think from a mental health perspective, haven’t been easy. And I don’t think it’s been easy for most folks. And so again, I think be able to create that time and space where you can reflect. You don’t need to, you can also be in the moment. You don’t have to necessarily reflect. But I think we need to just create the space. That’s how I recharge. I’m doing a lot of really awesome stuff with my podcast, Technically Speaking. So I’m looking forward to really expanding that. I know we’re going to get into that a little bit later. But I would also say like, move a little bit more. Really be conscious about getting movement in. I mean, I’m in meetings all day. And so going for that. Walk around the block, heading on the bike, lifting some weights. In some way, shape or form, committing to that every day.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want a vacation. Well, I think I need one certainly, because the last time I was really out on a plane somewhere was February 2020. I just haven’t went anywhere because of the pandemic. But now it’s, I’m feeling it now. I need to disconnect on a beach in another country somewhere like nobody’s business.

Harrison Wheeler:
You’re in the hub, man. I think you can fly anywhere in the world from Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s true. I’ve just been wary of it because … I mean, you’ve been seeing all this stuff with people fighting on planes and stuff. I’m like, I’m not trying [crosstalk 00:12:33]. I’m not trying to get caught up somewhere having to try to go somewhere. But we can’t because back in 25B, they’re [dooking 00:12:41] it out. Like, come on, you’re holding up everybody. We are all trying to get somewhere.

Harrison Wheeler:
I mean, this is a sad state of affairs. But it’s sad when airlines have to take away the alcohol because folks can’t handle themselves in the air.

Maurice Cherry:
Wait, have they taken away the alcohol on planes for real?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, yeah. I think now, probably around mid-December, early January, I think some airlines are looking at bringing it back. But yeah. Folks were getting lit.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh my God. Wow. I didn’t know it was that bad. Geez.

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Hopefully we can get it together, but I don’t know. Humanity has been … it’s been a very interesting experiment of humanity over this past year or so. Just seeing how folks have acted, especially with these vaccines. We’re not going to make this political, getting into it, but it’s been a lot. So yeah. When you were last on the show, which as we talked about was way back on episode 140, you were at Base, which is now part of Zendesk. And since then, you’ve went on to LinkedIn where now you are a senior design manager. What has your time at LinkedIn been like.

Harrison Wheeler:
Wow. Yeah, this is great. I love reflecting on this. So I mean, look, I want to maybe touch on … maybe we can give a brief overview of what Base was. Because I think a lot of times I get a lot of questions in terms of, what attracted you to LinkedIn? And I also get questioned around, yo, it’s been five years. And tech speak, five years, man, you’re an OG at that point because the average length of folks is usually around two years at a job. And that number is probably going down over time. I mean, we see that there are so many opportunities out in the market these days. But when I started at Base, I was a manager for basically a 300-person startup. And so my design team at the time was around five directs on the product side, one on marketing. And then I reported up directly into the CEO and then eventually the chief of product.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so I think for me, that was an amazing experience. I got to really build something from zero to one. I got to experience what growth looked like. Had some really amazing experiences being able to go to Europe and create lasting connections with folks back on that project. I think for me when I was looking … And I wasn’t even looking, to be honest, Maurice. I think I’d probably taken a moment to sit down and understand, what is the general experience that I want to have? And I think for me, I was pretty simple. I want to be able to have impact in the organization on the product and eventually grow a team. But most importantly, I wanted to have the support to grow as a manager. I didn’t really have the tools, in my opinion, to lead with confidence. And I will say that what attracted me was the fact that there was a good amount of folks that were experienced and seasoned from a managerial perspective. The company had a lot of amazing programs to help foster that connection.

Harrison Wheeler:
And on top of that, there were folks that I’ve been able to meet that have also played a big role in my development. And of course, I’ve had some awesome coworkers. I think in terms of the opportunity, so right now the team I’m on is called LinkedIn marketing solutions. And so if you aren’t familiar with our enterprise products, there’s obviously the flagship product that most folks on LinkedIn are on. It’s where you post, that’s where you see jobs, you’ve got the feed. And then we have really four different product areas. Sales navigator, so that’s usually for sales folks. We have LinkedIn talent solutions for our recruiters. And sometimes you might get those inboxes from recruiters trying to hit you up for a new gig. We’ve got LinkedIn learning and then we got LinkedIn marketing solutions. And so LinkedIn marketing solutions is really our ad platform and one of the fastest growing lines of … actually, I think it is the fastest growing line of business at LinkedIn.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so for me, I have had an experience very similar to a startup because we’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of folks using our product. A lot of growth in terms of the team growing. And also, the acceleration of our experiences from a maturity perspective. I think going in, LinkedIn was around 15 years old. So I think most people would be like, oh, man, that company is old, 15 years. But over the past four years that I’ve been there, we’ve invested a lot. And honestly, it’s evolved like night and day. It’s been really fun to be a part of that ride, because I know that I’ve had some part in doing that. Being able to have that impact for me and seeing that growth was really core to my decision-making there.

Harrison Wheeler:
And look, I mean, when you’re in the tech game, I think it’s important to understand really … on top of the work, understand what are the things that are going to help bring value to your life. We all know that over the past two years, if you’re working in tech, going into the office, not having benefits, not being able to focus on your physical and mental health as a part of that package, you know there’s somebody out there offering better. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
That’s the beauty of the situation right now. And for me, I can confidently say there’s not really too many companies that would offer support in that way any better than LinkedIn. And so honestly, that’s really kept me around.

Maurice Cherry:
And I mean, you came on at the time … I think it might have been right around the time that LinkedIn was bought by Microsoft.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So I came in actually a little bit after that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I believe the acquisition had happened earlier that year.

Maurice Cherry:
So even with that, I mean, you’ve got that big tech juggernaut behind LinkedIn. So I’m sure that in terms of just like, I think one job security, but two also just the … Like you said, if you’re in the Bay, probably just if you’re in tech in general, you’re always looking to try to level up. I mean, that’s a great place to do so.

Harrison Wheeler:
100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Can you talk a bit about what you do as a senior design manager?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I get a lot of questions around, what does IC growth look like? What does a manager growth look like? And so, as I mentioned before on my team, I have eight designers … excuse me, seven designers, one manager. And then soon I’ve got two roles opening up. So for folks listening and you’re interested, definitely check out the job listings. But it’s really interesting because I think a lot of times when you think about managers, the people side of things. But honestly, for me, I think about, how can we create an organization that is really based on outcomes around how we approach design? And so a lot of that is making sure that my team has a time and space to thoroughly think through their problem space. I’ll give you an example of a few initiatives that I generally work on.

Harrison Wheeler:
So number one, we’re working really hard in terms of trying to really double down and protect our design rituals. And that’s from our weekly standups to our feedback. How can we give better feedback? How can we provide even safer spaces for feedback? How can we make sure the process is inclusive for everyone on the team to have a voice and be able to scale that in different areas? How are we thinking about what growth paths on the team look like? How can we be consistent in terms of creating expectations? How can we create different opportunities and modules for designers to have a better understanding about the situations that they’re in? So as they have the autonomy to really start to lead projects, they’re equipped with the proper tools to have the right conversations to be able to say no, and also understand when to prioritize.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so those are just a few of them. Obviously, there’s the planning side of things, there’s the performance review side of things. But ultimately, how can we also think about having more of a thoughtfulness in terms of thinking horizontally? So as I mentioned before, we’ve got the flagship experience, we’ve got these four other enterprise experiences. How can we bring some of that goodness or how can we bring in some of the initiatives that they’re working on into some of the things that we’re trying to achieve. And so a lot of that is honestly, I think, fairly similar regardless of the size, the organization that you’re at. I will say, LinkedIn, being that it is about an 18-year-old company now, there’s around 13,000 employees globally. There’s a little bit more conversations that you’ll have to have, but I don’t think that’s any different from most organizations this size.

Maurice Cherry:
And so, with the team make up like it is, I mean, do you get a chance to really work one-on-one with designers or are you mostly working more with upper management and leadership?

Harrison Wheeler:
Honestly, it really is a mix. At least for my designers that are my reports, we do have our one-on-ones. So we do have an opportunity to go through individual designs. We do have opportunities to really think about what growth looks like. As I mentioned before, we have rituals that I always attend. So if I can, at least. And so that is our design reviews, our standups. Those are the things that I really try to do. I try my best to make sure that our team is equipped, like I said, to be autonomous, to be able to work with their teams. Because I am not able to be in every single situation. Also, my manager isn’t available to be in every single situation all the time as well.

Harrison Wheeler:
So there’s a bit of that. There’s a lot of back and forth at least from a leadership perspective as well. And so, we have a growing design organization. We need to also understand at least as a manager too, that whether it’s coming from product or inch, that we’re not only managing down to the team, but also managing up and giving our executive team visibility. We might be working on vision work and so I might be a little bit more involved there working with other VPs or directors involved in that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, speaking of design management, when we had you on the show back in 2016, you were a design manager at Base.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say you’ve grown as a design manager since then? I mean, is it different in this larger organization or what’s changed?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I mean, 1000%, I’m a totally different manager than I was back then. There are times where I’m like, if I could take situations back in the day and pair it with what I know now, I guarantee you the outcomes would be totally different. And so I think a lot of times when I started out is like, you’d read all the books or you have this idea of what a manager is supposed to do and you try to be like. Or at least for me, I can’t speak for other folks. I had this misnomer that I had to be right. That I had to know what I was doing. That it was important that people knew that I knew what I was doing, when that was not the case.

