Katrina Lenzly

I had such a blast chopping it up with the extremely talented Katrina Lenzly. Not only is she an award-winning art director who has done incredible creative work for big brands such as HBO, the NBA, and The Coca-Cola Company, but she’s also a public speaker, and a neo-soul hip-hop artist known as King Cooley. (And I thought I did a lot!) We had an incredibly deep and candid conversation about Black cultural expression, being a working designer, and a lot more.

Katrina talked about growing up on the southside of Atlanta, and shared how she made her way to Savannah College of Art and Design and eventually found her design voice in an unlikely place — a skate shop! We also talked about the realities of advocating for Black-centric narratives and DEI initiatives in the design space, the ebb and flow of support for Black creatives after the summer of 2020, and the power of intention.

This interview with Katrina was really a full-circle moment for both of us, so I hope this conversation inspires you to forge your own path in your creative career!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

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

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

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

Mitzi Okou

When it comes to Mitzi Okou, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. She’s a visual and interaction designer, yes, but in addition to that, she’s the founder of Where Are The Black Designers? — a conference that started in 2020 and since then has evolved into an international, volunteer-run, nonprofit design advocacy organization.

Our conversation began with a bit of catching up, then we spent a lot of time talking about what’s happened with WATBD (and the world) since the summer of 2020. Mitzi and I also discussed what it means to sustain yourself doing community work, the current state of DEI and what it means for Black designers, and she shared a bit about what’s in store for the future of WATBD.

Mitzi has made tremendous strides in the design community in a very short period of time, which is a testament to her drive, foresight, and willpower! I can’t wait to see what she’ll accomplish next!

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

Sponsored by School of Visual Arts

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

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

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

Branden Collins

Branden Collins, founder of the design studio The Young Never Sleep, is a deep thinker. I had such a blast during our conversation about the complex and thought-provoking world of tech, creativity, and the endless possibilities they hold. As an interdisciplinary designer, Branden has worked at Cartoon Network and Snap, but he’s also been heads down in the Atlanta creative community as well, which he’s just returning to after a stint in Los Angeles.

We talked about the ever-evolving landscape of social media, including the rise of microblogging platforms (as a response to Twitter’s X-ification), the cautiousness in navigating the digital realm, and some potential ethical issues surrounding AI and VR. Branden also shared his philosophy of technoculture, and we explored world building, information science, issues sex workers face in online platforms, and the parallels between past technological shifts and the emergence of the metaverse.

This episode will definitely make you think twice about the tech we build, how we use it, and how it affects our world!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Branden Collins:

I am Branden Collins. I am an interdisciplinary queer designer, artist, inventor, archivist and performer from Atlanta, Georgia.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. How has 2023 been going for you?

Branden Collins:

It’s been pretty good. I moved back from Atlanta…to Atlanta from Los Angeles. It’ll be about two years ago now. So over the course of those couple of years, I’ve just been kind of adjusting to being back here, being around old friends and reconnecting with people and sort of trying to re-establish myself in my practice here, which has been a journey. But I’ve been able to kind of kickstart a lot of new projects that I’m really, really excited about. So it’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been overall positive and really nurturing, nourishing experience so far. The year has been pretty good.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. What’s been like the biggest thing you’ve had to adjust to?

Branden Collins:

Not being close to the ocean, I think that’s definitely the biggest thing for sure. Everything else comes with being in Atlanta versus L.A. Just typical stuff, but that’s definitely been the biggest adjustment.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, the traffic in Atlanta is pretty bad too, but the traffic in L.A. is on par, I feel.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, it’s a toss up. You’d be hard pressed to say which one is worse, to be honest. The infrastructure in Atlanta definitely isn’t built for as many cars as we have coming into the city. And even in L.A., I think a city that was built for that is still a challenge. So being here is definitely pretty hardcore.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, you talked about re-establishing yourself and working with some projects. Can you talk about what some of those are? Is there anything that you want to try to do before the year ends?

Branden Collins:

So yeah, a few things.

I am working with a longtime collaborator and friend, Ami Swecki, who runs a creative studio called Zoo as Zoo. Her and I are working to build a platform called YOO, which is essentially at this stage, like a mind-mapping tool to help people of all kinds, but specifically new media, artists and creative technologists, to help them just organize their digital life, so to speak, all in one place. And sort of, in that way, help them sort of make new connections and curate their ideas towards the development of new projects and new types of technology. So that’s one of the bigger things that I’m working on.

I’m opening a bar with a good friend of mine, longtime friend Omar Ferrer. It’s called El Malo, and it’s going to be a really beautiful place and definitely a practice in world building for him and I and the whole team, which I’m working on Zoo with that as well. Really excited about that; about having our own space to have fun and enjoy.

I’m working on XR radio with Amiko — Sharon Oh — who runs her own studio, Polyvisuals. We’re essentially just trying to craft a story, a narrative about mixed reality and about identity and kind of through the lens of all of these technologies that all of us are sort of keeping our finger on the pulse about artificial intelligence and AR and VR and simulation and all these different things. Kind of asking the question, like, “what does it look like to exist in a world where all these technologies are integrated with one another” and having to navigate that? Sort of the way that we’re approaching it, as with all of my work, is really from an anthropological perspective, and I think recognizing that the tools themselves — the channels are new, the devices are new — but the questions and the challenges aren’t really that new. When you think about how we all navigate the world with the identities that have been in large part bestowed upon us, we have to constantly encounter manipulation and questionable realities and alternative facts and all of these things. We’ve had to do that for a really long time. It’s interesting to try to kind of craft a story around that with those things in mind.

So those are some of the kind of the big ones that I’m working on and everything kind of like circles around all of the rest of my work, which we’ll talk about more.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. So, yeah, you’re doing just a few light projects, nothing major.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, exactly. (laughs)

Maurice Cherry:

I heard about El Malo. I think I heard about it…I want to say maybe on it was one of these blogs. It might have been Water or What’s New Atlanta…Tomorrow News Atlanta? Something like that. But I think it’s going to be in Reynoldstown, I think.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, it’s at the Dairies. Yeah, it’s right in that little — not little — in that complex next to the Eastern. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I definitely want to check it out because I heard it’s a rum bar and I love rum.

Branden Collins:

Nice. Okay. Yeah, we’d love to have you, man. I’ll give you a membership. We can just set it up.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, thank you! Yeah, I appreciate that. Let’s talk about your studio, The Young Never Sleep, which you founded back in 2010. I’m looking at the website and it’s described as “a platform for visual experimentation through collaboration and interdisciplinary design services,” which you kind of have spoken about already a little bit with some of the stuff you’re working on. Tell me more about the studio.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, so I started that in 2010. It was originally just the name of my blog on Tumblr. I think I just came up with that. I think rooted in this idea of, just like, the restlessness that comes with youth and with being just insatiable in curiosity, and that being kind of the driving force behind my work. So the name kind of stuck as a blog and then turned into the name I use for my creative practice. And, yeah, I’ve been using it as a platform, a network, so to speak, to collaborate with other creatives to expand our work, the possibilities of our work, kind of leaning on each other’s strengths and then using it as a way to work with clients, with brands large and small. And over time, it’s just continued to evolve and expand as a way to explore my own identity and just do cultural research and archiving. And it’s kind of ballooned into a much, much larger idea, which is exciting. Sometimes overwhelming, but it feels right, so I’m still doing it.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, what would you say kind of sets your studio apart from other studios?

Branden Collins:

I would kind of parallel it with what I appreciate a lot about Zoo. Zoo as Zoo — Ami’s studio — is, I think, we approach it slightly different ways sometimes, but I think we both understand, I think, the impact and significance of not just creativity, but creative thinking. And the way I approach it is, again, through the lens of, like, anthropology, science, nature, and this idea that creativity is something that’s inherent to nature. You know, start talking about technoculture. That’s essentially what that kind of practice and philosophy is about, is that these things are rooted in nature.

Like, when you look out at nature, animals express creativity. They do architecture. Animals have languages and dialects. Animals create technology. They make tools. They have tool use and do mathematics and experimentation. And it’s sort of like realigning ourselves with the fact that we are animals. We’re animals, too. And that’s like a thing to be an honor for us, that we’re a part of this grand story of technology that doesn’t just start with humankind. It actually just starts with the beginning of life itself, and that the creative endeavor is the same thing. It starts the story of creativity, and creative expression goes back as far as time itself. And that, to me, is a profound acknowledgment. It kind of drives the pursuit of the studio.

And I started using this banner — another world is possible — many years ago not knowing that it was an actual term in politics of alter-globalization which seeks to hold on to the positive aspects of globalization while sort of critiquing and, if necessary, discarding some of the negative aspects, which I found to be pretty perfect once I realized that that is what it actually was about. But it’s really rooted in a world building practice and this idea that when we look out at nature, nature has all of these incredibly innovative solutions to so many complex problems. Using that logic, it’s quite simple that the world that we live in, with all of its kind of multitudes of injustices, is just one world. It’s one possible outcome based on things that we all should know about. We know why we arrived to this destination, because our map was constructed in a certain way. So if we start to retell the story and start to change the map, then the histories and the futures that are available look totally different.

And that, to me, is exciting. And that’s sort of the power and potential of creativity.

Maurice Cherry:

As you’re talking about this, you’re reminding me of an interview I did several years ago with Billy Almon. Billy Almon, he’s an inventor also. He’s an astrobiofuturist.

Branden Collins:

Yes. I love that.

Maurice Cherry:

And a lot of the work he does is around biomimicry. Some of what he does kind of speaks to what you’re talking about in that looking to the natural world on ways that we as humans can kind of live in this world or solutions, things like that. His premise is that the natural world kind of has provided all the solutions that we need. If we just look for them or look to them, I should say 100%.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:

And also, your studio is a collective. Like, you’re working with partners. You’re working with other collaborators too, right?

Branden Collins:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m always working with other people. As much as I’m doing independent work, I’m constantly working with other people. Most of the work that is shown on the website and on my Instagram is collaborative, and I try to stress that point that collaboration is really key in certain instances and necessary to actually expand my capabilities and the capabilities of the people that I work.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, and I’m looking at the site…I mean, you have a very impressive list of clients and collaborators. I’ll list off a few of them. Medium, HBO, Nickelodeon, Impossible Foods, and even some, you know I was saying before we recorded, I was like, “I’ve seen your work before. I knew that it was from you.” But like Bon Ton, which was this…I think it’s Bon Ton is still in Midtown. I was thinking of TOP FLR for some reason, but Bon Ton is below TOP FLR. TOP FLR is now something else.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

But also, you did a lot of work for Brittany Bosco.

Branden Collins:

Yep.

Maurice Cherry:

What are the best types of clients that you prefer to work with?

Branden Collins:

All of those clients listed. I don’t think I’ve listed any of my bad clients, now that I think about it. I wasn’t even intentional. I think I just did that. But all of those clients were great clients. I think that the best clients are the ones who see you for who you are and sort of are excited about just, like, applying your capability and letting you do your thing. For the most part, they essentially hire you to do what they hired you to do, right? They let you do what they hired you to do. They are collaborative, and those are the clients that I really appreciate. It doesn’t mean that the work is without criticism and critique. I think the best clients also give good feedback and give a good critique. So it’s a good balance of letting you do your thing and also making sure we achieve the goal together.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, what are some of your plans for The Young Never Sleep in the future? I mean, you mentioned YOO, and I’m looking and seeing that you’ve been working on something called YOO Gen. So I think this is all sort of combined together. What are kind of your plans that you want to achieve through the studio?

Branden Collins:

I’ve been thinking about that a lot. It’s a tricky knot to try to untangle. I think that the way I’m going with things is I think I would love to keep the studio running in its current form as, like, a practice that provides design services and offers a space for creatives to collaborate and express themselves. And as an extension of that, I think I want to push further and further into this world building space, essentially taking all of these stories that The Young Never Sleep has developed over the years and starting to realize them in multimedia formats. So things like gaming, mixed reality gaming, immersive, interactive experiences, simulated environments, physical environments. Yeah, just like, expanding those narratives and making them kind of bigger and more impactive and interactive.

Maurice Cherry:

Now it feels like you’re doing this at a time when I mean, I’d say it’s just at a really good time because of everything that’s going around with AR/VR/mixed reality. There’s, of course, a lot of generative AI. I feel like AI has been put into everything, or it’s trying to be put into everything these days.

Branden Collins:

Right.

Maurice Cherry:

I recently had Carl Bogan on the show, who’s the guy behind Myster Giraffe who does these viral deepfake videos. And we had talked about cultivating media literacy. We talked about critical thinking to help people navigate what’s synthetic media and what’s real media…or authentic media, I should say. I’d love to kind of get more of just your thoughts around all of this — around what’s been occurring with AI, how this feeds into kind of this definition of technoculture that you’ve come up with. I’m giving you the floor to give your thoughts on all that.

Branden Collins:

Okay, cool. Yes.

So technoculture is a term that I started using, which was another one of those things that I later come to find out. It’s an actual term in academia where the idea is to study and understand the relationship between technology and human society and how it sort of evolves over time, how they co-evolve and co-exist together. I’ve taken that same kind of philosophy and practice and kind of expanded it further to just include all of nature and recognizing that nature is in many ways inherently technological.

When you look at evolutionary biology and the behavior of animal cultures, they have cultures, they have social organization, like I talked about before. They make tools, they make technologies and do science experiments of their own. And from that lens, understanding that, again, this technological outcome is just one, essentially, that can exist based on specific context. So the trajectories are really exponential when you look at, okay, what happens when this non-human animal is allowed to continue to evolve, for example, and their technological sort of paradigm starts to expand and evolve on its own. What would that look like, or even from a human perspective, if said indigenous culture was able to thrive instead of being extinguished? What would our technologies look like today? Would they still be gray metal laptops that we stare into all day? Or would it be something totally different? And that’s an exciting thing that is usually taken on by science fiction. But the world we live in is a sci-fi already. So it’s exciting to just think about it that way and also to start putting those things into practice and start actually making these technologies, which is something I’m excited about, this endeavor of technoculture, part examination, part archiving, part practice and research and development.

Underneath that is this vast body of research into the science of information, which has kind of connections to so many different things that helps kind of lay the foundation for that practice. Information science touches everything from quantum physics to the invention and evolution of language to how we organize information in our lives, how information is organized in nature and in art. It’s super interdisciplinary. So I think that’s why I kind of latched onto it. And when we start kind of connecting those things and you start talking about something like artificial intelligence and putting it into context I don’t actually like the term artificial intelligence. I think artificial kind of implies that it’s not natural, which I don’t completely agree with. And intelligence implies that it’s intelligent, which intelligence is always a moving target, just like consciousness. Our idea of it continues to evolve as we learn more. And I think when you start asking questions about what is artificial intelligence? And you put it into the context of anthropology, sociology or evolutionary biology, you start sort of looking a bit deeper and looking at things like capitalism, for example, which I could place under the umbrella of artificial intelligence or white supremacy, which I could put under the umbrella of artificial intelligence or patriarchy, these autonomous systems that operate on agents. You’d be hard pressed to say, like, who has the hand on the wheel in that scenario? Is it the system itself or is it the individual people? And the reality is it’s both. It’s like a mixture of both. So in that context, artificial intelligence more broadly is just about non-human intelligence, quote unquote. So you can look at animal culture and say, how do we define intelligence based on this? Here are obviously conscious beings who don’t have a language like ours, who don’t do things the way that we do, but they are intelligent in their own multifaceted ways. It starts to bring up questions about human intelligence and if certain people are deemed disabled or neurodivergent or so on and so forth, like, is that accurate or do we need to think differently about it in the context of our society? So it just opens up a vast amount of questions. And I’m kind of excited about pursuing the philosophical challenges of it as well as the technical challenges and the ethical challenges. I think they all need to kind of go hand in hand. And it really to me is a provocation to challenge some of the things that we have just accepted as fundamental to our society.

As much as we want to challenge artificial intelligence, we have to, I think, simultaneously continue to challenge our economic paradigm, which is itself a technology, our socioeconomic paradigms, our political paradigms, which are also technologies. So, yeah, it’s an exciting kind of territory, and to me, it’s all connected. So it’s worth questioning all of it and embracing the idea that we have the agency to change it or work with it in a different way.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, we absolutely do.

Branden Collins:

Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

I think what I like the most about even what you’ve just described now is you’re taking technology and expanding the definition out of, I guess, what we would consider as computers. I guess that’s kind of the best way to put it, because, I mean, technology really is applying knowledge to achieve a goal in a reproducible way. So, like, the wheel is technology, the printing press is technology, but then food, the telephone, the Internet, et cetera, all of that is technology. And I think certainly the modern definition of tech has been strictly constrained within computers, the Internet, the Web program, like, all that kind of stuff, 100%.

But it’s funny — my mom tells me this sometimes about computers, because I don’t want to say she’s a luddite. I don’t want to put it in such harsh terms, but she’s pretty anti-computer. It took a long time for her to get a cell phone, she doesn’t have a computer at home, and was pretty anti-computer for a while. And she would often tell me humans taught rocks how to think, and we put them in a box and then lost our minds, which is a really kind of an abstract way to think about it, but then you think about the chips and all that stuff is rocks. That’s true. But, yeah, this is all interconnected. Like, none of this stuff is happening within a vacuum.

I think we even see now, just even talking about AI and VR and things like that, these are being applied as layers onto our current reality in ways that kind of make sense and kind of don’t. I think there are still particularly with a lot of AI stuff, there’s infinite possibilities and zero guardrails. There’s no kind of real I don’t want to say legislation, but there’s no sort of guardrails or ethics behind some of this stuff. I think individual entities are putting ethics behind it, behind the work that they do. But now the technology exists and is commonplace enough for you to spoof someone’s entire digital identity 100%. And it’s like, well, what happens in those cases? When that happens, it’s one thing to have identity theft, but then someone has also taken your face and your voice and is able to reproduce things that you could say that sound like you, and it’s like, well, it sounds like Black Mirror. It sounds like science fiction, like you said. But it’s now this is all these are all things which can happen right as this podcast is playing right now.

Branden Collins:

Absolutely, yeah. And I think I mean, even as you described it, I’m working on a story called “Beloved”, which is based on Toni Morrison’s book. And I started thinking about this after watching an interview of hers where she describes the mother taking her infant’s life in order to prevent it from being enslaved. And that story primarily is about artificial intelligence and the ethics of AI from the vantage point of that narrative. Because even as we’re talking, what you just described, someone taking your identity and taking your face and using it to say things that you wouldn’t say or make a caricature of you, these are things that we already have experienced, especially as marginalized people, especially as Black folk. When you talk about enslavement chattel slavery, the identity destruction and reconstruction that had to happen through that process over generations, hundreds and hundreds of years, when you talk about minstrelsy and Blackface and things like cultural appropriation, the artificial intelligence, quote unquote, of white supremacy has already kind of rendered this sci-fi experience of being Black.

One of the great ways to think about AI ethics is to look at the already lived experience of people like indigenous folks and Black folks and queer LGBTQIA people. And really, it’s a mirror of the potential destructive outcomes of a technology like this that is already, as we know, very much embedded with these biases. And it’s also a mirror of some of the potential beauty that can come from that when we have the agency to affect those systems. Because it’s always an evolutionary process. There’s always going to be a tie that comes in and a tie that goes out. Technology is always going to be used in nefarious ways, for the most part. Like you said, the guardrails are off, the cat’s out of the bag, Pandora’s box is open. And, yeah, my mom says to do your best. I think that’s kind of like, the task at hand, is to try to do our best with the information that we have, but we got to do it for sure.

Maurice Cherry:

And now technoculture, the definition of technoculture that you have is the framework for something else that you’ve been constructing called Communion. Can you talk about that?

Branden Collins:

Yeah. So after I left Snap, after downloading all of the information from spending four years there and all of the stuff that I was doing on the side and my own research since, at least I think the seeds of Communion have already been there. But at least since 2015, I did a show in Oakland called “Another World Is Possible: Race and Gender in the Age of Transhumanism.” And that’s, I think, when I started the seed of this framework.

But certainly after I left Snap, I kind of went to a group of thought leaders who are also mutual friends, collaborators, with this idea for a platform that was essentially a new kind of like information Internet and manufacturing infrastructure. And after presenting that and sort of taking a step back and thinking about it more deeply, I realized I needed to do a bit more work on this idea. So I started breaking it out into different frameworks.

So at the base, so to speak, information science kind of sets the stage for technoculture, which is the space that we sort of explore and sort of facilitate the production of different technologies through this kind of philosophical shift and then through that process, Communion, I think of as frameworks.

So one of them, for example, is a legal ethical framework for alternate realities. So when we talk about things like AI, like deep fakes, like AR/VR…this framework specifically is geared around how do you deal with illegal ethical challenges in virtual reality. I’ve read stories about people getting assaulted, like assaulted by groups of people in VR and different types of violence in VR. I’ve read stories about augmented reality and sort of being able to manipulate people’s reality and their perceptions using things like deep fakes. And it’s a vast, uncharted, very complex territory that I don’t think a lot of our institutionalized government authorities really have a sense of how to navigate. To me, it is a very much a grassroots effort that needs to take place. So that’s one of them. I have several others.

One of them is about full systems health and wellness; a framework for that. So thinking about the different dimensions of a person’s individual, collective and sort of global experience of health and what would it look like to actually make a healthcare infrastructure that takes into account how we relate to technologies. How? You use the Internet, how you use social media, the food you eat, your cultural context, what your background is as Black people understanding how deeply systemic injustice is to our individual health and the health of the planet. Kind of connecting all these things together and going like, okay, every person lives essentially in their own reality. And based on that, every single person needs to have a different sort of approach to health that’s specific to them. But it also can be navigated as something that’s beneficial for the collective. So that’s another one. There are several others that kind of, like, are all about different subjects. So communion is just a series of frameworks that could then be applied to a person’s individual life or as a body of research for institutions and things like that. That’s kind of the long and short of that.

Maurice Cherry:

To me, all of this sounds utterly fascinating.

Right around this time last year, I was working at this startup, I was working at this French-based startup and they wanted to make a magazine dealing with product communities. We had already published, or we already had two issues that we had done. It was a quarterly magazine called Gravity. And for the third issue, we wanted to do something on Web3. They had the idea come out like, “yeah, we want to do something on Web3.” This came directly from the CEO because I think he wanted to try to pivot the company into Web3 stuff. And people at work were like, “no, if the issue is going to be about Web3, I don’t want to write about it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” And I’m the editor-in-chief of the magazine, so I was like, “okay, fine. We can find some people to write about it. This magazine doesn’t live or die if you don’t decide to do it; it’s totally okay.”

And so we brought in a Web3 ethicist to serve as our guest editor for the magazine. And we put together a slate of different topics and articles. And some of it was on the things that you just mentioned on what does digital identity theft look like, what does safety look like in the metaverse, that sort of thing. And this was like a year ago. Unfortunately, I got laid off along with our entire team, and so they completely not only killed the issue, but killed the magazine as well. So unfortunately, none of that stuff will ever see the light of day.

But I do find it all super fascinating because these are going to be the realities that we have to contend with in a few years. And I’ve been around on the web since the 90s, so I see also the parallels between stuff happening now and stuff that happened back when the Internet for sure started to become a thing. Like, the concept of real estate in the metaverse, for example, was very similar to what I remember the million dollar home page being like the Million Dollar Homepage was like this website where people bought ad space. Like they could buy like an 88×31 pixel web space and put whatever message or something on the very similar to, I guess, like r/place on Reddit. Like, something like that, but people paid for it. And then like, the concept of real estate in the metaverse where people are paying tens of thousands of dollars to have a plot of land — quote unquote, “land” — in a Metaverse that not only is not interoperable, but kind of doesn’t exist really. I literally was in a conference…not last year, this was 2021. It was a metaverse conference in the metaverse, and someone during one of the talks had bought like an acre of land for $10,000. And I’m like, “Why? What are you going to put there?” I don’t understand what that even means. You’re buying $10,000 worth of space in the metaverse. I guess you could put a digital house there and show off your NFTs. Remember when NFTs were a thing? All of this stuff is changing in such a rapid fashion, and then of course, culture is trying to catch up with how this is all happening. And so it just reminds me of the time back when the Internet was first becoming a thing and people were trying to stake their claim with websites. Companies were really skittish about if they should even put their business online. It’s all, I think, connected in that way. Like, I’m seeing those patterns re-emerge.

Branden Collins:

Absolutely. There’s this quote that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes,” which I like a lot. And, yeah, you’re absolutely right. There was stuff like GeoCities back in the day, which was very similar to that. The Sims in the 90s, which is obviously the metaverse. A lot of old games that even I used to play, like Age of Empires was a game that I used to play way back when on the computer, where you basically build your own civilization from scratch. There’s all of these things that, yeah, we had and that are kind of reemerging in this new environment. And, yeah, there’s so much of it, and it’s happening so fast that I certainly don’t think aging somewhat archaic government institutions can really navigate this territory. But I think that the people who have had experience in that space, the gamers and creative technologists and creative people, artists do, and I think it’s, again, an opportunity to challenge the institutions that we sort of just accept.

I think your sort of description of the digital real estate is a great example because, yeah, it’s technically not real, but it is real, and it starts to challenge our idea of what’s real or not, which has pros and cons. But when you think about a concept like Manifest Destiny — how the country was conquered and these false deeds that allow people to take land and property and kind of a fabricated legality behind it — it’s pretty fascinating. Because to me, in that context, it’s like, okay, there’s like, a subtle difference between somebody holding a piece of paper that, because of their authority, makes them the owner of a thing that they can just then take from you. And this other thing, which is digital, which is kind of two sides of the same coin, and the physicality of it is sort of sometimes just an inconvenient kind of truth about the way we experience the world. But, yeah, I mean, that’s what I get excited about information science about is when you get into, like, quantum physics and all of the really weird stuff about reality intangibility, but it’s all connected. And I think, yeah, it’s fascinating. I think people should be kind of cautiously enthusiastic about this whole space, this whole kind of new digital environment. And it’s always healthy, I think, to just look at history for examples of how things can go right and how things can go wrong.

Maurice Cherry:

Absolutely. I’m actually taking that approach now as it relates to social media.

So, like, we’re recording this now at a time when Twitter just became X, like, I don’t know, a couple of days ago or something like that, right? And people had already been having kind of, you know, reservations about the platform ever since the new owner took ownership and how things have changed. And so of course, since then, a number of different Twitter-like clones have sort of popped up or they’ve made themselves known, I’ll say I won’t say they just popped up, but like, there’s Spoutible, there’s spill, there’s posts, there’s mastodon has been around for a long time. There’s blue sky. Instagram came out of left field with threads. And people are trying to determine like, okay, well, where should I go next? Well, should I go over here to Threads? Well, Threads does this, okay, well let me go over to Blue Sky. Well, Blue Sky is like this, and can I get an invite? And it reminds me of 2006, 2007 all over again. One with the invites, that’s the first thing, right? But then two with also when Twitter was around, then there were a number of clones that had popped up that was trying to take its market space. Eventually there was Pounce, there was Plurk, there was Jaiku, there was Yammer, there might have been a couple of others. And within a year’s time, most of those didn’t exist anymore. They either got acquired by a company and shut down or they just couldn’t hack it, essentially, or they’ve pivoted to another market. Like, Plurk is huge in Taiwan. I don’t think anybody in the US really still uses anymore. So I’ve been cautiously looking at like, oh, well, do I even want to be on these other platforms? Because even with Twitter, I don’t share a bunch of shit on Twitter now anyway. And I don’t think me migrating my presence to another platform is going to necessarily change that. Like people will say, oh, I’m on Threads, and oh, this reminds me of how social media used to be. And I’m like, look, if Elon Musk is the problem, mark Zuckerberg is not the like, let’s step back here and put this into some context. But also just thinking of like, I remember the Internet when social media was not a thing and it was fun.

Branden Collins:

It was, yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

So even now, especially as I get older, I’m like, I don’t even want to really have a social media presence. Like as a publisher of Revision Path, I have to think, “oh, well, where do I want the show to be so people can find out about it?” So then I have to have those conversations with myself and my team about what even makes sense. But personally, I could give all of this up tomorrow and be fine.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, I feel that it’s kind of like a gold rush, like speculators, like running to whatever the hot town is at the time and trying to stake your claim. So, yeah, it’s definitely spot on and that would be a good archive, actually, is actually all of the platforms that have come and gone in relation to all this stuff. I think it would be like a humbling thing to see just how many of them have just come and gone and only a small few rise to the top because that’s just like the nature of the thing. So as we try to rush from one thing to the next, it’s just like it might be better to just take a minute to think about what it is we’re actually trying to do and get from these platforms. And is there a way to kind of re-claim that sovereignty and autonomy for ourselves? That’s something that I’m really interested in and trying to put into practice more regularly.

Maurice Cherry:

It’s like, what’s the connection? Because one thing that people have been talking about, and I promise we’ll pull this back into talking about Yoo, but one thing with people trying to go to these other platforms is then trying to recreate the social graph that they had on Twitter. So they’re like, oh well, if you’re going to be here, then I need to be here, and where are my people that are also on this? And it’s like, well, you can’t take your network with you in that way. There’s your offline real world network that always stays with you. And then there’s this sort of Ursat, cultivated network that’s been done through this social media platform that now you have to try to recreate and reconstruct on some other platform that may not even exist within a year’s time.

Branden Collins:

Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:

And also with the old platform X, Twitter, whatever it is, if you’ve had people muted or blocked or things of that nature, now that you’ve moved to this new platform, those restrictions no longer really apply. So they can try to harass you somewhere else. They can try to befriend you somewhere else and you’re like, “no, I don’t talk to you on Twitter; that means I don’t talk to you anywhere.” It’s so weird. It’s so, like, it’s very complex, which makes me want to just give it all up. I’m like, this is…y’all can have it.

Branden Collins:

It’s not that serious. Yeah, it gets overwhelming and it’s especially challenging, I think, for people who find a lot of value in kind of distributing their identity or having new identities online that they can’t have in quote unquote, real life, because that is something that’s very beneficial for a lot of people. I would include myself in a part of that. And especially, I think, like, younger generations and queer folks is, like, not generally, but a lot of people find a lot of value in being able to assume a different identity and being able to sort of go to a new town, so to speak, where nobody knows your name, and being able to recreate yourself. And there’s a lot of challenges behind that with all these new platforms, with legacy platforms that fade away.

One of the things that I’m really concerned about with Twitter, and just like these social platforms in general is something called link rot. Link rot. This idea that, I think, we forget that the Internet is very ephemeral and that if a server goes down, if people aren’t there to maintain it, that all of your tweets can just go away or all of the things you’ve saved in Google Drive or whatever other cloud service or all the things you posted on Facebook can just go away one day. There’s just this wealth of knowledge on a platform like Twitter that could be lost not only with the name change, but with the infrastructural changes that are there. And it’s the equivalent of burning down the Library of Alexandria with all of these connections and conversations and this sort of archive of this moment in time that we will never see again. It’s a little like concerning, not a little concerning. It’s pretty like it worries me a bit.