Harrison Wheeler:
And I think really coming to terms with like, hey, I have no idea how this is going to turn out, I think for me became pretty transformational. And then I had a moment too where I had an opportunity to have a professional coach, shout out to Brooks. He was actually on one of my episodes on Technically Speaking. But the sessions that I had with him really changed, honestly, my mindset on being a manager. And a lot of it really came down to understanding when to have conversations and how to have those conversations. A lot of what we do as designers really comes down to communication. And sometimes it might not be comfortable, it might be uncomfortable. But usually when you do feel that, you’re usually at a crossroad. There is a decision that needs to be made. And on the other side of it, it’s going to be beneficial no matter what.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I would say, it sounds like you at least had that … and I’m not saying you didn’t have this at Base, but it certainly sounds like you’ve had support to grow at as a manager while you’ve been at LinkedIn. You haven’t just been winging it. I say that to say, I’ve been in design management situations where it was very clear I was winging it. The company was not really trying to offer any support in that area. But these were startups, it’s not an established company like LinkedIn. But it sounds like they are invested in your growth as a design manager.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Yeah, 100%. And I think one thing, you asked what I do on the day to day. But there are definitely things that I look at in terms of, how can we evolve as an organization? And so those are things that we’re constantly chipping away. And I think having that north star and being able to have your team align on that, I think does help quite a bit in terms of making sound and constructive conversations and decisions as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, have you encountered any other black design managers while you’ve been … not necessarily at LinkedIn, but just in your career in general?

Harrison Wheeler:
You mean as far as being my manager, or?

Maurice Cherry:
Just in general.

Harrison Wheeler:
In general. Honestly, I will probably say, not since I’ve been at LinkedIn. How should I phrase this? I will say that there are a few that I’ve known and heard of from afar, but I will say I haven’t been able to personally meet any until I was at LinkedIn. And we’ve seen really a lot of growth in terms of representation as far as black folks go at the manager level. And so I think that’s been really, really special. Because I think for me, it just felt really inaccessible in terms of meeting other black design managers. And so now to have that presence where I work, I think is extremely special to me. Because I always think about, the first manager that I’ve had technically was my mom because my mom had hired me to do web design at the elementary school that she worked with. And so I always tell people, my mom was the first black manager that I directly had. And I think what was really interesting, the lesson in that for me was, I was able to reflect on this.

Harrison Wheeler:
I was like, my mom literally advocated for me in terms of making a budget. And then on top of that, she gave me the space to grow. It’s funny when you think about the lessons in some of these areas in your life that you don’t really think of until you are a lot older. And so I don’t know. That for me was really groundbreaking. Because I think in the discussion that we had in terms of that growth piece, you mentioned something around black designers need to have the opportunity to fail. And I think it’s so important to have representation as a black designer, as a black design manager, because now you can actually discuss these things. You can fail, you can have mentorship within your organization. And we all know this, that the representation numbers are extremely low. I think it’s really special when you can have a community like that to support along the way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting. Even as I’ve done this show over the years and I’ve talked to people from other organizations and such, it’s still pretty fragmented when you think about other black design managers or even just … Someone had asked me, oh, is there a professional group of black designers that I can join? And I was like, well, not really. I mean, you could join the organization. And I have to preface this because I don’t want anyone from OBD coming after me. But look, I’m not saying the Organization of Black Designers is not doing great things. What I am saying is that for current black designers that are in the industry, they do not know that you exists. So I can mention, like for example, I can say AIGA. Or if you are regional, I can say, well, there’s Bay Area Black Designers or there’s I think Black Design Seattle, I think is what it’s called or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
There are some regional groups, but a national organization kind of thing. It’s still pretty fragmented. I mean, there are shows like mine and shows like yours, which of course we’ll get into, that I think do a good job of highlighting who we are and what we’re doing out here. But it’s still, for I think the average designer, it still is pretty hard to find that community.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah, it is. It is. Yeah. And I will say it’s probably even more complex given how fragmented it is. It’s actually even harder to find, as you mentioned, because consistency is key. And so even over the past couple of years, I’ve seen things pop up, but then really quiet down. And so it’s not only finding the group, but it’s making sure that it’s active. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. I’ve certainly run into a few that have been in that same fashion. They start up one way and then it just dies out. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It takes a lot to keep those things going. So then just in terms of initiatives and things, are there any particular initiatives that you’re involved in at LinkedIn?

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s real funny because I go back to … I was thinking or reflecting on the first episode that we had. I think for me being a black designer in tech, it felt like a sense of accomplishment. I mean, it definitely was. Coming from the Midwest, really trudging along and just taking risks, not knowing what’s on the other side and not necessarily having those perspectives. I think it was definitely something to celebrate and to be able to do this. But I think that quickly went away because at the end of the day you’re still one of, who knows? Hundreds, thousands in an organization.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so in the moments around Trayvon Martin. And it was tough, it was very isolating. And I think not having a community to be able to go to or at least just talk it out, I thought was, I don’t know, it was very isolating. And so I think moving into LinkedIn, I didn’t want to go through that again. I’ll put it like that. You know who Renee Reid is? Shout out to Renee Reid.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah. Tech Wrap Queen, of course.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Tech Wrap Queen, check it out. So we actually joined LinkedIn actually the same year. So myself, her and George Hay, shout out to George, we actually got together and we were like, we should put something on. We should try and create some representation within the organization. We should also have some external representation to let folks know that we’re here. And so we started with a lot of small things. I remember Renee was really passionate about having a week during Black History where the cafeteria served food from all over the African diaspora. And by the way, LinkedIn, I mean, we don’t have cafeterias right now because it’s kind of … Well, we do, but it’s not operating in the same capacity. LinkedIn has some bomb food. I think if you’re ever in the Bay Area, if you ask somebody which tech company has the best food, LinkedIn is definitely up there nine times out of 10.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so what they cook tastes pretty good. We got together and designed the LinkedIn [nberg 00:33:15], that’s the LinkedIn logo. I designed that with the kente pattern and we got those printed. And so whenever LinkedIn showed up, we showed up for sure. AfroTech, we came in deep with the kente cloth pattern and people were like, this is what LinkedIn is about. And one of the most amazing things about it is that it resonated with black folks all over the country. But LinkedIn has global offices around the world. So we had folks down in Brazil repping the LinkedIn kente nberg. So I think it was really great to see that movement. And then we had a little bit of a coming out party about three years ago during the week of AfroTech, the second week of AfroTech, where we had designers come to LinkedIn. And we just chuffed it out.

Harrison Wheeler:
We had a panel with research and design and we basically called that black by design. That was really a big moment for us. And it was great because we got to show people what design was like. Inside LinkedIn, people had an opportunity to see what we look like and what we were talking about. And there was a relational piece to it. And then we also eventually made hires from some of the folks that attended. And so here we are, we’re strong. I think 15 plus folks, it might be even more, but we started out being only three of us. And so it’s been really great to see that evolve over time. And over the past year, we’ve been doing a lot to really organize and really keep it growing. Because obviously we want this to keep growing, whether we’re at LinkedIn or when we move on. They call that the next play.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so we have really three pillars that we focus on. So we got a set of folks working on growth and retention. And so that’s really around, how can we keep folks in? How can we provide opportunities for people to grow outside of their traditional day to day job? We have another pillar called brand building and community. So that’s when we go out and we have these happy hours. So when we show up to events like AfroTech, this is when we have an opportunity to really be able to not only push some of the amazing initiatives that LinkedIn is doing, but also elevate the folks within the group to the community. And then we have a third pillar called product experience.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so actually a couple of weeks ago, we had a presentation around company pages that we invited black creative businesses to join. And so how can we elevate our products to benefit the black community and also learn about how people are using them, and bring that feedback directly into the product. So it’s been really fun to see that evolve. Really be able to create a space for our members to be able to kick back, talk about anything and everything, and go live in the Slack channel. So it’s been really great to see that evolution over time.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would say this is a testament probably to the longevity and the structure of LinkedIn, that you are able to have such a robust employee resource group like that, that will allow you to do things that directly touch the brand. A different version of the logo. I mean, that’s a lot just in and of itself because that’s something that goes out globally, like you said, across LinkedIn in a number of different countries.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Look, I will say, I mean, it’s been a journey, but definitely shout out to the exec team that supports us. We have two executive sponsors. I’ve had an opportunity to talk with other folks within the company that have been super supportive and be willing to work with us and iterate as we go. And I think with that kind of mentality, that’s extremely empowering in allowing really that expression to be able to happen. And so it’s really been, honestly for me, I’m humbled. I’m honored to really be able to be a part of creating that platform where … I was thinking of this. To some folks, this is their first experience in tech. I mean, that’s mind blowing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, switching gears here. Of course, we’ve mentioned before about your podcast, Technically Speaking. Which is one big thing that’s changed since you were last on the show, is you do podcasting now too. So why don’t you tell the folks here about your show and what it’s about?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. Well, look, man, I mean, I kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, I think. We both touched on this. I think the representation in the industry for black folks is fairly small. Still small. Very small. I shouldn’t even say fairly small. And I think what’s important is like, I think a lot of times when we tend to see each other, we always ask, what’s your story? How did you get to where you are? I think at least in the product design space, I thought that was extremely important to really be able to provide a platform for. I’ve been considering this for a while, but I honestly think a lot of the events from last year really was a bit of a catalyst to move that forward.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so to be honest with you, I didn’t think I could do a podcast. I think I’d asked people so many questions on how to do it and I for sure was procrastinating much of the time. But yeah, I went ahead and did it. And honestly, it’s been a game changer for me to be able to meet so many people and have many different perspectives. As much of a tool as it is for folks that are listening for them to learn, it’s been a tool for me to also learn about their stories. I think the production element of the podcast is also another area that I’m always striving to improve and learn on and iterate. But yeah, I think … let’s see, I mean, we’re about a year and a half in, almost 10,000 downloads throughout the lifetime, within a year and a half, which I think is a huge milestone. And I think we’ve recorded around 38 episodes.

Harrison Wheeler:
So yeah, man, it’s been fun. And look, you’ve been an inspiration along that journey as well. I think we’ve mentioned this on the episodes, but it really meant a lot to have you on the show, especially during San Francisco Design Week. Because I can remember when we were chopping up before the show, I was like, man, we got to get you out here and do something. So we still need to do something live at some point, but that’ll be post pandemic.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What has podcasting really taught you? I mean, you mentioned the thing about people being able to tell their own stories, but have you gained any personal insight from doing this?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. I think some of the personal insight, again, it’s like this weird perfectionism thing. Some of it I’ll also go into where I was coming in the Base. When I was going in my last job, it was definitely a career pivot for me. Moving from a more graphic design oriented web design career into product design. And so I didn’t really have the vernacular to be able to express design concepts, research concepts, et cetera. And I think for me, I have this idea of what an archetype of a designer was. And honestly, that could really go to hell at this point in time because there isn’t an ideal archetype for a designer. And I think a lot of the folks that are on the show are at a point where they’re having the same kind of realizations.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I think you’re seeing this evolution where people are really starting to prioritize their own ideals and beliefs, which I think has really been … I think to be able to have folks that have been in the industry for a while, but then on top of that to see that as the starting point for the younger generation, I think is an amazing learning. And I’m super hopeful that that can transform a lot of how we think about the folks in the industry who we’re solving for. And understanding that some of the things that we’ve perpetuated for years and years are extremely toxic and we need to move past that. But we also need to evolve in a way. We need to have these discussions, whether it be to tear it all down, whether it be to reform some of these things. But we need to be having these discussions followed up by action. And I think a lot of these storylines can really help people understand what that angle is in terms of moving in that direction.