Maurice Cherry:

You know, I did a talk — oh my God, this is maybe two or three years ago — I did a talk called “Content is Subject to Change” about this very same thing; about how the Internet is not an archive. I know there is the Internet Archive, but that is a small nonprofit. It’s an institution, yeah, that one can’t archive the full web because there are certain restrictions around the type of content about the location of said content. It’s not even available in some countries. So you can’t archive the full web, but also just sort of talking about with the advent of user-generated content through social media, Web 2.0, et cetera. We are putting so much stuff on the Internet without thinking about how it is being stored, if it’s being stored, like news articles. Try to find a news article from ten years ago and see if all the images still work, or see if all the links, you know, link rot, like you mentioned, still works. And like, it makes it hard for history purposes, for archiving, et cetera. Yeah, the Internet is very ephemeral in that aspect.

Branden Collins:

Yeah. And that’s like one of the sort of ambitions of you. The platform that I’m working on with Ami is to at least kind of, in our own way, create these tools and allow people to create their own tools where they can create a living archive of at least themselves, of at least their digital self, and try to connect it to their physical self in a way that is ownable, that has sovereignty for them. And reclaiming all that data, reclaiming all of the information that we’ve dumped online and making sure that you are able to house it somewhere that you can access and not lose it. Because all of that stuff is hugely, hugely important. People’s digital stuff is…I don’t think we think about this consciously all the time. We kind of take it for granted. But it’s not until you lose it, it’s not until the house burns down with all your stuff in it that you’re like, “oh man, right. I probably should have saved that somewhere or made a copy of it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yep. Put it on a physical hard drive or something.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, right, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:

Even as you mentioned that, that kind of reminded me about sort of one of the restrictions of Threads, like when people were sort of looking at different platforms to jump to and sort of the notion you mentioned about people being able to assume different identities on different platforms. Like there’s who you are, maybe in the real world, but then on the internet you can be a different person or a different identity or something like that. And I know there were people like adult industry professionals, sex workers, porn stars, et cetera, who said that they had joined Threads. And Threads, because it’s Instagram and Instagram is owned by Facebook, now links them, their stage name, to their real person identity. And that if you try to delete Threads, then now you delete Instagram. So now it’s like tying together these things. You didn’t ask to be tied together, but because you’ve opted into the platform and no one reads the long ass end user licensing agreements or the terms of service, but now that you’ve opted into it, it’s like this is what you signed on for.

Branden Collins:

Yeah. And you can’t go back and it’s super manipulative, I think, and nefarious and not by accident. And yeah, that’s in and of itself a huge conversation about sex work online and sort of platform and surveillance capitalism. And I have friends who are sex workers. I kind of consider myself to be in that territory, at least online anyway. I have an OnlyFans. It’s a huge issue. Not only the deplatforming, the silencing, all of that stuff, which I think is hugely messed up because in a lot of ways these platforms make a lot of money from the revenue that’s generated by these users, these citizens of their platforms, while at the same time silencing them, even sometimes encouraging violence and disrespect towards them. There aren’t a lot of really safe equitable spaces for sex workers and marginalized folks online and I’m excited about seeing more of that. I think the metaverse — not Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse — but the Metaverse more broadly and gaming and kind of world building environments is at least one space that I feel excited about the opportunity for those things to open up more and just people like making their own platforms. I think back to the era of blogging, like hosting your own platform yourself. I think that’s exciting and I think we’ll probably see people do more of that for sure because I think people are getting really fatigued with all of this stuff.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, no, absolutely. I feel like we could have a whole other podcast episode just about what we talked about with the advent of technology through porn and sex work. Like a lot of technological innovation, especially like when we talked about synthetic media and things like that. Unfortunately it’s come because of that, that innovation has spurred technological innovation. But we’ve spent a lot of time talking about this. I want to make sure that this interview is also about you. So let’s switch gears here, learn more about you. Now, you’re originally from Cleveland, is that right?

Branden Collins:

That’s right. Yeah. I was born and raised there.

I lived there until I was about 13, and then I moved around in the south quite a bit. I went to high school in Douglasville, Georgia, for about a year. I went to high school in Montgomery, Alabama. That’s actually where I graduated high school. And I ended up going to SCAD in Savannah for two years. I’m a college dropout.

I loved my time at SCAD, especially the people. And just like, that city, I think, is beautiful. Yeah. I was a 3D animation major and an illustration minor. I thought I wanted to work at Pixar at that time. That was my first kind of venture into the 3D space, at least using computers. And I think it kind of stuck with me even though I hadn’t revisited it until more recently. A lot of the ideas, understanding the potential of it definitely stuck with me. I’ve always been interested in science and technology. I would have just as soon went into robotics or something like when I was a kid. I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. I wanted to be a paleontologist. I had all these kind of aspirations. I think that’s true for a lot of creative people.

I think something that I realized about kind of the world we live in is the unfortunate sort of reality of this kind of reductionist approach to so many things, where you have to choose one thing to be when that’s not really how the world works. And that was definitely a big part of starting the studio, was that using it as a vehicle to do whatever I wanted to do. And I think people feel inspired to rally around that. So, yeah, that’s been the journey with that.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, after SCAD, I saw that you kind of worked for a while as a designer. You worked for Radio One for a while, but then you also started collaborating with other creatives. You started this collective called The Big Up. Tell me about that, because it sounds like that’s kind of been the basis for what you do now through The Young Never Sleep.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, 100%. At SCAD, I met a group of really dynamic people; Bittany Bosco being one of them. Alex Goose, Danny Swain, Lloyd Harold, a number of other amazing people. We all kind of went our separate ways, but stayed in touch. And then after going back to Montgomery for a little bit, I went back to Atlanta. And at that time, I was just doing just like, freelance graphic design, doing club flyers and making people’s album artwork. Fadia Kader was one of the people who —

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, yeah, I know Fadia.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, she’s awesome. She’s one of the people who kind of helped jumpstart my design career. And yeah, I started working with Brittany and Alex Goose and Danny really closely. I’ve done album artwork for Danny. I did some vocals on one of his albums. I’ve done album artwork for Brittany and her show, kind of posters and things like that.

So, yeah, we started the collective The Big Up, and it was essentially like part label, part creative agency where we just wanted to do everything in house. We made the music, we made the art for the music. We did the set design. We did everything. And that was definitely one of the things that I think transitioned me from being an artist to being more of a design thinker, and certainly like a systems design thinker. And then, yeah, I worked for Hot 107.9 for a little while. I actually lived there for a short period of time. I had an experience with houselessness for a brief period of time, and I actually lived at Hot 107.9 making designs for Birthday Bash. And I would just stay in the studio when everybody left and just sleep there. I’d always been interested in computers, like, I had a computer at home. It was really old, and I’d play games on it and do stuff I wasn’t supposed to be doing. But, yeah, at Hot 107.9, just being there for that time, I was like, obsessively going through blogs. This is the time of LimeWire and all of that stuff. And just torrents and downloading just twenty albums at a time and just listening to Japanese prog rock and just cosmic jazz and all this crazy stuff from everywhere. It was incredible. And I remember I saved all this music on a hard drive, and I ended up losing that hard drive. So I think maybe that might be like some trauma that made me want to archive. There might be some trauma there. I’m like, I never want to lose anything ever again.

Maurice Cherry:

Listen, I have a hard drive here now at the house that’s got a ton of music on it that I can’t access for some reason. And I’m like, one day I’m going to crack it and get all my music back that’s on there. So I feel you there.

Branden Collins:

The world needs that.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Branden Collins:

But yeah, The Big Up. Yeah, that was definitely one of the things that was kind of seeded The Young Never Sleep and what was possible through that. You know, it’s been a journey. I still am connected to Bosco. The last time we worked together was a project with Spectacles. It was one of my favorite projects I’ve worked on there, actually. And one of the things that kind of set the trajectory for where I’m headed now with my work. We did her single July 4th or 4th of July. We created this video, which was essentially a concept for a music video game in mixed reality. Yeah, it was a really cool project where we used the AR lenses from a lot of Lens Studio creators, and I made toys based on the characters in a video and made several AR experiences. A really great 360 project. It’s a really cool one.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Brittany was actually on our 2019 honoree list for 28 Days of the Web. Yeah. We have, like, a sister site where, for Black History Month for February, we profile 14 men, 14 women that are doing really interesting, great digital stuff online, whether that’s design, tech, et cetera. That’s something I’ve done for the past ten years.

I’ve been debating on stopping it. This is my first time saying this publicly, by the way, because I’ve done it for ten years. I’m like, ten is a good round number. I don’t know if I want to do it again for next year, mainly because — and I didn’t think this would be the case, but I don’t know, maybe it’s kind of tied into our conversation — some people just don’t want that presence online anymore. They’re contacting us and being like, “yeah, could you take down the profile that you did?” They thanked me when it was up, but then now that it’s up, they’re like, “yeah, can you get rid of that?”

Branden Collins:

Okay.

Maurice Cherry:

Because I’m like…yeah. So I don’t know.

Branden Collins:

All right.

Maurice Cherry:

I’m on the fence about doing it again for 2024, but we’ve done it since 2014, so it’s been ten years. So I don’t know. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. I don’t know.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, okay. I feel that it’s like that. Things change.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Now, when you look back, art, some of the big places you’ve worked, like, you mentioned, Snap, you were there for four years in L.A. You’ve also been at Cartoon Network for four years here in Atlanta. When you look back collectively at those experiences, what do you still carry with you from there?

Branden Collins:

My experience working at those places, for me was like, my school. I apply myself in these careers as me, like, learning by doing.

At Cartoon Network, I got a deep appreciation for how to apply artistic thinking to design. There’s a fine line between art and design, and sometimes it’s nonexistent. And I think at Cartoon Network, I got an appreciation for how art and design can be the same thing. I got an appreciation for systems thinking again. I tell people we essentially did everything except make the cartoons. So we were, you know, making interstitials, making commercials, print ads, web ads. We did immersive experiences for, you know, we built a booth. I helped make a gigantic inflatable obstacle course in the Bahamas. It was like, so much work that got done making premium clothes and all kinds of things. Working for Cartoon [Network] and Adult Swim, you get a real sense of all of the touch points that have to happen in order to make a project successful or a product launch successful.

So I got a real sense of that there, and I have to thank people like Jacob Escobedo, who got me the job, and for him believing in me not having a degree, just seeing my work. He literally just asked me to bring in a sketchbook. He’d look through my sketchbook and hire me based on that, which I really appreciate him for that. And then Candice House, I have to say, is someone who sharpened my eye for detail and quality. She, as an art director, you know, is exceptional, and is someone who I think just is exemplary of the Cartoon Network brand. So I got that there, and then I left after four years. I graduated, so to speak, and then I freelanced for a while with that knowledge, working on projects for Dolby and HBO and several other kind of higher profile brands, which it’s great for me, I think, to go back and forth to have this kind of independent, self-starting thing, but also to be within the institution. Because I think you just learn different things from those experiences.

And then after a while, I got the job at Snap by working with Larissa Haggio, who’s a fashion designer in L.A. Andrew McPhee, her partner, got me introduced to Snap and the Spectacles team. And at Spectacles, I was there for four years. Another kind of graduate situation. I think the big takeaway there was how hard it is to make tech. I got a much deeper appreciation for the things that I think a lot of us take for granted. When our laptop is on the fritz or the GPS doesn’t work perfectly, it’s easy for us to complain. But I got a real reverence for the complexity and challenge of trying to make a piece of hardware and a piece of software and also trying to get it out into the market in a way that people will embrace it. It’s a very, very hard, complex thing to do. And I was there through four launches, four product launches, doing a little bit of everything with the brand and even influencing the product as well. I got a lot of experience with working with product teams and trying to set the vision and design a product. So I think those two kind of big pillars, Cartoon Network and Snap Spectacles together, I think, alongside my independent work, really set the stage for where I’m headed in the future.

Maurice Cherry:

I love that you kind of referred to both of those experiences as, like, graduation, for sure, because jobs do when we’re working at these places. They do teach us things. It’s not just kind of a particular tenure of employment, like some of the work that you did just looking back, like with Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, when I said before that I’ve seen your work before, I’ve seen your work before I knew it was you. The Adult Swim singles covers and stuff, some of the best design I’ve seen. And I’m like, this is coming out of Atlanta, and I mean, during a time when honestly, and I would probably still maybe say this even now, people don’t look at Atlanta as a design city.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, 100%.

Maurice Cherry:

I think certainly they look at us for entertainment. They look at just the creativity that comes here out of, like, the music scene. But I can tell you, from doing a show for ten years, people do not look at Atlanta for design at all.

Branden Collins:

You’re right.

Maurice Cherry:

Tech, they’ve started to because of the startup scene, but, like, design? Please.

Branden Collins:

Right.

Maurice Cherry:

Do not get me started about some of the design arguments and conversations I’ve had locally trying to help put Atlanta on the map about stuff. It’s just like…man, I don’t know.

Branden Collins:

Yeah, it’s such a shame. It does such a disservice to the culture to not acknowledge that. A lot of us been doing it for a long time. And I appreciate that you continue to advocate. I think it’s true. I’m passionate and committed to Atlanta. I’m not like, an Atlanta loyalist. Having lived other places, other places are really amazing as well. But I think it definitely does a disservice to the city to not acknowledge the design and art and tech and entertainment and all of those things that are very much present here. What I really see is just like an opportunity, actually to continue to foster the kinds of platforms that need to be unique to this city. I think that’s one thing that we’re tasked with, or anyone who’s creative here, is like, if you’re a person who’s committed to this city and committed to seeing it continue to improve, the reference points don’t need to be anywhere else but this place and the people who live here. And that’s it. It has its own thing, and that’s all it kind of needs to be.

Maurice Cherry:

Absolutely.

Branden Collins:

Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

What do you think it means to be a creative person today?

Branden Collins:

I think it’s like a common thread for me to see creativity as a way of self-affirmation on a really, really deep level. I think it’s a way to self reflect and to obviously connect with other people. I think from that place, when I think about something like a term that’s maybe on the verge of being overused now, this term “world building”, even before coming across the word, I think that our task of world building. As creative people, whether that is world building through writing a novel or doing photo shoots or making video games or creating a space where people can come and enjoy themselves or receive healing. I think world building as a practice is kind of our premier task.

The way that I sort of contextualize this for people is like me as a young black queer kid growing up, the world builders that I knew were my grandmother and my mother and my aunt who, when I stepped into their homes, I was confronted by all of this beauty. Black intellect. My grandmother had libraries about Black people, about Africa and Black dolls, and the walls were painted colorfully and bright, and my aunt’s home is just…you step into this world that’s, like, self-affirming, and it really just nourishes you. And it builds you back up to step out into the world, into a world that is not always so affirming. And to me, I think that’s the premier, I think, task is to continue to build that world and to do it together and bring it all together because we have the power to shape the trajectory of the world we live in and change the outcomes just by making it by making it real. And I’m excited about that. And I think the depth of that pursuit means challenging institutions continuously. Challenging how education is disseminated, challenging how social systems are disseminated, challenging authority kind of at all levels. Yeah. And just, like, affirming ourselves and even making something a little bit better is, I think, a win a victory.

Maurice Cherry:

In recent years, what would you say is one of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned about yourself?

Branden Collins:

I think it’s been humbling and exciting to put my own creative pursuit within the context of this sort of deep time. Being conscious of that. It’s opened a huge window for me as a part of my research. I recognize that, oh, wait…the sort of visual and sonic and conceptual themes that I am tapping into through my work all exist on a continuum and in a network of all these other minds and ideas and sort of questions. And once I step back and sort of look at that in that context, you start to get a different picture. Like, a different picture emerges of, like, okay, we’re all having this collective conversation. Like, touching on this idea of artificial intelligence again, is like this sort of collective consciousness that’s present through history, through this deep time of nature and all these things tracing that thread, it’s sort of simultaneously reduced who I am and also expanded it in ways that are just, like, reinvigorating. And it’s pretty profound to me, it’s felt profound.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, this might be a big question kind of given, I think, the general kind of trajectory of where your work is, but what kind of work do you want to be doing within the next five years? What’s the next chapter look like for you?

Branden Collins:

It’s a little tricky because there’s kind of a duality. I want to be more accepting of where I am, whatever that circumstance is, and in many ways just live small, live in a more small way on a personal level. But at the same time, I want to show people what’s really tangibly possible through the practice of world building and self kind of recreation. We’re living in this sci-fi world, and we watch really entertaining shows, you know, Black Mirror and Marvel movies or whatever, all these things that are really cool, like narratives. But I think I want to kind of take storytelling a little further. I really want to make tangible extensions of myself or of other people or worlds that people can really step into, make that collectively with other creatives.

I think the practice of world building…I take it really seriously because I know that a world has been built for me to live in. I always use Frank Ocean’s line — “living in an idea from another man’s mind.” I think that perfectly encapsulates our current circumstance. That somebody had an idea that one person of a color was less than another person, and now we live inside that idea. And a lot of the things that we now have to contend with as social institutions were just somebody’s idea that they wrote in a book, just proselytized to their group of friends. And then it became a global institution that has industries and infrastructure and military might to support it. And that to me is like fascinating that that can happen from just the seed of an idea.

So the creative pursuit, I think, is not to be underestimated that you as a person who has a concept or has an idea, you couldn’t begin to comprehend what that could look like in ten years, 100 years, 1000 years. And I kind of want to show people that that when we say another world is possible, that no, actually, yeah, the world like, for real, and that it is. And it’s not only possible, but it’s probable and practical as well. That’s what I want to do.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, just to kind of wrap things up here. And I know we’ve covered a lot, but just to wrap things up, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work? Where can they follow you online?

Branden Collins:

So you can go to @theyoungneversleep on Instagram or theyoungneversleep[.com] online. My Instagram has a Linktree with a bunch of other links as well that people can jump into. Those are the best places to find me.

Maurice Cherry:

All right, sounds good. Branden Collins. Wow. Wow. This conversation was so good. I think one it was just, I mean, first of all, thank you again for coming on the show. But the stuff that you’re covering are the things that I think as designers, as creatives, as technologists, we need to be thinking about because we’re probably best equipped to actually help to shape that future of what things can look like through 100% technology, through visuals, et cetera. And I just thank you for helping to put these ideas out there. Thank you for the work that you’re doing. Hopefully one day we’ll have rum together at El Malo for sure. But yeah, again, thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I appreciate it.

Branden Collins:

Thank you very much. Have a good one.

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Sean DallasKidd

If you have aspirations of being an agency owner one day, then you might get some great insight from this week’s guest, Sean DallasKidd. Sean is the co-founder and chief creative officer of DemonstratexDDW, and he uses his decades of experience to help brands define their story and communicate with their audiences.

Sean told me more about his new role, sharing what it looks like to run an agency from the C-suite and help it stand out from the competition. We also delved into Sean’s background, where he spoke about attending SCAD, getting into the publishing world, and how his shift to agencies helped prepare him for his current leadership responsibilities. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable has been the secret to Sean’s success, and it’s definitely paid off! (Big thanks to George McCalman for the introduction!)

Interview Transcript

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

Sean DallasKidd:
Hello, my name is Sean DallasKidd. I’m partner, chief creative officer at DemonstratexDDW. I would say what I do is make brands culturally relevant, and that takes place from brand development, naming, brand architecture systems over to go-to-market strategies. So really trying to create programs and experiences that resonate within culture, drive talkability with media and can be shared digitally and socially.

Maurice Cherry:
How are things going so far this year for you?

Sean DallasKidd:
This is a very interesting year. We’ve got lots of tensions in the US, globally, and so I think this year has been another year of quick adaption to socioeconomic sort of movement that’s happening around lots of new technologies that are turning on and a lot of disruption. So it’s a very interesting year to roll up your sleeves, learn a little bit more, and I’d say get creative.

Maurice Cherry:
Is there anything major that you really want to accomplish this year?

Sean DallasKidd:
Let’s see. This year, I think the main goals for me probably start with AI literacy from a sort of personal and business growth perspective, also want to take care of my people. I think as we’ve kind of seen on channels like LinkedIn, being able to create a business that can sustain over time, that puts its employees and its culture first, that’s one of my sort of big goals. And then obviously, working with brand partners that want to do very interesting, fun, provocative work.

Maurice Cherry:
Any sort of personal goals though for this year?

Sean DallasKidd:
Personal goals, to see more of the world. I’ve been historically a big traveler and the other thing that I love is food. So the over the course of the pandemic, have definitely been leaning more into traveling via my mouth and stomach. And so, this year I would like to actually get out into the world and see what’s happening in different countries and regions in the US.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk more about DemonstratexDDW. As you mentioned, you’re president and chief creative officer there, pretty recently as of last year, right?

Sean DallasKidd:
Correct, correct, correct. What’s really interesting with DemonstratexDDW is last year we announced the acquisition of Deutsch Design Works, DDW, which is a 27-year-old branding agency that was based in Sausalito. And so, what we did was acquire the agency for the brand building capabilities that they had, and we thought it was a great fit because Demonstrate focuses on go-to-market strategies and campaigns and programs, and so this gave us the opportunity to not only bring brands to life and market, but really start with the fundamentals, which you often find missing when you’re working with brands. So what are some of the cultural artifacts built into the brand DNA, the purpose, how do you find actions, and so we felt as though being able to help set the bar and the tone at the upfront and being able to pull that into a market will do nothing but good things for our brand partners that we work with.

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

Sean DallasKidd:
Ooh, let’s see. Phigital, it’s physical and digital. So Zoom meetings, hybrid meetings, writing some design, and then the most fun part of being a business owner is Excel spreadsheets of things. That’s one of the sort of growth spaces when you become more of an executive creative person is getting right with the Google Sheets.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, was it a big shift moving from partner to president once this acquisition happened?

Sean DallasKidd:
I would say it was different, but it’s been an accumulation of experiences over time. I think that my history starting in publishing, moving into earned media, moving into advertising has become a brick by brick process. The transition didn’t or hasn’t to date been as dramatic of a shift because I have a network to help support and educate me on components and parts I might not be as familiar with on day one. So I would say the transition wasn’t crazy, not to say it’s not crazy. You get what I’m saying?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I would imagine whenever there’s a acquisition or things like that, you’re bringing more people in, of course, you’re merging company cultures, so there’s always going to be, I think, some clashing or things just as that acquisition tries to reach equilibrium.

Sean DallasKidd:
Exactly. You always have different ways and means, ways of working, different kinds of processes, lead times, you have different billing cycles, all sorts of stuff that you have to work out. I would say the best case scenario in any merger is a mullet. It’s business in the front and a rock show in the back because you’re trying to figure out how to get one set of systems to work with another without clashing in any sort of crazy way. But luckily for us, we’ve been able to make it through that stage and I think we’re starting to get into stride right now which is great.

Maurice Cherry:
And now you mentioned that part of your typical day still has some design in it. Are you still available to get hands on working with clients and with campaigns?

Sean DallasKidd:
Yes, yes. I feel as though I’ve always had, you would say, a problem with people who guard themselves off in the ivory tower, right? And so, one of the things I always tell our employees is that you want to have lived experience before you can recommend a strategy to someone, and in order to stay current, you have to do. So even if a design direction that I might develop doesn’t get picked, it helps me stay current on tools, timelines, amount of resources, different design trends so that when I’m talking to brand partners, I’m using language and referencing things that are happening now and not when I did it back in the day, 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Maurice Cherry:
I had an agency owner on here a few years back, I’m not going to call out who it was, but for folks who listen to the show, they’ll probably remember when this happened, but this person was mentioning that they have an agency and was talking about how they were the only Black agency owner that they knew and that. He’s like, “I don’t know about any other Black agency owners.” And I was like, “Well, that’s not true. I’m pretty sure there’s others out there because I’ve had them on the show.” But have you noticed during your career in advertising many other Black agency owners?

Sean DallasKidd:
I’ve definitely kept an eye out on it, but I will say it’s hard when your head’s down managing the work and the business to take the time to do the proper recon and outreach to folks. It’s a bit of a balancing of time and energy, but I definitely have seen the spark and the growth in that space. I know a couple of folks myself that have some small studios and then there’s some folks that I’ll look out to and see what they’re doing in the New York area that are really tearing it up which is great.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean, they’re out there. It’s certainly like you said, they’re at all sizes. Whether it’s small studios, big agencies, et cetera, we’re out there, but it’s about visibility as well too.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah, I would say it’s visibility, and then there is, I would say, the system of agency and connection. And so, I think that… What’s a good way to phrase it? The hurdles for growing an agency to the point to where you get visibility is tricky when you’re not a part of the club to start. I could be a great designer, but do I have the connections to be considered or backing to be considered for some of these medium size, large term clients is a different story, right?

There’s a procurement process as you start to grow your agency and payment terms that shift, and do you have the financial backing and resources or credit to be able to invest that manpower into going through one of those processes for the chance to win the business, and then can you float the business in a way that can deal with payment terms of a larger client on a bigger scale, right? You might move from payment terms of I’ll do a project and things get paid out 15, 30 days, 40 days to 90 days to 180 days as you get bigger and bigger clients, and so you see there’s different hurdles in order to be able to even get a bite at the apple that you have. I think that’s one of the tensions that you face as a Black agency owner historically which is why I think that’s one of the reasons why you have a lot less of them with that level of visibility.

Maurice Cherry:
There’s clients out there that are paying net 180?

Sean DallasKidd:
Yes, there are. There was, forgot what the brand was and I won’t even mention it, but it was a CPG brand, consumer packaged good brand that got called out on Adweek and in the industry because I think they wanted their payment terms to be a year.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, come on. A year?

Sean DallasKidd:
A year. And so, when you talk about diversity, equity, inclusivity, you can have a very talented agency, just call it a graphic design branding agency, and you have a staff of five to seven people, you’re doing really good work, and normally you’re getting paid in 30 day terms. Now that bigger client might be like, “Oh, I’ll want to work with you,” but then they give you a term payment of, well, instead of you getting paid a month later, you’re going to get paid six months later. How’s that diversity and equity model going at scale at that point with these small shops? And so, those become some of the bigger systemic issues, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you’re right, the balancing act of making sure that your clients and your cash flow is terrorist or at least coming in at a point where it appears to be consistent cash flow, especially when you’re paying employees, that’s tough. But net 365, that’s wild. Wow.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah, that’s [inaudible 00:15:31].

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think makes DemonstratexDDW stand out from the competition?

Sean DallasKidd:
I would say the way in which we stand out from the competition is we take a culture-forward lens with the work that we do. What we really try to do is drive this term we call talkability amongst target audiences that we’re looking to drive brand awareness, consideration, or conversion with. We also focus on brand or business objectives, number one. We start there, and as an integrated agency, we do, like I said, brand, naming brand architecture, packaging, but we also do integrated communication. So that’s paid media, earned media, social, digital content strategy, traditional above the line advertising. And so, what we look at are all the different levers of communication to drive those business objectives and then based off the audiences that they’re trying to engage with, what’s true to the brand, and timeliness as well as budget, what’s the right mix to help drive that messaging home to help spark conversation overall.

That really stems from, again, that background that I’ve had of being in earned media, being in traditional advertising and being in publishing, and at each step always seeing that for some of these integrated programs or brand initiatives, the PR team is not in step with what the advertising is doing and the advertising team isn’t in step with what the PR team is doing. As we look at this crazy new communications landscape, it’s kind of like it’s better to look at it holistically and then go based off these sets of truths, what is our best route into the market, looking at all the different components and parts we have access to across paid, earned, shared, and owned channels.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, not to give away any trade secrets or anything that you’ve got cooking at DemonstratexDDW, but what do you think are some of the biggest opportunities in the creative industry right now?

Sean DallasKidd:
Well, for me, I definitely would say AI is the biggest opportunity. I know people are frightened about it, ChatGPT and everything else that’s happening, but I feel as though with any new technology there’s definitely going to be category leaders, new roles that come into the market, and so becoming literate in what AI is and can offer and how you can work with it is the biggest opportunity. Actually, in my mind, Web3 is AI because if you think about being able to become an expert prompter, a creative prompt strategist to work with an AI machine so that it can find information that can then be fact checked to create more nuanced, quickly adaptable copy or design territories for you to explore, I think that’s a really interesting job opportunity. There’s some cultural anthropology that you can mix in with it.

I think there’s a lot there because it helps you tie in not only sort of brand DNA, but it helps pull in to design trends that could be pulled live or recalibrated and personalized for specific audiences. I think it could be a very compelling tool, but at the same time, the literacy is important because you got to know what the trade off is, right? I think we all ran into social as consumers of it, not realizing that the trade off was us and privacy and our data. And so, everyone is excited to use things like ChatGPT right now, but one of the things for me is what’s the terms and conditions? Are they going to get a piece of it?

You go and say, “Oh, great, I’m going do a Super Bowl ad using ChatGPT.” Will they have some sort of way on the backend to identify that this copy or this concept came from that, and then they want points? So I think we need to really understand what the technology can do and also who’s making the technology because whoever’s making the technology is creating a certain lens on where the technology starts to look for information.

Maurice Cherry:
Now we’re recording this the Friday before the Super Bowl, and I bet you there’s going to be a Super Bowl ad that has some kind of ChatGPT, I don’t know, punchline or something in it. I feel like it’s got to be in there somewhere.

Sean DallasKidd:
Oh yeah, yeah. I would definitely say. There are agencies that are losing sleep right now because three weeks ago everyone was hot to trot with ChatGPT and Ryan Reynolds did a ChatGPT ad, and everything they’ve been working on in the last year just got thrown out the window and they’re going to do something so that they’re timely and can make a splash of some kind.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean, you know what we won’t see during the Super Bowl? Crypto ads. I remember those from last year, and boy, have the times changed.

Sean DallasKidd:
It’s funny. To your earlier question of staying in the work, the reason why you have to stay in the work is because you don’t want to give bad strategic advice to a brand partner. The easy trap for someone my age that got into social at the MySpace and early iteration of it and kind of settled, gave up on Facebook, does Instagram primarily to not stay current, right, to not check out TikTok and BeReal, and some of these sort of crypto based social channels and some of these niche social channels, you fall into the trap of recommending old and then you become irrelevant, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Sean DallasKidd:
And so, agency is all around the fight for relevancy, and I think the separator for us is knowing the nuance between relevancy for demo that everyone typically goes after 18 and 34 and nuance around the psychographic drivers and different folks because share of wallet goes from anywhere from a 10-year-old up to octatarian. People have needs, and the nuance comes from understanding what’s going to be that right audience that you need to tap into. So you have to stay current.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. Now we’ll get more into your approach and your work a little bit later, but for now, let’s get into your background. You’re in San Francisco now, but you’re originally from D.C., is that right?

Sean DallasKidd:
Correct. Southeast D.C.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about growing up there.

Sean DallasKidd:
Well, let’s say the D.C. today is not the D.C. of the years I grew up. I grew up in ’80s in Reaganomic D.C. It was definitely a lot rougher around the edges in Southeast where I was. But I would say one of the things that always kept me curious and creative, I always loved to draw as a kid and since, and I was also a latchkey kid, so I chose to take advantage of latch keydom, if that’s a word, to take advantage of all the free museums and zoos and public transportation you had as a minor. I’d spend my summers going down to the National Mall, going over to the Smithsonian or Museum of Art, Portraiture Gallery, all that kind of stuff, and so that’s really what sparked and maintained my interest in creativity.

When I went to high school, I was lucky enough to get into an architecture program. So I actually started doing that in 9th, 10th grade, actually drawing plans and really had a great teacher. His name was Mr. Fotos. He was think of angry Santa Claus with a Greek accent. He taught us everything and was just an amazing teacher, and that allowed me to go to SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design for architecture actually. I think I started on the sophomore year as a freshman just because of my portfolio and what I learned, and then got into graphic design and illustration along the way.