Maurice Cherry:
Well said. Well said. I mean, podcasting for me, I think, has been something really which has given me a deep level of, not just introspection into people’s processes, but also how they come to the decisions that they do in terms of their career and the work that they do and everything like that. Have you found that there’s been a bit of a common thread among your guests?

Harrison Wheeler:
No. I think there are some folks that have definitely done the linear approach. I think there are some folks that have figured it out along the way and had a very meandering path. And so I think that’s what’s important. There’s not one way to do things. Did that answer your question?

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, absolutely. It did. Now, you talked about LinkedIn and even venturing onto these different spaces, like you’ve mentioned with black and design. And one thing that LinkedIn did recently was that they participated in AfroTech world, which was like a metaverse essentially. It’s like a conference in the metaverse. Now, I know you told me that you didn’t get a chance to attend that, but what did you hear back from how that experience was?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. This was the second year that AfroTech had done the metaverse thing. So for folks that aren’t familiar, AfroTech world is a conference. I think they had 10,000 folks buy tickets, I think 7,000 showed up. But it’s a global conference where folks talk about a lot of different topics around technology, design, engineering, product management, venture capital, all that. And so the experience is in a virtual world and so you could basically dress up your avatar, you could network with folks, you could have one-on-one meetings on a beach, in a jet ski, on a boat. It’s whatever you want to make it. And so I think a lot of folks were excited at the concept because you could have folks have an experience together without physically being in the same place. I think definitely it is just novel. It’s great to see it at a very large scale. I don’t know, I’m super curious to see how it’s going to evolve over time. Were there some other conferences doing something in the metaverse as well?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I went to one last week. And for people that are recording, we’re recording this early December. But I went to one at the beginning of December from this company called Tech Circus that was called Enter the Metaverse. And they had an online component, but you could also, I think, attend inside the metaverse that they set up for the conference. And so there were all these panels about just all the different things dealing with the metaverse. The economy, virtual wellbeing, real estate. The founder for Second Life was there and he gave a really great presentation. There was this guy, I think he works for Microsoft in Berlin, and he gave this really just overarching talk about, these are the things we need to think about when we talk about the metaverse. And it’s given me so much to think about with like, there’s all this talk about how the metaverse is going to be the future of the internet and the future of the workplace. But then hearing people talk about it in this conference, seeing the reality that the current metaverse is. First of all, there’s no one metaverse, there’s multiple metaverses. And-

Harrison Wheeler:
Metaverses. I don’t know.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Metaverses. The multi-metaverse, I guess. But there’s dozens to hundreds of them and that we’ve actually already experienced some versions of metaverses, even though they haven’t been called that. And the one that they pointed to most that got me was Foursquare. So Foursquare circa 2010. Because what it was is that you had this information layer of data layered on top of real world maps and things like that. You could get these badges that were not really NFTs but were because they could really only belong to one person or certain people. And it’s interesting when you think about the concept of Foursquare badges.

Maurice Cherry:
They’re kind of like these prototypes of what NFTs are in a way. Because for this metaverse conference I went to, they were like, oh, everyone gets a free NFT. And I was like, what do I do with that? They sent me an email like, here is how you claim your NFT. Okay, and do what with it? But the NFT was issued. They issued it through something called a POAP, P-O-A-P, proof of attendance protocol. And so it essentially was a badge that said you attended this conference at this time. And I’m like, oh, I can’t do anything with this.

Harrison Wheeler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
But it’s, I guess, good to have. They were like, oh, well, you can connect it to your blockchain wall. And then they just lost me after that. I was like, I don’t know what to do with it after that. But-

Harrison Wheeler:
Look, I will say this, I’ve been dabbling into it. So I think what’s really interesting about this is, for one, the Foursquare thing really blows my mind, but it totally makes sense in a way. And I think if you’re going to learn about the metaverse, you should understand how the blockchain plays a role in it, where the NFT plays a role in terms of maybe something that you get to keep that identifies that you were there or not. I think it’s all extremely fascinating and it seems like even I haven’t heard of it, like the proof of attendance. But even that is super fascinating. Because now you can think of, I always think about it like this. It’s like when we were growing up, if we went to a basketball game or we went to a concert, we had a paper ticket, we might frame it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
And now everything is like a digital thing on your iPhone or your Android device, and you can’t really do anything with that. And so I think nowadays it’s like, huh, if I go to a concert, I have a token or I have an NFT from it. And maybe if that’s tied to Ethereum or whatever digital coin, then that can be valued over time. I think it’s really interesting that you’ve got this economy. It really adds another layer to like, hey, who are you? Oh, I’m famous on the internet. Because yeah, we were talking about this before, you got people that can make $300,000 in a week, millions in a month just selling NFTs online. Never do a gallery show. Not in a museum. I think it’s super fascinating.

Maurice Cherry:
The other part that’s super fascinating too is, for many people, the entry point into the metaverse are NFTs, like we’ve mentioned. But what I saw from this conference with there being these multiple metaverses is that there’s a huge problem with interoperability. So there’s all these metaverses. But if you buy NFT, for example, and it’s locked to a particular metaverse, you can’t necessarily … Or it’s minted with a certain metaverse, I guess that’s the terminology. But you can’t use it with another metaverse. And they were like, oh yeah, it’s like if you go to Foot Locker and buy shoes, but you can only wear them in the store. And so they’re thinking of like, well, what are ways that we can tie some intrinsic, real world value to an NFT to make it more of a lucrative thing?

Maurice Cherry:
But I mean, this conference touched on land ownership in the metaverse, it touched on things about digital wellbeing, cultural appropriation. Because one thing with being in the metaverse is that you’re represented by an avatar. But these avatars, well, of course we’ll, I think just like regular avatars that we see in terms of profile pictures and things, are not wholly representative of the diversity of body size and gender expression and race and ethnicity. You know what I’m saying?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And what I saw from looking at all this was like, oh, this is a huge opportunity for POC designers or particularly black designers to really try to get in on the ground floor of this and find a way to carve a niche in. Because I could easily see how we could get left behind in some digital divide sort of way. I mean, the fact that Facebook has renamed itself to meta, to subconsciously … And that was the other thing that I thought was great. Is that everyone on the entire conference was just shitting on Facebook. They were just like, what meta is doing is insidious. Because people are going to think metaverse and think that Facebook is the-

Harrison Wheeler:
Brand association.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Brand association. They’re going to think that they are the company that is the underpinning of the entire metaverse, when that is not the case. And the other thing about how even experiencing the metaverse is not something that you necessarily have to do through a $300 VR headset or something like that. So it was such an interesting conference. I’m going to have to go back and listen to some of the different talks from it. Because it really got me to thinking about, well, what is our place going to be in this new internet or whatever that they’re trying to call it. Because another portion of this was, how do we make sure we don’t carry over the issues from the current internet into the metaverse in terms of trolling and all of that sort of stuff. People don’t have any of this stuff figured out.

Harrison Wheeler:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
By a long shot. And the actual infrastructure for it can’t even support everyone like the internet can largely support people. Maybe hundreds of users per server. Some workplace metaverse situations can maybe only support about two dozen people. It’s not a revolutionary thing, by far.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
But people are throwing enough money at it that it almost feels like it’s a possibility. It reminded me a bit of the Million Dollar Homepage during this one particular talk. And for people that are listing that don’t know, back in the day, there was … Actually, I think the Million Dollar Homepage is still up. You went to this site and people basically bought pixels to be represented on the page. I think it was like a dollar per pixel. And so the goal, I guess, of it was to have a webpage that was worth a million dollars. But there were people in one of the talks that were buying up plots of land in a metaverse for thousands of dollars. This one person bought a 300 square meter plot of land for $10,000 in one of the talks. And I was just like, what are you going to do with that?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
You just had $10,000 sitting around one afternoon in the metaverse like, you know what? I’m just going to buy this plot of land. What are you going to put on it?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Who can visit it? It’s abstract in that way where you’re like, this doesn’t make any sense. But there are so many smaller companies that are trying to get in on this before the “brands” get in on it. I.E, a Facebook/meta.

Harrison Wheeler:
Well, I think Nike or Adidas actually, they’re launching their own concept of a metaverse. So it’s already starting to happen.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s already starting to happen. And it’s definitely at a point where, like I said, I can feel like we could be left behind in that. So I don’t know. One thing that I’m going to try to do this year on the show is bring on some designers that are doing NFTs, just to try to get the audience that listens to the show up on like, what is it and how can we get involved? Because I see it. I was in this conference and I was just like, I can see the future and we could very easily be left behind. Because the fervor around the metaverse reminded me so much of late ’90s, early 2000s internet. Before internet advertising really became a big thing and companies trying to figure out, well, how can I conduct business on the internet?

Maurice Cherry:
Now it’s like, how can I conduct business on the metaverse? The same conversations, you just swap out internet for metaverse. How are we going to work on the internet? Email, what is that? Now it’s like, how are we going to work on the metaverse? It’s the same conversation, different times. And I’m just like …

Harrison Wheeler:
I don’t know if anyone’s seen it, but there’s this old clip of Bryant Gumbel talk from the Today Show.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know the exactly one you’re talking. It’s Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric pontificating about email or something.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. That’s going to be this episode. What is web 3.0 in NFTs, in blockchain, and all of that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I hope there are entry points where the barriers aren’t as expensive as it is right now. Because I think for me, I’ve been dabbling.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
I’ve been trying to explore, how do you get an NFT project off the ground? I’ve bought a few NFTs myself. And for anybody that has bought an NFT, having to do the wallet thing and then the gas fees, it’s not cheap. And so-

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
… to even get in the game to play, I think it still requires a decent amount of capital to really participate. So I hope there’s a bit more development, like you said, and ways for folks to get involved before the massive wave that folks are talking about actually happens.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think it will happen. Because honestly, again, thinking back to early 2000s, one of the things about, well, how are people really going to get onto the internet? Oh, well, you can use a personal computer. So people were thinking about things like that. But then there were also any different number of web enabled. Like smartphone devices, you had BlackBerries, you had Treos, you had Palm. I’m really dating myself now. But you had all these personal things that were like, oh, we can get on the internet. And on this little device that’s in the palm of my hand. Things like that. So, oh, man.