But the lesson he taught me, and I guess this has always been ingrained in me, he said, “If you’re going to be a great architect, you need to be able to design from the building down to the spoon.” And so, that was one of those sorts of thinking of where it’s not just about the whole, the big idea. It’s down to the details and the nuance, right? And so, that’s just been a philosophy that I’ve carried with me which helps you dig a little bit deeper to kind of understand how people move through spaces, or how people engage with an experience or a design, or how a message needs to be flexible to be able to sit in an internal communications program and be explained so that your workforce is on board, and how it can help inspire creative outputs out in the real world, whether it’s on the side of a bus or some sort of 4D, 3D billboard, or if it’s an augmented reality experience. So really being able to be transmedia and understanding does this thing have scale and flexibility.

Maurice Cherry:
What made you choose SCAD?

Sean DallasKidd:
Well, the city, downtown Savannah is beautiful. It’s hot in the summer, but I would say I loved the architecture there. The teachers are cool, the programs are really interesting, and for me, as you look at the, I would say the standard East Coast go-to design schools, the Pratts, the RISDs there was less… Well, I’ll just say, it was a less sense of entitlement and bourgeoisie in Savannah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Okay.

Sean DallasKidd:
I felt like I could actually learn things and experiment versus do things the way the teacher did them.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha.

Sean DallasKidd:
I kind of saw a bit of that trap as I was looking at some of the different schools of… I think for anyone that’s taking a life drawing class or something like that, you definitely have those teachers that are like, “This is the way to do it,” and it happens to be the way that they do it. And so, I definitely wanted a place where it seemed like I could be more collaborative with different departments as well, and so SCAD just really stood out in that way.

Maurice Cherry:
Gotcha. I gotcha. Yeah, you were in college, I think we were in college right around the same time. You started in like the late ’90s, like ’99?

Sean DallasKidd:
Yep, yep, yep.

Maurice Cherry:
Graduated in ’03?

Sean DallasKidd:
Yep. [inaudible 00:27:33].

Maurice Cherry:
Yep. Same here. Same here. Tell me what you remember from that time.

Sean DallasKidd:
Ooh. Well, when you say that, the first thing that comes to my mind was 9/11, just because I remember that moment very specifically. I was an RA at SCAD and woke up to one of the towers falling.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Sean DallasKidd:
That was just a trip of a day, and the ripple effects of that are felt today. This is why we take our shoes off at airports, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Sean DallasKidd:
So 20-something years later. But beyond that, I would say some of the things that really were interesting to me at the time was the evolution in music. I remember there’s a funny moment when I was walking around River Street or that sort of downtown area in Savannah, and I saw a bus outside for this band called OutKast, and I went, “I wonder what they’re all about.” Little did I know that the OutKast was coming to us all, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sean DallasKidd:
It’s the same sort of time when the Gorillaz made their first album which is just a mix of every kind of genre possible with layered animation for this sort of virtual band, and they’re still making amazing music now. And so, it was just a really, I think, funky time because it was this age, similar to now, of transition, right? So when you’re a designer, a couple years prior, everyone was using hand tools to do typography and all that sort of stuff, and we were there at that moment when it was like, “Okay, so we’re getting into Pork Express and we’re doing Adobe,” and you’re learning these new programs. Now in hindsight, you know those teachers barely knew those programs too because it was so new.

And so, you’re getting into the age of digital publishing in the middle of this sort of like what’s happening in the world because everything, America’s the safe space and now this thing happened, and everyone’s unified for six months. It was just a wild time. Then you’ve got this technological boom happening, and then you get sped out into this world where a couple years later, an iPhone pops out. It’s a very reminiscent, minus the pandemic part, what’s happening today. It was just chaos.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you really had to be around during that time to realize the gargantuan amount of technological advancements that have happened from 2000 to now. I mean, you talk about iPhone, but then just a whole bunch of other technologies and stuff, even the way that we do design online. I mean, back then design was slicing up a table in Dreamweaver and posting that on the web. Now it’s all browser with layouts and flexbox and all that sort of stuff, not to mention other service side technologies and stuff.

I mean, I was in college in ’99. I had started as a computer science major, computer science, computer engineering because I wanted to be a web designer. I had cut my teeth in high school in the computer lab at my mom’s job because she taught at a college. I cut my teeth reverse engineering websites, and I made something on GeoCities, and my mom was like, “Why you putting our address on the internet?” I was like, “We live in rural Alabama. Nobody knows who we are.” But I went to school, went to Morehouse, majoring in computer science thinking that was web design, right?

Sean DallasKidd:
Well, it was. I mean, I remember I had to do HTML coding because I was taking some program classes, and for people who don’t know, there’s a program called BASIC and Pascal.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, yeah.

Sean DallasKidd:
C++. I was taking all those. The internet back in the day was code. ,And then you’d upload images and like you said, you’re doing slices and all that, and now you’ve got… But what was cool about that is lacking today, it feels like to me, is that there was all this experimentation, right? You’d have these Easter eggs on the side, you’re like, “[inaudible 00:31:50] scroll left or right, up or down. Am I navigating through this weird wormhole?” Whereas now everything’s on these sort of modular boxes, and so there’s shades of vanilla essentially, and then however powerful your imagery is, but people are also picking up the same sort of trends on en masse at this point, which is one of the sort of fears or outputs that might become AI down the line is Marvel movie number 856.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Sean DallasKidd:
But I think back then there was a great experimentation and we were all sort of learning and playing around, and I think that was probably part of the happiness people were experiencing originally with sort of the Web3, NFT space, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm.

Sean DallasKidd:
It kind of had that same energy. It had some wrinkles to it. It had a little bit of dirt in the fingernails of we’re figuring it out and we’re going to make art and it’s going to be awesome and we’ve got our own closed loop, and then [inaudible 00:33:00].

Maurice Cherry:
I attended a metaverse conference in the metaverse. Was that last year? I think it was last year. It was last year I’m thinking about it, yeah. I attended a metaverse conference in the metaverse, and one of the sessions this guy was talking about digital real estate, and he’s like, “Yeah, we have this digital world and you can buy these plots of digital land.” Somebody during the presentation bought a $10,000 plot of land that only exists in the metaverse, and it made me think of, do you remember The Million Dollar Homepage?

Sean DallasKidd:
No.

Maurice Cherry:
The Million Dollar Homepage was basically, it’s probably still online, to be completely honest, but it’s basically you bought pixels on this homepage. Say you had a 88 x 31 ad tile or something, you could buy the area of that 88 x 31, and it’s like a dollar per pixel and put an ad up there. People were just buying spaces and putting up all kinds of stuff on there, and that’s what it felt like. It’s like this digital real estate that doesn’t really exist, but you’re kind of buying into it for the hopes of it becoming something in the future which I guess is like real real estate.

Sean DallasKidd:
It’s so funny to me, the whole digital real estate now. Whatever it starts to morph into in five, 10 years will be what it is, and everyone will come back to this podcast episode and laugh at me for saying it, but the reason why real estate exists and has value in real life is because we live on one planet. It’s literally a finite resource, right? This is where we breathe, hopefully, and have food and light and all this sort of other great stuff. And so, there’s X amount of space for X amount of people, and there are prime pieces on it.

In a virtual world, much like if we didn’t have to worry about time or eating or breathing, we live in this vastly, huge universe like in the real world. The digital world is the same thing where it’s like it’s infinitely large. There’s, in actuality, no real prime real estate because you can own one square inch and have it feel like a million square inches or you can just go to a different section of virtual town and make your own thing. Yeah, the real estate part is quite interesting in terms of how they attain it or how they attribute an X, Y, Z coordinate to it. It’s not a place.

Right, right. Yeah, in a way, it just sort of felt like it was kind of just like you’re buying a plot in a subdivision because it only exists in that particular metaversal world that we happen to be in, because the metaverse is many different worlds. It’s not, as you’re sort of saying how earth is one finite resource, the metaverse is a whole bunch of stuff.
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah, I could literally make my own planet in the metaverse, in my own solar system in the metaverse. So why do I need to buy a 50 pixel by 800 pixel piece of property across the street from Snoop Dogg’s one place?

Maurice Cherry:
Right. And Sean, he paid $10,000 for it, and the guy was wearing an NFT suit or something, and he kept showing off like, “I can show off my NFTs on my suit.” I was like, “This is giving me a headache. I don’t even know what to make of this.”

Sean DallasKidd:
That’s probably a slam. I think there’s always what’s presented on the surface and then what’s happening on the back end and part [inaudible 00:36:48], “Hmm, did you really buy that? Was that a plan?” Like, okay.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Those early days, in the 2000s, as you mentioned, on the web, it was really sort of experimental with publishing and stuff. Now after you graduated, tell me about your early career because you got into media and publishing afterwards, right?

Sean DallasKidd:
Correct. Yeah, so I had a couple of gigs prior, but I would say my professional career really kickstarted in the publishing world. I worked for Future Publishing, Ziff Davis, and Maker Media. I started over at Ziff Davis and now Ziff Davis was really about video game magazines. I was working on their PC focused gaming magazine and then started getting really curious. I’ve always been, I would say, hardworking and curious, sort of always looking to push my edges. And so, I was proactive about reaching out to other publisher or other magazines if they needed help designing pages. And so, I was very proactive and worked with Electronic Gaming Monthly or PlayStation Magazine or Xbox Magazine and all these things just so I can get more experience quicker.

Then I transitioned over to Future, which is like the sort of, they were essentially Coca-Cola and Pepsi as holders, and so they had the reverse version of everything. While I was at Future, I started their custom content division, and so that was working directly with brands to develop branded, independent magazines, websites, apps, podcasts for folks like Best Buy or NVIDIA, brands like Paul Reed Smith Guitars, did a crocheting magazine, all sorts of stuff. And so, that helped do a couple of things of giving me a brief and a business objective for the brands we did partner with, and then gave me the license to concept and develop an entire magazine, for example, that would service those needs and what those sections would be and sort of design language that would go into that, not only that printed piece, but the digital footprint as well.

And so, it was a really great time because at that moment we were making the transition, the death of print was happening, as I said at the time, and so not only were we doing magazines, but it allowed me to do websites, it allowed me to do apps because the iPad had come out. And so, we were looking at how do you translate brand DNA into a digital platform space, which was a really interesting moment that I would call back to the sort of tensions that are happening today. It was really weird because people had this sort of cognitive dissidents between this magazine I’m holding is the brand. And it’s like, no, the brand is the brand, what your brand stands for and your tone and how you sort of approach things and it happens to be a magazine, but it can also be a website, it can also be a podcast, it can also be an iPad app or a tablet app.

You can start to see the split of people that didn’t want to adopt or learn, and then the people who leaned into it, and I’m always been the one that just leans into the chaos because it never looks as crazy on the inside as it does on the outside, and that’s where all the opportunity is. And so, that was a really great moment to go and take that experience over to Maker, because instead of working on multiple brands, this was making one brand that had the business, Maker Media, it had the printed magazines, Craft Magazine and Make Magazine. It then had a body of different websites and then it also had Maker Fair.

And so, now you’re looking at how do you take a brand and have it stretch out into these various forms because they found themselves there and then create order around it and really sort of bring it home so that it could grow and thrive in the midst of the quote, unquote, “death of print.” It’s still around. It’s still doing very well because I think part of it was learning that your brand, believing and knowing that the brand is bigger than the mass at the end of the day or has the ability to be.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, was it kind of a shift to go from working in these publishing companies to going in-house, working with agencies? You also have worked with JWT, worked for FleishmanHillard, now you’re at DemonstratexDDW. Was it a big shift making that change?

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah, I mean, the days are different. It was interesting. I feel like I had a soft entry, I’ll call it soft, because before going into fully external agencies, I worked in-house at Discovery Communications. They did Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, Animal Planet, and so I was helping with the Investigation Discovery launch and show launches there as well as Velocity Network, and so that was the agency inside. You had to develop a pitch concept, pitch it to the marketing team or the showrunner and come up with marketing campaigns that way. And so, that was a good segue before going fully agency because FleishmanHillard is one of the big global PR agencies, so was J Walter Thompson which is now Wunderman Thompson, and so one’s Omnicom, a sort of agency holding company.

I guess I always did this. I went from Pepsi to Coke or Coke to Pepsi, and so went over to J Walter Thompson and did the same thing, but I think the transition at Discovery really helped out because it gave me insight and understanding on what are the different outputs that come in advertising, what the digital lens, what are people looking for in terms of making commercials or campaign programs. It started to really give me the language and became a good test bed for me in that transition.

Fleishman gave me, I would say, my PhD in quickly pivoting your mind. I worked not only nationally but sort of globally as well. And so, I worked on everything from sort of data security to consumer goods to FinTech to healthcare, you name it. And so, I would get briefs that range from internal communications programs, crisis management programs, general awareness programs, and really focused on creative and content strategy while I was there. At nine o’clock in the morning, you’re talking about the future of electronic payments in developing countries. In the afternoon, you’re talking about the future of medicine. And so, your brain has to be able to pivot because you’re going to be in a room with a bunch of C-suite executives talking about and really having to understand the background information and sort of ways in which culture was moving.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, from this point where you’re at in your career, what does the future of agencies look like?

Sean DallasKidd:
I would say that the future of agency is going to have to be personal. I think that interesting part, and this is why I think AI literacy is so important right now is it gives smaller, medium-sized agencies an opportunity to scale up outputs if done properly, if integrated properly into your workflows. I think that because we’re going to have so many different digital touchpoints that are super niche, you’re going to have to get very personal and personalized in your messaging. I think that the physical interaction and experience is going to be highly coveted, and people are going to appreciate that a lot more because no matter how amazing that virtual experience is, people still need, just have a genetic need to engage with other people and smell the same thing, be in the same room in a very real way. That’s not to say that in 20 years there’ll be some matrix version of that reality, but until then I do think that people getting together and engaging with each other is going to be super important, but I do think those will be more curated, more selective kinds of engagement points with folks.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think there’s been so much talk about data-driven outcomes and seeing what the data says and all that, but at the end of the day, you’re still dealing with people. I mean, even with this AI stuff, I see so many videos on TikTok and YouTube about people telling you how to craft the perfect prompts for GPT and all this sort of stuff, and I think what it’s still boils down to is that at the end of the day humans are still the entry point.

Sean DallasKidd:
Well, you’re still going to be the decision-maker at the end of the day.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right.

Sean DallasKidd:
If you are essentially at a 12th grade level and GPTed your way into life and you find yourself there as a 26-year-old, really do the math on that. You started out and you GPTed your way from 18 to 26, the wheels are going to fall out from under you because at a certain point you’re going to be in a room and you need to be able to answer the questions and defend the solution to someone else, and if you don’t know your stuff, because you’ve been essentially the parrot for this fishnet of an answer that your AI gave you, the trust won’t be there. That’s what all the access and the ability to repeat opportunity comes from earning, cultivating trust over time, and that’s a human thing. And so, if you get to the point to where you are pointless, then you won’t as a person have any need to be in the room with people. And so, I don’t know if I lost the point on that one, but I do think that’s a bit of-

Maurice Cherry:
No, no, no, I think you’re spot on.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah, it’s a balance.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?

Sean DallasKidd:
Being comfortable, getting uncomfortable is the most important lesson I’ve learned in my career. I’ve touched on it over the course of our conversation, but being proactive when transition happens, jumping into the chaos, because I firmly believe that’s where the opportunity lies, and when that new messy space opens, if you’re over there first, you get to make mistakes on a small scale, right? Imagine putting out a bad tweet when Twitter just started or putting up a lame Instagram post when Instagram first started. That’s the best time to do it. You can learn how the audience interacts on the channel and get feedback and get better. You do not want to be doing that high wire act in the middle of the Super Bowl for the first time.