Harrison Wheeler:
The World Wide Web. I think we were still calling it the World Wide Web back then.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. We very much were still calling it the World Wide Web. So it’s happening. It’s happening, but-

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s the meta wide verse.

Maurice Cherry:
And speaking of web 3, I think that’s another thing. Because back then, this conversation was happening around the time prior to web 2.0, because web 1.0 hadn’t really been named as such. But web 2.0 really came about with the advent of social media and user generated content. And now with web 3, it’s decentralized, it’s the blockchain. And I’m actually going to a web 3 conference in January. I think it may have passed by the time this episode airs, but people can definitely look it up. I’m pretty sure there’ll be more web 3 conferences in the future. Because I’m like, I want to know where we are going to get in on this.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So much of what we’ve done now has been steeped in web 2.0. Like, where do we get in on this next thing?

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. It’s real interesting that you talk about that. You mentioned Second Life and Second Life was around before web 2.0. And this is the same story. We are now at a point where the ideas and technology are now at a crossroads. They are finally intersecting. And so I always think of, we were talking about the Palms and the Treos, but then once we got processors and graphic interface that were fast enough, then that’s when we got the iPhone. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yep.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, this is another one of those moments where the price of headsets are significantly cheaper than they were before. Now we’ve got this blockchain technology, we now have these different currencies that you can use in these different worlds. And so it feels like everything is there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. With metaverse and cryptocurrency and all of this starting to mesh together, I can see where it confuses a lot of people. But also, this is happening. It’s not a, oh well, maybe. No, it’s happening and it’s happening right under our noses. I mean, this sounds almost apocalyptic in a way, but it’s happening. It’s happening and it’s either you need to figure out where you fit in in this or you get left behind.

Harrison Wheeler:
Or you’re going to be the 50-year-old on TikTok.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Or you’re going to be like my mom who is completely tech averse. And it’s like, I give her a cell phone and she turns it off until I have to tell her when I’m calling. Like that sort of thing. Because, I don’t want to get tracked, I don’t want them tracking me. I’m like, okay. But it’s getting to that. I see it getting there. And yeah, I could even see smart phones starting to do more with VR and AR and mixed reality, which we’re even starting to see with Google. Google has their maps that layer their own way. Finding on top of what you view out in the camera. It’s happening.

Harrison Wheeler:
It’s happening.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s happening.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. No, it’s definitely happening. I think in the tech sense, it feels like that moment when the iPhone came out, if folks can remember. People see what the possibilities are, people are doing a lot of experimentation. People are okay if it works and if it doesn’t, and I think that’s the way to do it. It doesn’t necessarily have to work. I think it’s good to see folks really doubling down to really push the boundaries. And so I will say, for anybody listening that is well versed in all of this, definitely tweet myself and Maurice and let us know if we are getting the solid good grasp on it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Please do. I don’t want to be sounding crazy out here, but I also want to make sure we’re informed because we both have our respective audiences too. We want to make sure that people are being informed about what this next thing is because it’s coming. And we either need to find a way to become a part of it, or once again, just get left behind with it.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
To that end, we’ve discussed all of this. What do you see as the future of design and business?

Harrison Wheeler:
Oh, that is a million dollar webpage right there. I have many thoughts on this. We’ve been working from home for the past couple of years, so I’ve had an opportunity to really do a bit of introspection and really thinking about the conversations that we’re having. If we reflect, again, when I first started working in tech, when I first started doing web design, when I first started doing graphic design, I think the foundations and the way that we approach the craft, I think those foundations really still exists. But I think in terms of what we need to be conscious of to create inclusive environments, whether it be around make ups of team, we had talked about the different working spaces that people are in, thinking about what the consequences of design decisions are. Shout out to Ron, he actually just did a talk on consequence design. I think he was also a guest on your show, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah. Ron Bronson. He is cool. Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So I can keep going. We talk about equity, we talk about bias and whatnot. The list of things that we have to be conscious of, even on the business sense of things, research. I mean, I could keep going. I personally do not think a single designer is going to be able to comprehend all of that. But it is also very important to the work and central to the work that we do. And so moving forward, the industry itself, and that’s not just design, but we’ve got to say, hey, look, some of these things are not just in the discipline of design. We should be having design. We should be thinking and all encompassing about the elements that play a role in design across different business areas. This means your CEO should understand it. This means your product managers, engineers, they should understand it.

Harrison Wheeler:
How can we bring these types of things into the schools that they’re working at, into the conferences that they’re going into, because it’s a lot to put on the shoulders of design. And I think that if folks can really understand what the value is, we’re seeing a lot of growth now, I think the growth of the industry could honestly double. Most people you talk to, they’re always like, man, we need more designers. I’ve never heard of a situation where it’s like, we got too many designers.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so I think it’s really important for our industry to start really transforming the discussion there and thinking about design as an afterthought. If we’re still talking about design getting a seat at the table, I mean, that’s some web 2.0 stuff. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Harrison Wheeler:
We got to have organizations that are design centric. And so that’s where I see it going. I mean, I think whether it’s on the metaverse, whether it’s on web 3, virtual reality, augmented reality, the way that we operationalize still to this certain point needs to be the responsibility of everybody. And so I think that is where I see design going. I know that’s not a super trendy answer, but I think organizations really do have to do a better job of just thinking design is a service. I think there are some companies that are doing really great things, but I don’t want that to necessarily think that the industry as a whole is evolving. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say has been the best career advice that you’ve gotten?

Harrison Wheeler:
I don’t know. This is tough. Because I think some of the best career advice I’ve had is super simple, it’s the matter of me executing. But yeah. I mean, I think honestly, it really comes down to asking questions. Being curious, asking questions. And I think the question piece is not necessarily in a place where you are not in a normal onboarding sense, but questioning why things are the way that they are. Why are they the way that they are? Because I think we’ve operated so long in a world where we don’t question those things and we have to deal with the consequences. And the consequences may directly, indirectly affect us. Or we are around a bunch of folks that don’t care. And that in itself is already destructive in its nature.

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

Harrison Wheeler:
You’re bringing out all the hard questions. To be honest, I have not thought about that. So we have the former CEO or co-founder of LinkedIn coin this term called tour duty. I’m not one for military terms in a workplace environment. I think that’s extremely unhealthy and anxiety inducing, especially just given, again, just how crazy the past few years have been. People are definitely feeling it.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Harrison Wheeler:
But I think the idea around is really being on a path of, I don’t know, learning, a journey. And I think for me, I mean, I talked about this before. I think being able to transform an organization to be able to think about design, kind of like how I had mentioned in the question earlier. For me, that’s the mission that I’m on right now. And it’s great to really see the progress of it. In that sense, I don’t know what’s on the docket five years from now. I would love to lead the team. But I will say that I also get super excited about Technically Speaking. Moving into technically the third calendar year of the project, I will say that I’m looking forward to just iterating on it. So definitely more guests, more episodes. I’ll be introducing some writing, a lot of really cool mini project on that. So definitely stay tuned. That’s on technicallyspeakinghw.com.

Harrison Wheeler:
I’ve really started to look back at some of my older work. I think for so long I had this thought that my writing wasn’t good enough. And so I’ve been bringing back a lot of things that I’ve written down in notebooks or in notes or in slide decks that I never presented because I didn’t think it was there or somebody told me it wasn’t all the way there. I was like, man, this stuff is really good. And so I might have a book that comes out. I love talking about management. I love talking about how it can be more conscious around the things that we’re doing. I love having discussions around different tactics you can have. Because in my journey, I didn’t really have much of that.

Harrison Wheeler:
And so, I would really love to have something that the next generation of managers can have in their toolkit. And they don’t have to use it, but at least it helps them start to think about ways they can do things that are authentically them, that represents their nature and really helps build a healthy community around what they’re doing.

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

Harrison Wheeler:
Yeah. So you can look at my random tweets on Twitter, twitter.com/H-M-W-H-E-E-L-E. And then for the show, it’s called Technically Speaking, so that’s available wherever. Technically Speaking with Harrison Wheeler. So that’s available wherever you listen to podcast. And then on social media, if you follow Technically Speaking HW on Instagram and LinkedIn you should be able to find us there and at technicallyspeakinghw.com. So just remember Technically Speaking HW and you should be able to figure it out. And of course, you can find me on LinkedIn @harrisonwheeler. So feel free to connect. As I mentioned before, I’ll be looking at hiring a couple of roles. They should be up by the time this episode is live. So feel free to reach out if you’re interested. And of course, we’re always hiring designers, design managers, researchers, project managers, product operations, all that. So definitely check out the job listings on LinkedIn.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, like you said, companies are always looking for designers. Right?

Harrison Wheeler:
100%.

Maurice Cherry:
Harrison Wheeler, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been, I just have to say from a personal standpoint, it’s been so great seeing your growth and your progression since we first met back in 2016 up to now, and just how much you’ve managed to do. I mean, in your personal career and especially what you’re doing at LinkedIn, but also now branching out into podcasting and really putting that message forward and opening up more opportunities for other people to tell their stories. I think it’s such a natural extension of just the amount of patience and I think thoughtfulness that you bring to your work. So I’m excited to see what you do certainly for the next five years. And again, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Harrison Wheeler:
Appreciate you, Maurice. Have a good one.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Cedric Wilson

Sometimes you cross paths with people, and you never know if or how you will reconnect in the future. I have wanted to have a sound designer on the podcast for years, and through a series of conversations, now I have one — one that I’ve worked with in the past!

Meet Cedric Wilson, lead producer at Lantigua Williams & Co. We talk about some of Cedric’s most well-known audio projects, and he shared how he got into music theory in high school, which evolved into studying sound design and becoming a producer. Cedric also gives some basics on sound design, and shares why it’s such an important part of the world now. There are a lot of avenues for getting into sound design, and I’m glad Cedric is here to help introduce some of them to the Revision Path audience!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Cedric Wilson:
Hi, I’m Cedric Wilson. I am the lead producer at Lantigua Williams & Co. What I mainly do is sound design.

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

Cedric Wilson:
Lot of iPhone recordings. It’s been good. It’s been interesting. My current position actually was remote, and I started like a month right before the pandemic started. It’s been a wild ride for sure but a good year. Good year.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I’m curious, how has it been working in audio since the pandemic started? You mentioned those iPhone recordings, but has it changed in any other ways?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say that a lot of the projects that we work on definitely have sort of expanded in geography. A lot of the projects we work on would be, “Okay everyone, come to the studio,” or, “Hey everyone, come to this one spot where we’re going to record.” Now, because everything has to be remote anyway, it’s given us a great opportunity to be like, “All right, let’s just record this person in LA,” that we wouldn’t have access to beforehand. So a lot more just open. Yeah. Open, I’ll say open.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I would imagine when you’re recording you’re doing all this digitally. I know for some shows, for some podcasts that I’ve talked to for example, some producers, it actually has been pretty easy to kind switch to a more mobile type of a platform in terms of recording and stuff and not having to be in a physical studio. They say it’s been a lot easier because you can record over Zoom, or you can do like you mentioned, record on an iPhone or something like that. Have you found that to be the case?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah. I was really nervous at first, because a lot of the stuff we were doing in person I’d be running around, putting microphones in people’s faces. I think the biggest thing I was worried about was that people can understand, “Oh, I’m going to take a selfie video,” and understand, “Okay, I have to be in the frame, and I have to have good lighting.” But I don’t think we have, culturally, that sort of same education around sound, so I was very, very nervous being like, “All right.” So for the remote recordings, the power is in your hands completely, so like, “Ahh!”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s definitely turned around. At first, it was a bit bumpy, but it’s worked out. Quite honestly, when all of this is eventually said and done, I think a lot of it’s going to stick.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I can see that being the case. Earlier this year, I actually recorded two podcasts, I produced two podcasts, and we did it… I mean, it was completely remote, but the main producer we worked in was in Los Angeles. I was in Atlanta, and then the host of the show was in Berlin. So we were working across like a huge timezone, and the majority of the guests were in Europe, so we were working across these timezones to try to get things working. There’s no way that would’ve been able to work if we had to do it in person. You know what I mean, it would’ve been impossible.

Cedric Wilson:
Lot of transatlantic flights on that one.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it’s been great. Like I said, I was really nervous about it at first and was trying to build a system of like, “All right, let’s have this recording. Let’s have this backup so just in case something happens, we have this.” We still had weird things happen throughout the course of all of our productions, but it’s worked out, which is great. I guess it’s the staying power of audio.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Flexible.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about sort what a typical day has been for you recently. You mentioned being at Lantigua Williams & Co. What’s a regular day for Cedric?

Cedric Wilson:
So I started that right at the beginning of the pandemic, January of 2020. And it varies, some days are pretty mix heavy, where I’m still leading all the technical, audio engineer-y type of things on certain projects. Let’s see, sometimes I do just more listening and note-giving on a technical and production level for other projects. Way more emails than what I was doing when I was a freelancer. That was definitely an adjustment.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Sort of like a lot of systems building, figuring out what tech needs we have as the year goes along and as things change. Moral support for producers on their projects, sort of workshopping and figuring out what sort of techniques they should be using or can use when they’re putting the pie together. So yeah, I would say about 50% of my day is hardcore in the Pro Tools sessions, making things sound good, and then the other 50% is just working with producers and other engineers and sound designers to make sure they have what they need to get their shows made.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is a big misconception around production like that, that you think most people just don’t know?

Cedric Wilson:
Mainly that it’s low-lift or easy. I always make the joke that making media and audio is not rocket science, but there is a certain skillset that you have to have, or should have, and I know it gets a little bit tricky because some of the tools can sort of be a barrier to creating the things we want to create, working with the people you want to with, but work goes into this kind of stuff. I usually say that as much time as people use and need in the video world probably is a comparable amount of time in the audio world too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s a good thing for people to note, sort of going back to that show, those two shows that I mentioned earlier. We would record maybe for about an hour or so, like for each episode, but then there’s so much time behind the scenes of listening back through it and editing and everything like that. Even then, the final result ended up being maybe like 10 or 15 minutes long.

Cedric Wilson:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
That can happen sometimes. It’s not as simple as just sitting down, pressing record, and then that goes right out. Hopefully, there’s something, some level of finesse that you do to the audio.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
One of the big projects that you’ve done over the past year is this audio series called Driving the Green Book. Can you talk to me about that?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, so that was one of the first big projects that I got involved with as soon as I started the job. So yeah, I would go in and record our host, Alvin Hall, at Macmillan Studios. At Macmillan, like the publishing, and they had a little studio for us to record in. He and Juleyka did all the editing for all this tape that they gathered in the field, and so then it just all got to me. Parsed it all out, made the edits they wanted, and just put it all together, just a lot of cutting in Pro Tools and picking out the music. I wrote some original music for that one too, so that was definitely like a big project to start off with, but I’m really proud with how that one came out.

Maurice Cherry:
When did that come out? That was some time last year, right?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it started publishing August, September.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
So it’s almost a year old now.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, so it ran… Now that I’m thinking about what was going on at the time of year, it sort of ran concurrently with Lovecraft Country, that debuted on HBO.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh you know what, yeah I think so.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m guessing that wasn’t on purpose.

Cedric Wilson:
No. No. Oh man, it was just funny, I didn’t watch the full season. I did watch the first few episodes. It wasn’t for me. Yeah, that’s kind of… They were going on around the same time. Geez. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, if you’ve seen it or any of the listeners have seen it, it’s on HBO Max, go check it out. They did get a second season, so you can watch the whole thing. There’s an element of it that sort of deals with… I think it sort of deals either with the actual Green Book or a Green-Book-like publication that one of the main characters is writing, and that sort of ends up being sort of the vehicle that moves the plot along, at least in the early part of the season.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, now I’m thinking back on it, I remember one of the first conflicts that they got into was because they were out on the road super late in a sundown town, and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s why the Green Book existed.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting, I mean, there’s sort of the case now where you’ll have these shows come out and then they also have a companion audio podcast or something that goes along with it. I think that’s both a blessing and a curse, in a way. I think it’s a blessing because sometimes, especially for more shall we say niche kind of shows, i.e. not for white people, but like more niche kind of shows. That sort of extra explanation that would come through a podcast can be helpful to understand the source material. But then I also feel like it’s too much. It’s too much. Let folks watch the show and gain their opinions about the show from the show. Like does the show need to also have a corresponding podcast and a syllabus and, “Oh yeah, read this before the next episode.” Then it becomes homework.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
It feels like there’s a fine line to draw.

Cedric Wilson:
I think for TV, I feel similarly, where I just kind of like want to watch it and not critically think about it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Sometimes, depending on what the show is. But then I think I love sitting down and watching mix breakdowns. A lot of my music production is hip-hop-based, and it’s sort of frowned upon, but when people break down the samples that people use and how they flip them.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It’s a little bit like sample snitching. It’s just something you don’t really do, but I enjoy it because I’m like, “Oh, cool, I would’ve never thought to break up a sample like that in that way.” So yeah, I’m kind of half-and-half on them.

Maurice Cherry:
Sample snitching. I’ve never heard of that, but as you’ve articulated it, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve started seeing some videos on TikTok where people do that.

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Like they’ll have a song, then they’ll sort of break it down and show how the sample ended up becoming a part of this more popular song.

Cedric Wilson:
What was it, it was a Rihanna song… I can’t remember the song, but they broke down the… And I was like, “Oh my God, who would’ve thought of that? I would’ve never thought of that. That’s so cool.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Like just watch someone’s train of thought when they’re making music. I think it’s just so interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean, I think you have to be listening to something almost in like a multidimensional sort of way to be able to pick and isolate that part and think, “Well, what if I change the tempo, or I change the pitch in how I could possibly use it in something else.” But a lot of older music, particularly from the ’80s and before, is ripe for sampling, which of course is what a lot of people end up using it for. There’s this, I don’t know if it’s a fairly new genre, but I certainly discovered it fairly recently, but there’s this genre called future funk that is basically just re-sampled music from like the ’70s and ’80s, but they’ve maybe changed the tempo or sped it up or they added a beat to it or something like that. It’s interesting, because it has that nostalgic sound, but it’s clearly been transformed into something completely new.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I love it. I mean, I think the art of sampling is just top-tier, honestly. Just even thinking about how it started, like with scratching and someone just accidentally did that, and people were like, “Oh wait, but what if you do this instead? What if you take that recording and make new music with it?” And it’s just an infinite amount of possibilities, I think it’s so cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Speaking of taking older stuff and kind of breathing new life into it, there’s a project that you did a few years ago called The Weeksville Project. You and I actually had first… Well, we “met,” I’m using air quotes here. We “met” through one of that shows producers, TK Dutes, who is a brilliant audio producer in New York City. She and I worked together at Glitch for a good little while. How did you-

Cedric Wilson:
Keisha.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, how did you get involved with The Weeksville Project?

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, well, let’s see at that point I was already doing some stuff in the podcast space and actually already had met Keisha through, I’ll call my music mentor, Willie Green, Paul “Willie Green” Womack. And we met at the Audio Engineering Society Convention. I think it was 2015. I think, it was a while ago. So I met her through all the music stuff, and then once I started doing more podcasts and radio things, I was like, “Oh wait, TK does this stuff, let’s talk.” So she’s definitely been a mentor in that space for me. She knew that I was really interested in sort of expanding the work that I was doing and wanting to do more podcasts, radio things. She’s like, “Hey, you want to sound design this project for us,” and I was like, “Sure, why not? This sounds dope.”