Getting into that space, understanding the language, understanding the nuance and the flow of energy there gets you smart on it because people will eventually come there because that’s where all the changes, that’s where all the new is, that’s where all sort of cultural influencers are being born and sparking new kinds of innovations. Eventually everyone’s going to get there. So always being comfortable with getting uncomfortable is hard, it’s uncomfortable, but I think the reward there is the most fruitful for a long-term career as a creative, not as somebody.

I think you’ve probably seen this over the years, there’s lots of people who used to be a designer, used to be a creative, used to be in marketing, and the difference is not just some of the systemic stuff, but it’s staying relevant, right? In order to stay relevant in today, you need to be smarter than what’s happening today, which means you need to be ahead of the curve a little bit, and that’s a hard thing to keep up with. You got to be the Lil Wayne of the industry. He’s been doing it since he was 12, so he just stays up there. And so, you got to be the Lil Wayne of whatever you’re doing in life.

Maurice Cherry:
I still remember Lil Wayne from those CDs in the ’90s, No Limit and everything.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Sean DallasKidd:
And Cash Money.

Maurice Cherry:
Cash Money.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired? Because I can imagine this is not an easy thing to sustain, this kind of thing with being comfortable with being uncomfortable because you’re sort of always kind of jolted out of balance in a way, I would imagine.

Sean DallasKidd:
I mean, to be very straightforward with it, family keeps me motivated. I have a kiddo and she is a spark of joy, and so that situation keeps me motivated to keep wanting to do better from just a sort of fundamental lizard brain section of my mind. Creating room and space and opportunity for her and creating, I’ve seen my dad do that so I can do it and I can one-up him, right? Having that yard stick in front of you I think is a great driver.

Then I would say for me another motivator is just I am curious and I feel like my brain is creatively broken. It’s like a faucet that doesn’t turn off. You hear the conversations with people going through these dry periods, and I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything there, but it’s like my brain just does not shut up with things it wants to do or think about or see. I think that comes from living that, trying to have a more balanced life of… And you ask me the question, what are some of the hobbies and things that you like to do that kind of spark you, those are the sustaining breaths that help keep passion and curiosity going.

And so, when you cultivate or try to cultivate a life where Monday is not a dreadful day, Monday is just Monday, and now the dreadful part of the day is, well, now people are going to expect me to respond to an email because it’s not the weekend. But at the end of the day, I’m writing or designing or talking to people or trying a product or trying this or going to an event. I’m like, “That’s dope.” It’s a good thing and it just takes effort to stay on the ball, but I think that just comes with it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, who are some of the people that have helped you reach this point in your career?

Sean DallasKidd:
I would like to think myself for… No, I was like, I couldn’t remember that new [inaudible 00:53:25] quote. I’d like to thank myself for the hard work. But honestly, I think it’s a bit of that, just you got to know your center and you got to know your truth and you got to play to your strengths and you got to build up your weaknesses. I’ve been blessed in meeting very kind people that have cracked the door open and given me opportunity. That comes again from the fact that proving or being in that sort of energy state where you are proactively looking to grow. I’m more willing to open the door to someone that I see that’s working hard and looking to grow and looking to be challenged than someone that’s sitting on their laurels. Luckily, the people I’ve engaged with were willing to open the door.

Then I have a great network of friends and colleagues to be able to bounce ideas off of, hear what they’re going through, take lessons from that, and make connections and references. You can’t do everything by yourself. It’s one of the sort of points that I always teach. I always stress to my daughter, she wants to become the next Hayao Miyazaki. And I go, “That’s awesome, and Hayao Miyazaki not only is a great drawer and a writer and all that sort of stuff, but he also has studio space that he has to pay mortgage on and employees, and so he has a CFO and he is got da, da, da, da, da. He is got to work about licensing deals and everything else.” So it’s like you got to have a good network as well and make those connections.

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

Sean DallasKidd:
Man, on my bucket list, I want to do some shit in space. I really want to do something in space.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Sean DallasKidd:
I’m going to put that energy out on this podcast. If somebody knows someone in any country that’s doing something in space in the next five years, it would be great. I think that would just be a trip. I don’t want to go underwater. I don’t want to go into any of that deep sea stuff, but space would be kind of just like I feel like that would be a mind-altering, crazy thing and inspirational thing to do. Something dealing with logistics. Doesn’t that sound cool? I’m working on an interplanetary logistics program, or I’m like, this new bougie hotel that’s in low earth orbit, and so I’ve got to do a promotional campaign or video or collaboration thing. That just sounds dope to me. So that’s what I want to do.

Maurice Cherry:
I interned with NASA for two years when I was in college. So it’s funny because we were talking about college and you mentioned 9/11. 9/11 was one of a turning point for me too because the program that I was in, the way they had it set up, it was based off of Ronald E. McNair who was in the Challenger explosion, and so his family put together a foundation, whatever. So I was a McNair scholar at Morehouse, and the part of the NASA thing was that you interned at NASA for two years and then afterwards you basically had your pick of any NASA facility to work for. So I was like, I had done my first one in California, did my second one in Alabama, and I thought I was all set, until 9/11 happened, and then the funding shifted towards the creation of this new department called the Department of Homeland Security.

Sean DallasKidd:
[inaudible 00:57:22].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, and they were like, “Yeah.” I remember they called us all into the office and they were like, “Yeah, the seniors will still be able to go forward to work at NASA facilities,” and I was a junior at the time, but they were like, “the rest of y’all, you’re on your own.” I was like, “Oh man.” I say all of that to say that I think now, certainly 20-plus years in the future from when I graduated, there’s probably more opportunities for designers to work with NASA and space than there were back then. I think back then it was still pretty, I don’t want to say confined to academia, but you’ve got even people on TikTok who are budding astrophysicists that are doing stuff that has to deal with space and everything. I feel like it’s possible.

Sean DallasKidd:
Well, yeah, I mean, definitely think it’s possible. My mom actually used to work for NASA. She’s a mathematician, and I think the terms they used to use back in the day though for people like my mom was data analysts.

Maurice Cherry:
Ah, yeah.

Sean DallasKidd:
Give them a data analyst title versus a data scientist title, save yourself a hundred thousand dollars, and they’ll hide those fingers in the back somewhere. I do think that the opportunity today is a lot more open, but the work, it’ll be curious to see how willing people are to do the work because you always see do the work as the hashtag, but the sort of underlying effort, sustained effort of doing the work is the great equalizer in a lot of ways. You will get tired and then you’ve got to get that seventh and eighth wind at the end of the day.

Maurice Cherry:
Look at you. Your mom was a hidden figure. Look at that.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah, it was weird. It’s funny, I’ve got these old photos and stuff of her on some airplane thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Really?

Sean DallasKidd:
Well, the thing about D.C. is back when I was there in the ’80s, it’s like a bunch of little Black ladies that run all the sort of inner operations of the government at a certain point because they were all the secretaries and they were working in, they were the data analyst or this kind of thing, and they were just working in the back.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Sean DallasKidd:
Yeah.

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

Sean DallasKidd:
I am so Google-able at this point in time. You can literally type my name in, but you can follow me at kidisgoat, K-I-D is goat, G-O-A-T. You can look at the company, we are demonstrate.com or you can look at ddw.com if you’re interested in branding work. But that’s where you can find me. Look me up, I’m out there.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Sean DallasKidd, I want to thank you so, so, so much for coming on the show. I really think that your authenticity and the passion that you have for your work really shines through. I mean, even just from your early days of getting into publishing with the work that you’re doing now for Demonstrate, I like what you said about having to be in the work so you kind of stay one step ahead. It’s that sort of thinking that certainly I think is going to take all of us as creatives far, but certainly it’s been such a boon for your career and for your life, and I’m really excited to see the Sean DallasKidd project in low earth orbit one day. I think it’s going to happen.

Sean DallasKidd:
Thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:
So thank you so much. Yeah, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Sean DallasKidd:
All right, thank you.

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Lauren Brown

If you saw the Google Doodle earlier this month of gaming trailblazer Gerald “Jerry” Lawson, then you’ve gotten a sample of the amazing work of this week’s guest — art director and illustrator Lauren Brown.

Lauren talked to me about the ins and outs of her current role at Wizards of the Coast, which includes doing art direction for the popular Magic the Gathering game series. She also spoke about growing up in New Jersey and attending undergrad there, getting her MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design, and shared how she started her career in animation and gaming from there. Lauren is also a podcaster, so we talked shop a little bit about her show Painted in Color, and she delved into what the podcast has taught her over the years. If you’re interested in getting into animation, then I hope Lauren’s story inspires you to follow your dreams!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Lauren Brown:
Hi, my name is Lauren Brown, and I’m currently an illustrator and art director working at Wizards of the Coast.

Maurice Cherry:
How has this year been going for you?

Lauren Brown:
It’s been a very interesting year, because it’s been a year of a lot of change. I think that I have probably had the most tumultuous year that I’ve had. No, I guess I can’t really say most tumultuous because the pandemic did just happen. But this year, it’s very tricky because I just moved back to Atlanta from Austin, Texas, and lost a job that I really believed in the day before I moved down. And then got another dream job. So it’s been a big year of ups, and downs, and a lot of a big journey, so to speak. But it’s also been a really good year because I’ve learned a ton and I’ve been able to do a lot. So it’s been a roller coaster a bit, but in a good way

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like it. I think this has been a kind of rebuilding year for a lot of folks, especially I don’t want to say coming out of the pandemic, but certainly as we are now more normalized to just the way the world is now. People are starting to get back into some sort of a familiar rhythm. So it sounds like that’s what you’ve been trying to do also.

Lauren Brown:
Yeah, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. But I’ve been disrupted from really reestablishing myself. Because during the pandemic, I’ve really been in my head a lot doing a lot of internal work and doing a lot of self-centering and growing. I also got diagnosed with ADHD in 2021, so it was also a lot of coping and coming to terms with that. And working from home and having that pandemic environment exacerbated that. But from that, I learned a lot about how to master myself and learning how to be in better control of my own inclinations and my own tendencies.

And so I’ve been growing a lot over that course of the pandemic. Because weirdly, 2020 was a good year for me. Even though obviously stress wise and world wise it was awful. But because I’m an introvert and because I was able to be internal, I was able to do a lot of work towards my personal growth and my career that I think I may not have been able to do if not for that crazy, awful year. And a lot of it was the product of a lot of horrible things like the protests and all that. But that’s when people started to really take notice of Black creators and really wanted to elevate them. And so therefore, I had a good year because of that, even though it’s like a double-edged sword, obviously. Yeah, it’s weird to say always.

Maurice Cherry:
No, I’ve heard that from people too with the events that happened during the summer with folks protesting and with companies trying to I guess come to some level of recognition of what people of color, particularly what Black people are going through in both professional and personal capacities. I know a lot of people got an influx of work, so I completely understand that.

Now you sort of alluded to this. You have a really long history as an art director and an illustrator. But I want to start with where you’re at now. You mentioned you’re at Wizards of the Coast. Can you tell me a little bit about the work you’re doing there?

Lauren Brown:
Yes. I just started at Wizards of the Coast in October, late October. So I am the art director on Magic: The Gathering on the marketing side of things. So that means that I get to work on trailers and online content, and art direction with commissioning artists as well for key art. It’s a really exciting opportunity because it’s a chance to work with amazing artists all across the industry, and also impact the fantastic trailers that Magic does. And I’ve also been a huge Wizards fan for probably about over 12 years now. I started playing Match at the Gathering with my best friend, and then I started playing D&D eight years ago while working at Floyd County Productions, which I’ll talk about later.

But both of those games have really changed my life in terms of just making more friends, being more social, and just giving a very enriching, inspiring experience. So it feels really good to be able to work at a company that has directly influenced my life.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. How is the work going so far?

Lauren Brown:
Right now I’m just onboarding. So I think you’ll probably hear a lot of people say this. When you first start at a studio, you have to learn how the systems work and you have to learn how the communication styles are. All of the acronyms, all the people that you’re going to be working with. So I haven’t really gotten to dive deep into things yet just because I’ve been doing onboarding for the past few weeks. But I’m really excited to see the work that I’m going to eventually start on and which project I’m really going to be able to impact. Obviously, whatever project I work on won’t come out for a little bit. But I’m looking forward to seeing that first trailer that comes out that I’ve gotten to have a hand in, and see people react to it.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, of course people know of Magic: The Gathering as a card game. Of course it’s expanded to more than that. But is it different doing art direction for a card game versus say like a video game?

Lauren Brown:
Absolutely. Because when you’re working on a game that already has mechanics and already has such a big following, and also for the fact that it’s a physical card game, there are a lot more considerations of various different teams that you have to collaborate with and communicate with when you’re doing video games. Because you’re handling technology, and you’re handling a player experience and how the player is going to engage with the art in a completely different context.

Obviously there’s similar considerations. It’s very parallel to a card game, because you have to still consider how the player is going to look at the card, how they’re going to interact with it. How they’re going to feel when they experience it and what the story they get out of it is. But in a video game, that story is much more immersive. So you really have to think about a video game on a moment to moment basis, and how the player is going to interact with these different objects throughout space, rather than just a physical card that you hold in your hand. But with a card game, you have to figure out how to think about the whole set as a cohesive unit, and as a whole story. So it’s a different way to think about stories and a different way to think about how the art is going to impact that experience.

But I think from my purview being on the marketing side of things, most of that figuring out is already done. And I have to figure out how the audiences are going to engage with it once it’s out into the world. It’s a completely different sphere I think, of art direction than video game art direction is. So the differences are pretty glaring, but I really enjoyed both so far. I enjoy seeing how players interact with the content that we create, and I get to see that one in both aspects. And that’s really rewarding for me.

Maurice Cherry:
So it sounds like some of that art direction also includes I guess some play testing also, right?

Lauren Brown:
Absolutely. On the wizard side, I won’t be play testing anything because again, I’m not working on the core game. However, in video games, there’s a lot of play testing that needs to be done to make sure that everything that we are creating is coming across as intended for the players. There’s a whole team dedicated to play testing. They’re the QA team, quality assurance. And they’re the ones who really make sure that they’re catching all the bugs and catching all the errors that we might have, or anything that shouldn’t be as intended. But the team is also required to play test the games to make sure that everything that we have created is coming across as intended.

It’s my job to make sure that the art is reading as it should be, that nothing is going to be difficult to understand from first read. Is the main character blending into the background? Are these elements standing out? Will the player understand that they have to go through the store? Is that door bright enough or apparent enough?

Things like that are things that video game art directors have to think about, as well as just generally managing the team and making sure that everybody has a clear vision to aim towards. It’s a really collaborative experience with your full team, because you’re talking to everybody who’s making that game. Engineers, designers, producers, tech artists. You have to make sure that all the pieces are coming together. Because again, it’s a massive collaboration. And you want to make sure that everybody understands what everybody else is doing, so that everything is going to come together as a whole. Cause that’s very, very important. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong in video game development.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds a lot like, and maybe this is maybe an abstraction, but it kind of sounds a lot like production work in that you’re really kind of herding a lot of cats almost.

Lauren Brown:
Absolutely. And usually, you want to be able to trust your team to make sure that they know what they’re doing. And hopefully you have hired them because they have skills in these areas. Obviously there’s going to be more junior artists or more junior people who need training and need to learn more. But everybody has something to bring to the table in game development. There shouldn’t be anybody who is sitting idle and not able to contribute to a certain part of the project. And so really, you have to trust that your team can do what they’re setting out to do.

But I really enjoy being more of a guide as an art director rather than a straightforward manager. I like to be a mentor, and really sit with my artists and work with them on growing their skills. And making sure that they’re excited about what we’re working on, and make sure that they have buy-in about what we’re working on. So a lot of the decisions that can be made are made without the input of everybody who’s working on the team, and you can feel like you lose your agency. And so as an art director, I like to make sure that everybody knows what’s going on. Even if they can say something and maybe it doesn’t work for the game, but at least they have the chance to speak and be able to contribute to that.

But I really enjoy that collaboration because it teaches me a lot. Especially working with different teams like engineers and design, because they all have different perspectives of what to bring to a game. And I’m a longtime gamer. And so being able to contribute actively to the process of making a game is really rewarding because you get to see why all these decisions are made. When I see players complaining about a certain aspect of other games that I am a fan of, I just have to shake my head because I generally know why those decisions were made, and why they had to be the way they were. A lot of the requests are things that are completely unreasonable. So being a part of that process is really illuminating, and was eyeopening for me when I first joined the game industry back in 2016.

Maurice Cherry:
So you kind of have to think about the whole experience. You’re thinking about it from the player’s end, you’re thinking about it of course from your end as the art director. And you’re really taking all of these considerations into account at every step of the process.

Lauren Brown:
Absolutely. Because again, there’s a lot of moving parts to a video game. So when you’re art directing, you can’t just say, “I just want it this way, and that’s it.” It’s like no, you have to really consider how that art is going to follow the game play, how it’s going to follow the story. How it’s going to work with whatever the engineers can actually code into the game. There’s a lot of art that you can create that’s not going to be feasible to fit into the game engine even, or be able to run on certain devices. Because I worked in mobile when I first started my career in gaming, and there’s a lot of considerations that you have to take for what a phone can handle versus what a console can handle. So you really have to be careful as an artist to not overload the engine so that people can actually play the game.

But you also have to make sure that if you’re working under a license product, does the art look like the license product? Because the licenser will tell you if it doesn’t. And you have to be very careful about that. You have to be very careful about trying to put your own point of view in where a specific style has already been established. Because a lot of artists can have the tendency to do that, especially when they’re more junior.

There’s a lot of considerations to take in art direction. But ultimately, it’s a lot more technical than working in a field, like say animation would be. And so you have to learn a lot more about what engine requirements there are if you’re working in Unity or Unreal, what implementation looks like. There is so much to consider. But it’s been a really fun experience and I’m already starting to miss it a little bit working on video games proper, even though I haven’t really gotten to dive deep into my side of things yet at Wizards. But I’m looking forward to that too. But I think I’ll always want to make video games.

Maurice Cherry:
Now will you have an opportunity to also contribute artwork as well?

Lauren Brown:
I think I might be able to contribute artwork, actually. I don’t want to say too much, but I’m pretty sure that I will have an opportunity to be able to do that. Which I’m really excited about.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you mentioned having to consider all of these different parts. And it actually is reminding me of the last job that I had. I was working for a tech startup, but one of the projects they had was that they wanted to make a print magazine.

And I had never made a print magazine before, but I was like, “I could do this. I’ve done enough kind of creative-ish projects to get a sense of what this is.” And I’m not saying that making a magazine is like making a video game, but I think very much the overall sort of creative direction of putting something together from start to finish, so it can be a singular experience is kind of the same.

With the magazine, I was considering not just the articles that we were publishing, but what’s the order? What’s the journey that I want the reader to take from cover to cover? What do we want to have for illustrations? Do we want to have these full page illustrations that mirror the article? Do we want to have maybe a center spread or something like that? So all these considerations, not to mention the size of the magazine, the paper, all of that coming into the experience.

I really think a lot of people do not understand just how much goes into art direction and creative direction in terms of crafting an experience. Cause because just get it at the end and they’re like, “This is it. They don’t consider everything that has to have been done to get to that point.”

Lauren Brown:
And because that process again, is so involved and collaborative. Like I said, there’s so many things that can go wrong. And people don’t understand the sheer amount of content that they will never see, because there’s so much that I’ve worked on animation and in gaming that has never seen the light of day, because there’s so many things during the process that can just mess up the works. And the machinery will fail in terms of just the process of what it takes to make a game. And then that project will never get picked up again.

And so the fact that anything is out is a miracle to me, because I’m pretty sure that people see about probably 1% of all the content that actually has been made behind the scenes. There’s just really so much. But being able to see it start to finish becomes all that more rewarding, because it’s so hard to create.

And there’s smaller snippets that you can make too. Anybody can make a game. And sometimes what we would do when I was working at EA and Zynga is that we would do game jams, which you would break up into smaller teams over a very limited course of days. I think the shortest game jams I’ve worked on was actually one day, but usually it’s about two or three.

And just five of us who would work together for a few years would come together and make a video game that was playable. It was a requirement that it was a playable game. And I think those experiences out of everything was the most rewarding to me because it was a really focused vision, and it had to be from the beginning because we had so little time to make it. And I was so proud of those little projects, because it was that full collaboration that happened in such a condensed amount of time. And so you really got to see the process from start to finish within that course. And you got to concept it together. You got to brainstorm. You got to come up with our style, and what that’s going to look like, and how the game is going to play and be coded, and what the experience is going to be like, what the core loop is. And you come up with all that in such a short space.

And then coming out of probably not sleeping for a little bit or staying at work late, and then you get to see people experience your game that quickly is so rewarding and so special. Because you get to see it and it’s like, “Wow, we had a nugget of an idea and we really made it happen. It actually came to life.”

And that’s usually how I feel at the end of any big project, not just with gaming, but in animation, and illustration, and personal projects. I always feel that sense of accomplishment in a sense of, “Yeah, we made something. We had an idea and it happened.” Because again, people have no idea how often it just doesn’t happen or it just ends up as a work in progress. So it’s really special to be able to play any game. So I want people to appreciate that experience a little bit more because it’s so hard to make one.

Maurice Cherry:
Is that the most difficult part? The fact that you could do all this work and then it just not even be released or something like that?

Lauren Brown:
It’s not the most difficult because it’s not up to me whether or not a game is released. But it is the most heartbreaking experience when something that you’ve worked on really hard or worked really hard doesn’t see the light of day. This happened in animation as well. There’s been several projects where I’ve worked on that I never got to really show anybody. And that was really sad because a lot of us believed in those projects. Same with gaming too. I’ve worked on at least I think three different games that never got made. And so it was a really heartbreaking experience. But we could also see the writing on the wall very often where we’re like, “We don’t know if those things are going to get made because there’s too many miscommunications and things that are not really working that we thought was going to work.” And after a while, there’s money that’s spent on these things. And so you have to consider how much the company is willing to invest in this idea that may not pan out, that may not be profitable. And again, it’s not up to us. It’s up to the company ultimately.

So I think that’s why it’s special to be able to make a game jam because that one is up to the team who’s making it. And so the fact that the team can come together and agree that this is going to be good enough to create is something that’s very special.
I think the hardest parts of game development is honestly the starting of it. The pre-production. Because it’s funny because it’s also the most fun. Most of the games that I’ve worked on have actually been live service mobile games. The Simpsons Tapped Out, Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells, and Words with Friends. And those games had already had a preset cadence with which they were releasing, which is very fun and comforting because you kind of generally know what the player’s going to expect and you can add new things to it. But the process has been already established.

But when a game is just starting, you have to establish the full process, how the production is going to run, what engine you’re going to use, what art style you’re going to use, which is really hard. What the game design is going to be, which is also very hard, and how the code base is going to be set up.

And so building the game initially is difficult because you need to make sure that you can maintain that game, or whatever you’ve committed to in the beginning can be scalable. Because if it’s not scalable and you’re trying to add more things to it, things are going to break really quickly. And it’s going to be really difficult to update, and edit your game, and add more things to it, and have it be playable on all these different engines. So there’s so much that has to go into when you’re first starting the game in pre-production or I guess in prototyping, because you’re throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and you’re just hoping things stick. A game jam condenses this because you don’t have enough time to consider and mull over the details, and you don’t have the time to noodle over whatever could be. You just have to decide on something and make it happen.

But when you’re working on a full game, I mean it’s your playground, but it’s also difficult that it’s your playground. Again, that brainstorming collaboration comes into key. Because people can have buy-in, but they also can say, “Well that’s cool, but what if this?” [inaudible 00:22:24] last forever and ever. And you could end up not making anything because you’ve done what if this too many times.

So getting people to agree on a vision is really, really difficult. Especially when you have time to disagree. And so that’s really I think the hardest part for me. But it’s the most fun because you get to be the most creative. And if all the roles are correct and if people have their wheelhouses that they’re entrusted to, that can go really smoothly. I’ve had it go really not smoothly too. So it just really depends on what kind of team you’re working with and how much everybody trusts each other. It’s really an exercise in trust I think as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I 100% agree with that. Just to go back to the example I talked about earlier with the magazine, the company sort of had an idea like, “We want to start a magazine.” But they didn’t know what they wanted to call it, what they wanted it to look like. They’re just like, “We want to start a magazine and we want to publish it in four months.” It’s like okay, so I’m building it from the ground up, like Khadijah on living single. I’m trying to build flavor.

And even the initial ideas we had for, it kept changing in that pre-production process to the point where it took us longer to eventually get the first issue out because there were like, “Well, we want the cover to be this, and we want to do this.”

And all this sort of stuff. And even getting the internal buy-in from people to write for the magazine, because initially they’re like, “We want community members to write.” And then they switched it and said, “We want employees to write.” And employees were like, “That’s not in my job description to write articles.” And it during the holidays and someone would write an article and then say, “I’m taking the rest of the month off for Christmas.” And I’m like, “What? I need my edits. Where are you going?”

Lauren Brown:
But I think that’s the whole thing too with understanding what your roles are supposed to be on the project. It was something I had mentioned because when that happens, when people were like, “But you can do this, right?” That’s when things can really start to get a little bit… Again, depends on the team that you’re working with. But if people were like, “That’s not in my job description. Why am I doing this?” Then it’s going to be really hard to make something that’s cohesive because all the lines are blurred. If you are not expecting that to already be the process. If you are to come into a studio with the idea that you’re going to probably wear a lot of hats, that’s probably fine. You’re more of a generalist. But if you’re not inclined to doing various different things, that’s going to be really difficult to get adjusted to.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yes. Oh yes. And even most of the team that we had for the first issue, we kind of changed it up for the second issue. And I felt like okay, we’re getting on a really good rhythm with this. I’m excited about the third issue. We were in production getting it ready. And then they laid off the entire team and it’s like…

So to that point about working really hard on something, I was working hard on the third issue of the magazine and they laid us off. And I’m like, “Well, is the third issue even going to happen?” And the company’s like, “I don’t know.” So disheartening would that happens. They claim that they’re going to release it maybe by the time that this interview goes out. They said that they’ll release it in December. I don’t know if they’re going to do that.

But also this has happened, and I don’t know if you maybe feel like this too, but sometimes you just have to take the L. I’m just sort of like, “Well, it’s above me. I can’t do anything about it. Oh well.”

Lauren Brown:
No, I have a lot of experience in that. Because a lot of those decisions that were made, we don’t have any control over as a development team. So we had to take the L a lot and not by choice.

I think an essential part of the creative process though sometimes is learning how to take that L. Because you can hammer it away at something and sometimes it’s really not meant to work. And I think the difference between if it’s meant to work or if it’s not meant to work is the amount of effort that you’re willing to put into it and the amount of effort that you have the budget to put into it, if the project is dependent on budget. But I think anything can be made. It’s just if it actually gets finished or not. But any art is not finished. You just say, “I’m done.” There’s no such thing as finished. You can work on anything for an infinite amount of time. But when you say, “I’m done,” that’s when the project is finished.

And so it’s just like people have to learn when walk away from something, and sometimes the effort is futile, and you have to accept that, and move on to something that is better. Because what you do is you take that learning that you got from that last project and you apply to something that could work.

And so taking the L is not always a bad thing, but it is a heartbreaking place you consider all the time that you put into it, and you consider that somebody could have seen this and enjoyed it. But ultimately, you take that experience to go to the next thing and hopefully that next thing can get made. Sometimes it never gets made and that’s really frustrating too, but it’s all a part of the process.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true. Very true. Let’s kind of switch gears here a little bit and learn more about you. I know that you’re here in Atlanta, but did you grow up here?

Lauren Brown:
No, I actually grew up in New Jersey. I was from a little town in South Jersey called Willingboro, New Jersey, where there was not really much going for it in terms of culture, or art, or anything. Yeah, that’s where I grew up. It was essentially right outside of Philadelphia where most of my family is. But yeah, my hometown is in Willingboro, New Jersey.

Maurice Cherry:
Were you exposed to a lot of design and artwork as a kid?

Lauren Brown:
Actually, yes. So my dad used to be a fashion designer. He’s always been an electrical engineer for 35 years, but on the side he did fashion design. And I would sit with him as he was picking out his ties, and I would help color coordinate his ties because he was colorblind, which is pretty funny. And I was always really good with color.

But he also designed a lot of dresses, and he did fashion shows for people around the neighborhood and in Philadelphia. And I think that’s essentially how my mom and dad had met was because he used to be in that fashion industry in Philly. And so I would help him design some of his outfits too. And really getting to see him doing that process of drawing something, and then creating it, and bringing it to life was really inspiring for me.

But I had the inclination to draw ever since I could hold a pencil really. I was unstoppable. I’d draw on everything. The walls, on homework, just anything I could get my hands on. Because I had a very, very creative imagination. And I always had stories in my head, and I just desperately wanted to get them out. And watching cartoons, anime, Sailor Moon, Pokemon, all these ways that stories could come out was super inspiring for me. And I just wanted to make my own things that made me feel the way that those things make me feel. But my creativity was highly encouraged at home because my dad was creative. And my mom understood what it was like to be creative, even though she wasn’t a creative. My parents kind of made an effort to make sure that my talent was cultivated, and they enrolled me in art classes, and made sure that I wasn’t really tamped down.

Because I was a weird child. I was real weird. I grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and I was very, very different than everybody else. And no one really understood me. Which was fine by me because I found my little corners to draw on. And I found a best friend when I was seven years old, who was also really creative. And so me and her would just spend all our time together just making crazy stories and characters, and bringing a lot of our stuff to life. So it was a very inspiring kind of childhood even though it wasn’t a very inspiring town or culture to grow up around, just because no one really understood what we were doing. But we forged on forward regardless of that fact. So that was really cool.

Maurice Cherry:
And now eventually, you ended up going to college and studying illustration and animation first at Montclair State University. And then from there, you went to Savannah College of Art and Design. What was your time like at those schools?

Lauren Brown:
Oh man, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Because when I went to high school, it was a vocational school where they had career majors. And I was in the advertising, art, and design career major. So I really got to work with other artists then and start to dive into what it was like to kind of work as a professional, do a graphic design and doing illustration.

But at Montclair, I feel like that’s where I really started to understand myself as a person. Because for the first time, really for the first time, people started to accept my weirdness for what it was. Just this creative, artistic child. I guess not child anymore, but this person who just wanted to express themselves. And I was surrounded by all these people who really wanted to express themselves, and was fully accepted for that. Not just accepted, but appreciated for that. And I made some really amazing lifelong friends at Montclair. And I actually went to Montclair with my best friend, that same friend who I met when I was seven.

I really got to explore a lot of different areas in art, sculpture, and ceramics, and painting. I didn’t do photography, but a little bit of photography and graphic design. And got to see what all these different areas in art had to offer and be very tactile with art. Because I was doing digital for a lot of the time in high school. And so that was a really great learning experience.

But the problem was, is that I was really interested in animation. The aforementioned shows that I used to love to watch. I thought I always thought I was going to be an animator in some regard, but Montclair didn’t really have an animation program flushed out yet because they just started their animation curriculum. And so when I went there, I was hoping that I could learn about animation and that was kind of opposite from the case. So I ended up rerouting my course and going full into illustration instead.