Maurice Cherry:
And now that was also… I mean not like Driving the Green Book, but it was sort of a similar project that’s kind of talking about history, right? Like talking about the Weeks… I forget the name of the neighborhood, but it’s like right around, or what the old neighborhood of Brooklyn used to be. Is that what it is?

Cedric Wilson:
Right. So it used to… Oh man, I can’t remember the location where it exists now. But yeah, it was the first free black community in New York, and it existed in Brooklyn. Yeah, it was like a fictionalized version, so the writer’s elements are from history. Historical fiction, oh my God, that’s what it’s called. And I actually never connected the two like that, but yeah, they both did have that historical element to it. That was kind of fun, too, because a lot of picking the music for it we’re like, “All right, what would exist during this time? What would a car sound like at this time?” But then also it wasn’t the type of project where it was like, “Oh, we’re in the past.” We wanted it to sound like it was actually happening, and it’s happening around you.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
So yeah, that was a lot of fun.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to say that show came out right around the time there was another show. Bronzeville, that’s the name of it. There was a podcast called Bronzeville, and I think it was based off of fictionalized… Not a fictionalized, it was a fiction-based podcast, but it was based around, I think, a neighborhood in Chicago, if I’m not mistaken.

Cedric Wilson:
I’ll have to check that out. I had not heard of it.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s called Bronzeville, and it was all celebrity actors, Larenz Tate, Tika Sumpter was in it, Laurence Fishburne. Pretty good show, I think they only had two seasons, and then they kind of faded away. But I like those kind of period piece sort of shows, because I always love how they do the sound design, especially when they sort of switch to the radio and it has that old-timey radio voice that I love how with audio you can make subtle tweaks like that, and it kind of takes you… It mentally takes you back to a certain time like that.

Cedric Wilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
Now, right now you’re the lead producer, as you mentioned earlier, at Lantigua Williams & Co. But prior to that, how do you end up working on projects? Is it mostly like a word-of-mouth kind of thing?

Cedric Wilson:
Towards the end of me freelancing it was, but at first, it was just a lot of trying to figure out who needed things to get mixed and could I mix them.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
At the time, so really what started it was working on The Nod. I was freelancing for Gimlet. I actually found out about that job through Twitter. I’m only laughing because I was supposed to be working at the time that I saw this tweet, but I was at my old campus job. They had a media production company, and I was like helping out with lectures and guest speakers, and I was like, “Oh great, no one recorded this correctly, now I have to fix this audio,” so that was the job that I had over the summer. I didn’t have a lot of hours, and I kind of was like, “I need to be making more money.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I just happened to stumble upon, it was James T. Green’s tweet, and it was like “Hey, we’re looking for an engineer for this project for a podcast. Bonus points for any person that’s black and queer, this and that.” I was like, “All right, I fill a couple of those boxes, let me see. I’m an engineer. I’m black, let’s go.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
So I applied, or emailed. I emailed him and then was in touch with Gimlet’s head engineer to do a mix test, and it was very funny. I started the mix test for what would become The Nod, and then I was on a trip back… So I was taking a trip, and we were listening to For Colored Nerds. My partner was For Colored Nerds, and I was like, “Oh wait, I know these people, how do you know these people?” He was like, “Oh well, I listen to this podcast, I’m a big fan.” I was like, “Oh.” I couldn’t say, “Oh, that mix test that I’ve been talking about, this is actually their thing, so don’t tell anybody.” But that was really cool.

Cedric Wilson:
And yeah, I think once after doing that show for two-and-a-half years, then I just started to meet people and gigs would… Not like role in, like I wasn’t turning people away. I was still pretty new to the industry, but that’s when I got to meet really great people and got to work on other really cool projects, like that’s how I met CC Paschal and I did a project with them in Endeavor, and Mass Appeal. Let’s see, I’m trying to think of what other… There was a lot of just small things I did for Gimlet while I was still freelancing for them. And yeah, it just was a lot of just getting out there and meeting people, different On Air Fests, podcast meets, people’s houses. Yeah, it just was a lot of just doing really good work and figuring out where the people were to be like, “Hey, do you need me to mix something?”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. As you go from project to project in that way, do you find that they tend to be wholly different as you go to each one?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say so. I think people’s techniques sort of vary and sort of like where the engineer or sound designer or composer would sort of fit into the equation. So for a lot of projects, I was like the last person to touch the things, like the last line of defense to a really great sounding show. There were also certain instances of Nod or Weeksville where I was super involved a lot sooner, so that way I had a really good idea of what needed to be done and what direction I wanted to go into as the thing was being put together. So it was not, I don’t want to say projects that have the engineer come in at the end as an afterthought, but it is definitely a much different experience to be involved mid-production as opposed to like at the end.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to kind of switch gears here a little bit. We talked about, now, the work that you’re doing, but I’m curious to kind of learn about sort of like your origin story, like how you first got into all of this now. So you’re originally from New York City, right?

Cedric Wilson:
No, I’m from Long Island, so close enough.

Maurice Cherry:
Is Long Island not?

Cedric Wilson:
I wouldn’t.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, look. Okay, I’m from the south. I’m from Alabama, so forgive my geography faux pas, because I was just fixing to be like, “Is Long Island not New York?” But that’s Staten Island, my bad. Sorry.

Cedric Wilson:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
Sorry, don’t kill me New York folks, don’t kill me.

Cedric Wilson:
Queens and Brooklyn do exist on the tip of the other end of Long Island, but it’s different and I grew up in Long Island proper. I do not ever claim that I was born in or grew up in the city. I just want to put that.

Maurice Cherry:
Got you, got you. My bad. Sorry, sorry. So you grew up in Long Island?

Cedric Wilson:
Grew up on Long Island.

Maurice Cherry:
Grew up on Long Island.

Cedric Wilson:
Based here in New York, and what really got me into the sound stuff was music. I’m a saxophonist.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
It was my first instrument. I started in fourth grade and stuck with it all the way up until college.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
And started learning music production through music theory in high school, so that was a new program that the school was piloting. Based on the zip code I was in, I had got afforded a really good education, and a really good music education with really great music educators, which I know is not the norm. Looking back at all that stuff now, it’s like something that I’m immensely lucky to have experienced and grateful for.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But yeah, so like when they were piloting music theory in my high school, my teacher, Ed Schaefer shout-out, taught it through composition. That’s when I started learning how to use a DAW and this is how a microphone gets plugged in and all that stuff, so like we were producing music but then learning the terms of the music as we were making it. That’s probably what definitely got me started into all this. So I did that a lot of times in the lab after school, it was great. It was like my second home.

Cedric Wilson:
And then that led to me going to Fredonia for their Sound Recording Technology program. It’s actually kind of funny, I was going to do music education for a very long time. I made the decision, I think it was senior year. Yeah, like before I stared applying, I was like, “You know what, actually I think I just want to do music production.” Not that I don’t like teaching. I love to teach, and it’s something that I still do. But I was like, “You know what, I want to make some music.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
So Fredonia was the school that I ended up going to for undergrad, and it was on the list because my high school teacher went there and was like, “Hey, you should go. They have a really great program for education.” And then when I swapped, it stayed on the list, because they had really good sound recording program, which actually I didn’t get in at first. Their program was like a music/science recording hybrid. You had to get into school academically, which was fine. You also had to get into the music program, and my audition was okay. I was a good musician in high school, but it’s like when you leave… Big fish, small pond kind of thing. You leave the pond, you’re like, “Oh wow, these people are GOOD good.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I remember, so the first day… Oh, I went to still try to get into an ensemble, because I was like, “All right, I’m not going to be able to start the sound recording program or the music program, I’ll try again in the spring, but I still want to play in an ensemble.” So I went through that process, and it was also a mess because I didn’t realize that you had to get material weeks ahead. That’s neither here nor there, that audition was terrible. But the saxophone professor knew who I was, and apparently a seat opened up in the studio on the very first day. So I get this email from him, he’s like, “Hey, so I remember you from the blah, blah, blah. Here’s the thing. We had a seat open up, do you still want to do the sound recording thing?” Because I learned later that I got into the sound recording program fine, it was that my music audition wasn’t good enough to get in.

Cedric Wilson:
I was like, “Oh, well, yes.” He’s like, “Go email this person and run around and do all these things and figure it out, because I’m not going to help you do that.” I was like, “That’s fine.” So yeah, it was a hectic first day of class.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds like it.

Cedric Wilson:
Ten hours away from home. But yeah, so I did that for four years. It was a really cool program. Got to work on musicianship skills and learned how to record, mix and edit, all that kind of stuff. And then I left spring of 2015.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
Went back home and was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” At that point, I already had met my music mentor and was coming in and assisting on sessions, just watching him work, but it just was hard. It was just going back-and-forth from his place in Brooklyn to my place in Long Island. And then I was like, “Well, I kind of want to get down to the city. How am I going to do it?” I still don’t know if this was the right choice, but I was like, “All right, I guess it’s time for grad school.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I decided, I was like, “Well, I could go continue and do more of what I’ve been doing in music,” and I was like, “Nah.” Not that I was like, “Oh, I’m great at what I do. I’m the best,” but I just was like, “I kind of want to learn a couple of different other applications for sound or get into something new.” So then I stumbled on the New School’s Media Studies program. It was like, “Cool, I can work on sound, and they have like a really cool film program.” I was really interested, at the time, in making documentary stuff.

Cedric Wilson:
So I started that program, and I remember there was a media design course where they walked you through all the different things that you could do in the program, so it was like video, sound, graphic design, all of that kind of stuff. It was like a sample course, and at the end of the semester, we had to make an EPK for an artist. We had the artist in, and all the video people are hovering over a camera talking about apertures and lighting and this, that and the third. I’m sitting here like, “Oh man, no.” I was like, “But I can put that microphone in the right spot and make sure that this guy’s going to sound real crispy.” At that point, I was like, “Oh, there’s so many other things I could do with sound instead.”

Cedric Wilson:
So for a long time, it was a lot of video work, helping on friends’ films, doing stuff like that for the school, and just took more classes in that vein instead of doing video stuff, and that’s how I started really learning about, “Okay, this is what sound design is, and this is what sound designers do. This is how music gets incorporated into things like this.” I took a very beginner radio course, too, and learned a bit about that world specifically. But yeah, so it was a lot of just being like, “Look, I need to work, and I want to get out of my house.” So I had to figure it out, what other things are people doing in sound, and it worked out I guess. But you know, that’s how I got to here.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it sounds like you just sort of had this momentum that just kept going, and you just kept along with it. I mean, that’s what I’m sort of getting from your story here is that it was sort of one thing. You went to SUNY Fredonia, and then you… Did you have some audio jobs between there and going to grad school?

Cedric Wilson:
Just with my mentor. I would come home from breaks, or be home for the summer, and just help out with either sessions, like recording sessions, or building mix sessions for him, watching him work. That was really the main thing. I got really plugged into the indie, pop scene down in Brooklyn for a while. I mean, just doing music has sort of always been the connective tissue between everything that I’ve done. Yeah, it actually wasn’t all audio either. I mean, in that six to nine months that I was home, I was also working at Forever 21 for a little bit.

Cedric Wilson:
And then I got an internship through a friend of mine from the same Fredonia program that was a manager at a post house in Manhattan, Big Yellow Duck. Interned there for a while, and then it eventually turned into a job that I started… It turned into a job that eventually conflicted with school, so I ended up… That post house was the first place I was like, “Okay, this is what sound designers do.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
They were doing a lot of stuff for animated projects, and I was like, “Okay.” When I was doing that job, it was like a lot of studio management, but then it was like, “Hey, we’re working on this show, can you put all the footsteps in for this cartoon?” So yeah, someone has to like-

Maurice Cherry:
So kind of like some Foley work, too, it sounds like.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, a lot of Foley work. It was really cool. One of the shows that, while I was there, they were working on was Doc McStuffins, so the lead engineer over there would just have a three, four, five crates of toys to add the sounds in. It was really cool to watch him work. It was dope.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice, nice. Why is sound design important? And I’m asking this because I’m assuming that we have, for people that are listening to this show, a large amount of visual designers, probably coders or technologists, et cetera. Why is sound design an important thing to know?

Cedric Wilson:
It’s important because when the sound is off, you know it. You might not know why, or you might even watch something and be like, “Wow, something’s off,” and might not even realize that it is the sound. But it just carries the whole… I don’t want to say carries everything. That’s a little grandiose. But if you have this amazing film, and it’s shot so beautifully and the actors are doing their thing and everything’s great, but it sounds like garbage, you’re going to know. You’re going to be like, “Oh wow, something was not great about that.” And I think that permeates so much of what we interact with, be it like film, video games, YouTube videos, all kinds of stuff. It’s literally everywhere.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I tell people that will tell me or they’ll tell other people how they’re not creative, for example, or they don’t have any sort of design language or whatever. I tell folks that everything that we’ve been using since birth has passed through some lens of design, and so because of that we may have intrinsic knowledge about what good design and bad design is. We may not always be able to articulate it, and I feel like sound design kind of fills that gap a little bit, because we tend to associate sounds with memories, sounds with objects, sounds with other types of things, so being able to design something with sound to elicit that response. I feel like that’s a powerful bit of sorcery to be able to do something like that.

Cedric Wilson:
It is. I’m only laughing because you said the word sorcery. I get called a magician all the time. But yeah, I mean doing a little bit of like even studying sound art or just those certain projects that just hit you. You’re just like, “Wow.” Sound is a really powerful medium, almost taps into a base part of the human brain, or something, to me. It’s just like when something gives you goosebumps, but you don’t know why, it’s because it just is.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It’s so cool. It’s really cool.

Maurice Cherry:
What specifically do you enjoy about sound design? Like I know you’re kind of working as a producer now, but you still do sound design on the side.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I would say I like the challenge of sort of figuring out how to really immerse someone in something. Because sometimes it’s like not apparent or easy to figure that out, and it can be a real challenge to be like, “Wait, something is off, but what is it?” I remember for The Nod, they did an episode for a homegoing for Madea, so we made it sound like it was in a church the whole time. I mixed it, and we did a first pass, and I was like, “There’s something off, and I can’t figure it out.” People were like, “Yeah, everyone kind of sounds almost empty or they’re speaking ghost-ish.” I put all this reverb and things like that to make it sound like they’re in this big church space, but something was just off.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
And so I finally sat down with the head engineer, I’m like, “I don’t know, I can’t figure this one out.” And so we’re going back-and-forth, and he just… We had like this church room tone recording just playing underneath the whole thing, and he turns it up, like way up. And I was like, “Oh, that’s it.” That’s it, it just needed more of that room tone recording.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
It was just like, “Oh yeah, duh.” I don’t make that mistake anymore, but I couldn’t figure it out at first, I was like, “Oh.” So I like that, I like that sort of like, “Here’s this weird thing we’re going to do,” or, “Here’s just this thing we’re going to do, how do we best convey it in sound?” Just the challenge of figuring that kind of stuff out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I was thinking of a show… What’s a show that I heard recently that had really good sound design? Two shows, actually, one is a bit of a shameless plug, because I… I didn’t help work on it, but I did greenlight the idea initially when we worked at Glitch, but there was this speculative fiction podcast called Open World that has really great, phenomenal sound design. And there’s another show, it’s actually a historical kind of a documentary series, but it’s called In Vogue, like the magazine, I-N-V-O-G-U-E, the 1990s. It’s talking about basically fashion in the ’90s and all that sort of stuff. They get the ’90s so right. I would imagine it’s because they have access to the licenses for music and stuff, but they’ve got the music down and the sounds, and it’s so immersive.

Maurice Cherry:
And also, I think part of it, when we talk about sound design, we talk about the created sound, but the other part of it is the authenticity of the host. So like, for this particular podcast, they have this sort of like haggard British guy named Hamish Bowles, who’s a well-known fashion stylist. And so his sort of kind of posh British accent kind of lends credence to that time. It all sort of flows together very well. I have to actually give it to a lot of limited edition… Not limited edition, but limited series podcasts. They do such a great job with sound design.

Cedric Wilson:
They really do.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s some others. There’s Anime in America from Crunchyroll, did a great job with it. There’s a series on Freaknik that did a really great job with sound design and just like encapsulating that time period or that moment with sound. That’s a really sort of powerful thing, because sound is… We talk about, or I’ve heard the notion about how things can’t be created or destroyed, but sound is literally something that we can make ourselves, and to be able to manipulate that sound and use that sound to bring about memories or immerse someone in a particular time period. I don’t know, it’s really powerful. That sort of is what interests me about sound design, is how you’re able to kind of do that sort of stuff.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, it’s great. If I had to guess why I love it so much, I could’ve just stayed in music, but I think there’s just something about just getting the right waves to come out of the right speaker at the right time that just does something. I don’t know, it’s just endlessly fascinating and cool to work with.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m curious were you in marching band in high school?

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Cedric Wilson:
I hated marching band.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Cedric Wilson:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Why did you hate it?

Cedric Wilson:
I was the type of music kid to like… I wanted to be in the ensemble room, air-conditioned.

Maurice Cherry:
Ah, okay.

Cedric Wilson:
Making music that way. I had a lot of fun in marching band, don’t get me wrong. I just never really… It just wasn’t for me.

Maurice Cherry:
I was bringing up marching band largely because of talking about sort of timing and everything. Like I was in marching band in high school too, and I played trombone. I had the opportunity through my… And I have to give it to my band director in high school, shout-out to Mr. McDonald, who like really introduced me to a lot of ’70s music that I didn’t know about, that I might’ve heard, like I might’ve heard my parents playing it or something like that, or heard my grandmother playing it or something.

Maurice Cherry:
But once I joined the marching band, he was a big Earth, Wind and Fire fan. And so I got immersed, really, in like a lot of their discography, because we would arrange that music and end up playing it on the field. That’s sort of how I sort of taught myself piano, at least I know my way around a piano. I’m not a virtuoso by any means, but I know my way around a piano to listen to something and arrange it for different instruments. I learned that in marching band, that we take that out and take it onto the field.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, would they always be perfect, one-to-one, note-for-note transpositions? Not in the slightest, especially when we tried to remix popular music. God. If I never hear Montell Jordan’s This is How We Do It ever again in life, I will be perfectly fine, because we played that song to death in marching band. It wasn’t even a great transposition either, or a great arrangement I should say. But then we’d get some of those… And I think the reason that we used Earth, Wind and Fire was because they had their band kind of mapped over to what you would have in a marching band. It has a strong brass section, and you could take the vocals and use that with woodwinds, or something like that, so it made sense in that way.

Cedric Wilson:
I loved Earth, Wind and Fire. Oh my God. I remember, my dad… When I was young, I was big on taking the CDs and getting them on the computer or the iPod and burning them. I’d be like, “All right, I have to burn them. I have to burn them with these settings and this is the best.” And I remember it was like this huge three-CD collection of all of Earth, Wind and Fire.

Maurice Cherry:
I had that. It was like this tall, brown like with Egyptian.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I got that for my 16th birthday. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh, man. So I used to listen to that all the time. Oh, man. Whew. Yeah no, that kind of stuff, my dad loves Earth, Wind and Fire. He was like the Motown, that kind of stuff, the funk, the soul, R&B. And then my mom was like the Anita Baker, Rachelle Ferrell, India Arie person.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Actually, no, it’s funny. They definitely instilled a love of music, and I remember it was… I actually don’t remember which song it was, but it was off India Arie’s, I think, second… One of hers, the second album?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I don’t remember, but I remember like that deciding to be like, “Oh, okay, I think I want to make music with my life.” In making that decision, I remember she was just playing one of her CDs in the car, and I was listening to one of the songs and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to make some music.”

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Cedric Wilson:
Oh yeah, it was always stuff playing in the house. Not on Sundays, when it was time to clean, it was always music playing in the house.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s so funny. This was years ago, but I had her graphic designer on the show, India Arie’s graphic designer.

Cedric Wilson:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
Denise Francis. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
That’s dope.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. The one that I remember distinctly that we would play from Earth, Wind and Fire is Star, because it had a solo at the beginning, and it would be a trombone solo that I would write in for myself, naturally. But it would have a solo in the beginning, and then like once it broke out into the verse, it was very easy for marching, because it was like, “Dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun-dun-dun!”

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And so we would play like a mix… I’ll say it like this, on the field, we would play a mix of like oldies and then stuff that’s on the radio. So like we would play My Boo, this is ’96, I’m old. We would play that on the field and get people hype, but then like when you were in stands and you were in your sections, your sections could do whatever you wanted to, as long as you were the section leader. And so I was the section leader for the trombones, and my nerdy, video game-playing ass had taught my section how to play the winning battle fanfare from Final Fantasy.

Maurice Cherry:
So when the team would score a touchdown, you’d hear, “Bum-bum-bum-bum, bum bum, bum-bum-bum! Dun dun dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun!” And people thought it was just like some John Philip Sousa, all-American kind of fanfare thing. I’m like, “No, no.” Listen, because I played Final Fantasy Two to death, Final Fantasy Four in Japan, but I recorded that and then I had a keyboard at home, and I would translate… Yeah, that’s what I would do. I would do dirty shit like that. I can’t imagine songs now, like modern songs, being done… I mean, not to say that it’s not done, because marching bands do it, but I don’t know if today’s music lends to that level of instrumentality.

Cedric Wilson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
I think the latest song that I heard that actually think would do really good in a marching band is Silk Sonic’s Leave the Door Open.

Cedric Wilson:
Actually, Anderson .Paak is where my mind first went.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Just generally, but yeah, ooh that’s a good… What are the kids playing in marching band these days? That’s a good question.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know, because I can’t imagine any of this mumble rap stuff going over well on the field. “Nana, nana, nanananananana.” I can’t, I don’t know what that would sound like, probably would sound like a swarm of bees or something. I don’t know.

Cedric Wilson:
Some of that stuff hits, I’m sure the drummers really enjoy that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s honestly probably the stuff that has old school samples in it.

Cedric Wilson:
Probably. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
I’m curious.

Maurice Cherry:
So like, what’s the difference between a sound designer and an audio engineer, like in your eyes? Is there a difference between those two?

Cedric Wilson:
There is. I think you’ll probably get a different answer from different people, but for me, I would say an audio engineer is someone who is just doing the technical stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
Like record this well, clean this up, put this thing here. Even to like a certain extent, editing, for quality not necessarily for content. And I would say a sound designer is someone who may or may not have those technical skills. I always try to say that you don’t have to get into sound design through engineering. There are a lot of great people who came in as “producers,” quote-unquote, and just do really great sound design. But I would say a sound designer is someone who is able to make those creative choices and say, “Okay, we want this to sound like it’s in a church or in a cave or in space or wherever,” and then has the tools at their disposal to make that happen.

Maurice Cherry:
So one kind of is more creative, and the other’s more technical, I guess, just kind of broadly saying.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, super broadly, because I’ve definitely seen some engineers, especially in the music world, who can just mix their butts off and do things that I’m just like, “Why in God’s name would you ever think to do something like that?” But it sounds amazing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
It’s like that thing where at any job, when you’re at a really high level, is creative. But yeah, I would say the distinction there is I would say more technical to like more production-y.

Maurice Cherry:
And then I’d imagine there’s probably even… Well, I know for a fact that there’s business/branding elements that go to it, because you did some sound design work back when both TK and I worked at Glitch, you came on and worked as a sound designer for a project that we had, where you sort of made an audio jingle, or like an audio brand, for the company.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I think they’re called audio identities.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, audio identity. Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, that was really cool. That was the first time I did something like that, because TK was like, “Hey, we have this thing, can you do this?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” So I did some research, and then listened to all the episodes of Twenty Thousand Hertz that dealt with the specific topic, and I was like, “All right, let’s go make some audio IDs.” Yeah, that was super fun. That was cool. I mean, that one was cool because the way that I just had to do it was I came at the group with three very different ideas for it. I sat down with everyone and was like, “This is what I think you all want, here’s what I think my interpretation would be, like if I were to personally do it, this is how I would do it.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
And then I did one that was really abstract and just weird, because you’ve got to have one like that just to be like, “Maybe there’s something there, I don’t know.” And yeah, that was a really cool process, just kind of like going back and forth and figuring out, “Okay, this is the sound that we want, and how do we get to work?” There was like a visual element that it needed to sync up with too. Yeah, that was a lot of fun, and definitely was the first time I ever did it. I think it worked out well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I would say for people that probably… I think a lot of folks have heard audio identities but may not necessarily really know what it is, but like just to kind of give a broad example. For when you watch a new movie on Netflix, and you hear that sort of opening, “Dun dun!” Or Intel has “Bum bum, bum bum!”

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Or something like that. Those little types of, I don’t know what they’re called, like zingers or whatever. I’m just making up words, but those little audio blurbs can often be indicative of an entire brand, and what I think we’re starting to see now is a lot more companies are leaning into that, with the advent of smart speakers and things of that nature, you’re starting to hear a lot more audio identities. One that surprised me recently was YouTube.

Cedric Wilson:
They have one now?

Maurice Cherry:
YouTube is completely visual, but YouTube has an audio identity if you’re watching… If I cast YouTube to television, or like if I watch YouTube on Apple TV or Chromecast TV or something, there’s like an opening whoosh sound or something with YouTube, like it goes, “Shhhhwuummm, shwum!” Like it’s new, and I just recently started paying attention to it. I would imagine it’s probably to get people’s attention if they’re not looking at the screen, but it also is to just sort of signify like, “Hey, if you’re across the room and you hear this, you already know exactly what it is.” Like when you hear the Netflix sound, you know that’s Netflix. Or like if you hear a certain app or something chime or chirp, you know that’s that app, because the app has a specific sound to it or something like that.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s a lot more tech companies and design companies, or at least design-focused tech companies, that are leaning into audio identities as ways to kind of brand themselves, which I think is pretty cool.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, I mean, it’s a powerful, powerful tool. I get it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, as I sort of alluded to earlier, I’m pretty sure most of our audience are probably visual designers in practice, or they’re software designers or something like that. What would you tell someone that wants to know about sound design, like what should they know when it comes to sound design?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say it’s bigger than you think it is. So like when I was doing a lot of the indie film stuff in school, and would work with filmmakers, people just didn’t fully know how much goes into it. If you’re making something that’s like a huge budget, I don’t think people realize the actors don’t just say their lines on set, or in front of a green screen. They go back into a studio afterwards and dub everything afterwards.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But you know, depending on the budget, not everyone can do that. But it just is to say that the work that goes into the sound is about the same that you’ll have to put into a visual thing, so like if you have the means, a really good friend, or the budget, get you a sound person. Get you someone who can really do that work.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there certain resources or tools that you would recommend for someone that wants to get into sound design, like they’ve listened to this episode, they think this is cool, this is something that I want to maybe pick up as a skill or something like that. What resources would you recommend?

Cedric Wilson:
I would say YouTube is your best friend. I learned probably too many things on that site, which is a little annoying to say to someone that also went to grad school. There are so many people just doing the work of just being like, “Hey, this is what we do, and this is how it works.” It’s always been a great resource. A lot of plugin companies are now also really into the content creation game. So like usually like with waves… If you find the good tools, usually there’s good videos and things like that to go along with it. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What haven’t you done yet that you want to do?

Cedric Wilson:
I would love to start getting into the more experimental stuff. I would love to do more fiction stuff. I think for a while I was afraid of fiction, just because I knew how much work needs to go into it, just like time-wise. And maybe some of the first sound design experiences I had… Not scared me off from it, but I just was like, “Uh, how do people actually do this all the time for work?” But I would love to do that kind of stuff more. I guess get less into the literal space and more in the metaphoric stuff and how does this weird sound or experience or whatever represent something, as opposed to this quote-unquote “interview.” I’m not trying to place a value judgment on narrative audio and things like that, but I would love to start getting into making more weirder things and just figuring out what, I guess, being an artist might look like more in the sound design realm. I know who I am as an artist from music, but for sound design it’s just like, “Oh, what do I really want to be making here?”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
I’m just like sort of figuring that kind of stuff out.

Maurice Cherry:
So I’d say to that end, where do you see yourself in the next five years or so? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Cedric Wilson:
I would love to be doing more things in collaboration with musicians and things like that. Song Exploder is a huge inspiration for me. I absolutely love that podcast, like listening to shows like Twenty Thousand Hertz is amazing, and even podcasts that are narrative but use music in really interesting ways.

Maurice Cherry:
Like Dissect?

Cedric Wilson:
Like Dissect. I need to listen to the new season of Mogul. They’re doing a season on chopped and screwed.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice.

Cedric Wilson:
I mean, there’s so much really, really cool storytelling that can happen just around the realm of sound, and not just because you can use sound in cool ways, but just because it’s also just genuinely interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cedric Wilson:
But yeah, it’s just like more immersion, more risk-taking, that kind of stuff.

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

Cedric Wilson:
You can find out more about me on my website is probably the best spot, cedricwilsonmedia.com. I am also on Twitter, @cedricwilson64, but I will give the warning that I don’t tweet very often. But like, if anyone ever had a question, you can feel free to hit up the DMs, but I’m not a big social media person. I’m sorry for that.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay, no. Hey look, you’re in the studio, you’re mixing audio and stuff. That makes sense, I get it. I get it.

Cedric Wilson:
I host a gaming podcast. I really love video games. We should talk more about video games after this, but I do that. It’s called Gamer Friends. You can find that on any podcast platform.

Maurice Cherry:
I was about to say, you work a podcast and you’re like, “I have a podcast, it’s on… Oh man, I can’t think of the name.”

Cedric Wilson:
I just can’t remember the… I think the phrase that I like is whatever platform you’re listening to this on, you can find it there as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Cedric Wilson:
But you know, I’m not behind the mic that often.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s all good. It’s all good. Cedric Wilson, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really kind of demystifying sound design, not just for me, but I think for the audience as well. Being able to hear is one of our five vital senses. And as designers, of course, we look at visual things, we touch things, so the work that we do is mostly around those two senses. But sound is something I think, for those of us that have hearing, we sort of take it for granted in terms of how important it is and how useful it is. And so, it’s good to have someone on the show to talk about how they got into sound design, how it’s important, and you’ve been able to use it to be a creative person. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Cedric Wilson:
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This was great. I had a very good time.

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