And so when I was a senior in college, SCAD, Savannah College of Art Design had come to North Jersey to do a kind of seminar about what the school entailed, and they gave me a brochure. And when I read that brochure, I saw that they had all these different majors like sequential art, which was comic books and illustration. And animation and game design. And they were like, “As a part of our sequential art program, you get to go to Japan for two weeks and you get to learn about the studios that are in Japan.” And I was like, “Well, this is everything I wanted to do in the first place.”

So I remember that there was a London trip that I could have gone to that I chose not to because I wanted to work on my portfolio to apply and get into SCAD. And so I spent those full two weeks just heads down and making art for that because I really, really wanted to get in. And so after I graduated that next year, I applied for SCAD and got into their grad program for illustration. And that was a really crazy experience as well. Yeah, I really wanted to go for that because I think that even though Montclair gave me so much in terms of personal growth, I really wanted that professional side of things too, because I was starting to get more focused in terms of what I wanted to do.

Maurice Cherry:
And I would imagine it was probably just a different city environment too. Montclair State University of New Jersey is going to be a lot different than Savannah College of Art and Design. You went to the Atlanta campus, right?

Lauren Brown:
No, I actually went to Savannah.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, you went to Savannah campus. Okay. So I would imagine even just the creative community around you was different because it inspired you in different ways.

Lauren Brown:
So Montclair was interesting, because everybody was really talented there. But I felt like I was very on par with the high ceiling of talent. I was like, “Okay, I can run with most of these people. This feels good.” There was some people who were above and beyond for sure. But I still felt like a fairly big fish in a medium pond. I know it sounds cocky to say, but that’s really how it was. And I think a lot of us felt that way. When I went to SCAD, I was a really little fish in a really big pond, and was surrounded by incredible talent. And all of my friends were just rock stars, and people who could make some amazing things like crazy illustrators. And I’m like, “I don’t think SCAD told you anything because you were naturally this gifted. There’s no way anybody could have given you this. You’re amazing.” And animators who I was like, “They’re destined to work at Disney and Pixar. They’re just crazy good.”

And so the fact that I was suddenly surrounded by a high ceiling of talent, a space high ceiling of talent. It was both really inspiring and really intimidating. I actually kind of went through a little bit of an artistic crisis when I went to SCAD because I started to try to make work that was everybody else that was in the illustration curriculum. And I didn’t really have a well-developed personal voice when I was at SCAD because I kind of rerouted myself to try to fit into the mold, fit into what I thought people had expected of me.

But when I went over to animation, my first year, I was solely really in the illustration department and really just learned from all my peers there and my friends there. But two of my really good friend, my best friends came to SCAD the year after I joined scad. And so they were animation majors and I hung out in a mission building a lot more. Which the ammunition building is a renovated coffin factory with no windows, which is really funny. It’s also open 24 hours, sorry SCAD Savannah.

But it was an environment where we all were really heads down and worked really hard on our projects. And it was the first time that I really got to experience collaboration at school as well, because illustration is a very independently focused type of field.
Animation relies on a team. And not every student opted to do this, but some students built teams of up to 60 people that were full scale productions. They had actual producers. They had storyboard artists, and layout artists, and background artists, animators, compositors, 3D modelers. They had everything. And they ran it just like you would when you were in the industry, which I would find out later.

But when I would go into animation and work on my illustrated projects, people would come recruit me. They were like, “We like the work you’re doing? Come work on my film. You want to do character design for my film?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure. That sounds like fun.” And I got to meet a lot of people that way, but I also got to learn a lot about how the industry actually ran and how it functioned. And so I feel like that experience out of anything, because it wasn’t even a class I was taking. It was just extra stuff that I was doing outside of my classes. That taught me the most I think about what it looked like to actually work as a professional in the field.

And then I also did the Japan trip that was aforementioned in that brochure. I went to that Japan trip, and that was amazing too. So I got to meet a lot of friends, I got to go to Japan, I got to see animation studios up close. And that was just a really incredible experience. So SCAD gave me a lot. It’s also a very expensive school, so I can’t recommend it to everybody. But it really taught me a lot about what it looked like to work in the field. But also just that networking that I got from SCAD in particular was very, very valuable. Because a lot of those people cropped up in the future, and still are lifelong friends today.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. And I’ve heard that SCAD has a really robust alumni program too, just in terms of not just the people who went there of course as alumni, but getting in touch for other opportunities and things like that. I’ve heard SCAD is really good about that.

Lauren Brown:
Oh yeah, they’re really good about it. But I haven’t even tapped into the surface of those alumni programs yet. I have done their alumni Gaming Fest and Animation Fest, and I’ve done the alumni panels on that and talked about my experiences as a professional to the students.

And I actually had applied to teach SCAD. And this summer, I mentioned at the start of the episode that I had just went back to Atlanta. I had lost my job. And I knew that even before I had lost my job, I wanted to go teach eventually at SCAD Atlanta. It’s funny because they actually got back to me right after I got hired at Wizards so it was too late. I was like, “No, you got me just too late.” But yeah, that environment is like nothing else like that. Very creative, just very focused. And it reminds me why I love art so much, just being around students and being around all that creativity.

I felt the happiest at SCAD because really when you’re a student, you’re in a bubble. And you’re in a bubble of all this creativity and all this positivity. And so as an alumni, I do want to tap back into that, and find those resources, and meet my fellow alumni who are tapping into those programs too. But yeah, ultimately I also want to go back and teach, because you can take classes too, and I just want to learn more.

Maurice Cherry:
So you mentioned that part of the SCAD experience in terms of how they set up working on projects and things like that was very similar to how it was in the industry. So once you graduated from SCAD and you got out there in the field, you were working for Floyd County Productions. That was sort of right after SCAD?

Lauren Brown:
Yes. So after I graduated SCAD, I opt to stay in the city because I didn’t want to go back to New Jersey. I love my family a lot, and they’re awesome people. But the environment of Jersey is not a creative environment at all. And I was like, “I don’t think I want to go back to Jersey where I’m leaving all these people and all this creativity. I want to really build my portfolio and cultivate my professional appearance, and what I’m going to be.”

So I stayed in the city at Savannah, which is an awesome city by the way. Everybody should visit it. And really got to hang out with my friends and develop my portfolio. And I started to post on various different freelance websites and got a few small freelance projects as well. But because I had put my portfolio on all these websites, I was also noticed by a background director at Floyd County Productions, which is a studio that makes Archer in Atlanta, Georgia.

The manager had reached out to me and she said that, “Hey, I saw your work on freelance.com. I really like what you do. We would like you to take an art test for us and I want to see if you would be good to work as a background artist here.” And I was just like, “What?” My mind was blown. Because I didn’t know what I was going to do after I graduated. It’s weird because I didn’t remember having a bunch of anxiety around it, but I also just did not know what I was going to end up doing. I thought I just needed to develop more skills. But I was really fortunate to be able to get that email.

So she sent me an art test. It was a 24 hours to work on this art test. I took that to mean you do this art test in 24 hours right now. I used all 24 hours at this time too. I made sure that that thing was bomb. And it’s funny because it was like you had to treat a background like a bomb went off in it. It was already painted and then you had to really mess it up. And so I had a lot of fun doing that. I got critiqued from my friends and made sure that it was looking good, and submitted it. And I was like, “Okay, I hope I did a good enough job. I hope I did it.”

And also, I was going to have a trip over to Atlanta for Dragon Con. So that still happened to fall around that same time. And so I messaged her all shyly and I was like, “Hey, I might be in town in two weeks. So is it okay if I visit the studio too?” I didn’t want to say it was Dragon Con because I didn’t know if that was acceptable or not. And she messaged me back and she was like, “You’re going for Dragon Con. Yeah sure, absolutely. You can come to the studio.”

I was such a little baby. It was really funny to think about me around that time because I just did not know. Because as soon as I walked into that studio environment when I got to visit, I was like, “This looks like just all of my classmates. This feels like college again.” Because everybody had toys on their desk, and everybody was really cool. And everybody was again, creative.

When you’re a student, you think that professionals are this different breed of people. You think that they’re on this elevated, very buttoned up on this pedestal. And we’re really not. We’re so not. We’re not corporate, we’re artists. And it’s just like working with artists that you would work with as a student. We’re all creative and we’re all nerdy. We all have our own interests that we nerd out about and geek out about, and we get really obsessed about certain things. And so everybody really had that just laid back, chill kind of personality. And so it was very easy to get along with everybody because I’m like, “I don’t feel like I’m out of my element actually at all. This feels like SCAD.” And so I ended up getting hired after that trip two weeks later. And packed all my stuff, moved over to Atlanta, and found that the animation production cycle was exactly like how it was on films that I worked on at SCAD, where everybody had their different roles, there were different departments. It was a really collaborative environment there as well. And you had your team. That’s how I got over to Floyd County.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean it sounds fun. Even the environment that you mentioned, like working with all those artists and creatives is fun. I’ve mostly been a creative at tech startups. Not fun. They’re not fun. I mean if you want to nerd out about code or whatever, which I don’t really care about. But I remember I worked at one startup, and we would have our weekly all hands. And I mean these nerds would just go in on code for two hours straight. I’m like, “I have work to do.” And they’re excited about it talking about containers and frameworks and I’m like, “I have work to do.” I don’t know. I’m still looking to for that working with creatives experience like that, because it sounds like it would be a lot of fun.

When you look back at your experiences with studios though, I would imagine it probably wasn’t all fun. I mean after Floyd County Productions, you worked for four years at EA Mobile. You worked for two years at Zynga. What were those experiences like?

Lauren Brown:
Yeah, I can get into those. But first I just want to address something too. It was definitely fun to be able to work in that creative environment with a bunch of creative peers, but it’s still work and you still have to show up and do the work. So after a while you’re just like, “Oh man, I’ve been working on the same background for two weeks now. I just really want to move on.”

And also the hours can be a lot because you’re in animation. You’re in a strict production cycle, especially for TV. And so sometimes, I think I’d worked once up to 80 hours one week. So it can be crazy. Yeah, I know. So that part’s not fun. It was my first experience becoming a lead, and a manager, and a director. Because I was promoted to background director shortly before I had left Floyd. I really wanted to protect my team from a lot of the brunt of that work, of the editing and of the long hours. And so I took on a lot of that myself with my lead. And that was a lot.

Then also after a season ends, you go on hiatus, which is basically laid off for about two or three months, which can happen in a lot of animation studios. And so you had to understand how to fend for yourself too during that time. And so it was really fun to work in an environment like that, but it can also be very stressful. And so that’s something to consider as well. I don’t want to sugarcoat what it’s like to work in animation, because there’s definitely drawbacks to certain studios and certain environments. Other studios that have union, you don’t have to deal with that as much. But I’ve never worked under a union studio before, so I can’t speak to that as well. But it’s just something to look out for and something that people have to determine whether or not they want to go into.

I felt like I could handle it because I was young. I can’t handle that now. I’m too old for that. I really can’t. But back then I had the stamina to deal with it, but there was also burnout. And so I was kind of thankful for hiatus because it was an opportunity to really recharge my batteries and do personal work as well. Because when I was working full-time, I couldn’t really dedicate that much time to personal work. So there’s definitely a lot of give and take.

I will say I do miss the people and I miss the kind of work that I did. Because when I went over to EA, it was my first time going into game development. I decided to leave animation just because I was ready to explore something new. My friend told me, he went over to EA a year prior and he told me how the environment was, and what they were working on, and that I would be a good fit.
And so when I interviewed there, I realized that the experience was very parallel to what I was already doing in animation. And so I was like, “Okay, I think maybe I don’t fill all the qualifications for this, but I fit most of them. And I might as well go for it anyway.” And ended up getting hired at EA.

So I left Atlanta, which I was really sad about. I was not ready to leave Atlanta. I loved the city, and that’s why I came back. I realized that I’d fallen in love with it right before I left. So I was like, “Oh no.”

But I went over to Austin and Austin is also really cool, but it was a lot of change as well. I went over to EA, which was so much more of a corporate environment. Because EA is a huge studio and it has a lot of systems in place, and process in place, and a lot of very clear defined roles, and clear defined things that you’re supposed to do. And you can’t say everything that you used to say in a very informal environment like an animation, and you have to make sure that you’re careful about following all the rules. And so it was an interesting adjustment. It was a bit of a culture shock at first, but I found that I could roll with that as well.

Also, the people that I worked with too. Again, really awesome people. Gaming nerds, which I am also a gaming nerd. But like you were saying about your tech startup, it’s a lot more technical. And so there were a lot of things at first that really went over my head. I didn’t know what Scrum was. I was like, “What is agile? What is code base? What is all this stuff?” Working in an engine for the first time, and understanding that you had to make art a certain way to fit into the engine, and you had to optimize stuff. I’m like, “What is all this integration?” I’m like, “What does all this mean? I don’t know what any of this means.” But I learned all of that probably within the course of three months. And just letting you know, even what I learned is different from game to game. So a lot of that experience can translate and a lot of it doesn’t.

I was really determined to do a good job at EA and to really work hard because I was a senior and lead environment artist. And so I had people to manage as well. And so I was learning a lot, and they were teaching me a lot about the process as well. But I really loved working with my fellow artists and my team.

And the games that we were working on, I can’t talk about the first game that we worked on, but we started working on The Simpsons Tapped Out shortly after, which was a live service mobile game that had been out for a while. And so being able to meet the people who had made the game and then understanding what it took to make a live service and talking to a licensor for the first time. That was just a lot of new learning experiences.

But it was also the first time where I really started to see the disparity of the industry, and the fact that it wasn’t very diverse. I started to really feel that in the city of Austin in general, and my environment reflected that. And I was working in Atlanta. So before, it was a very diverse place. And now I was like, “I feel at times, very isolated.” And I wanted to work to change that.

So I think at EA is really where I started to develop my professional voice as well as my sense for advocacy, and really started to want to actively work to make change in the game industry. Because I wanted to see more people who look like me, doing what I was doing.

Because I felt very fortunate, but I don’t feel like I’m that special. I feel like everybody can do what I’m doing if they really work towards it, and they really go for it. I feel like again, I’ve been fortunate to be able to get these opportunities and to be able to make these friends. But I wanted to start teaching people how to get to where I was.

So what EA has are things called employee resource groups where there’re groups to advocate for a certain underrepresented group of people. So there was a pride one, there was a Latin one, there was a Black one. And there was a disabilities one as well. There wasn’t an Austin chapter of the Black ERG. And so I started it with a few coworkers. And we made a Black EA Team Austin, BEAT Austin, and started to do advocacy work around the city, around the industry. And that’s when I really started to do mentorships and started to do work like this where I actively did panels at Dragon Con and other conventions, and started to really talk about my experiences and be visible as one of the people who was a leader in the industry.

Maurice Cherry:
How did that experience go?

Lauren Brown:
It was really interesting. Because at first, I felt very shy. I said this story on a SCAD panel, but I feel like I started my end career very quiet because I was a Black woman, and now I’m leading it loud because I’m a Black woman. Because I really had the sense that people didn’t quite know how to handle me. One of my managers had told me that he felt intimidated by me. And I feel like I’m the opposite of an intimidating person. I’m a very huggy, affectionate, just dorky person. And the fact that he felt intimidated by me, I was like, “It’s probably because I’m Black.”

But also, if I am going to have somebody feel intimidated by me and he expects me to be intimidating, then I’m just going to be intimidating and ask all the questions that I really want to ask, and start saying the things that maybe I wouldn’t have said if I was feeling a little shyer. Because with that intimidation, I was like, “He must respect me a little bit too. So maybe I can just say some things.” And in a professional way always, of course. But maybe I can start to speak my mind a little bit more and start to talk about the things that I’m observing. And I started to do that. And it was actually well received.

And so that experience was really enlightening for me because I was like, “I actually have a voice now.” At Floyd, I was a young creative. I just started, so I didn’t really want to express myself. I didn’t really want to be a contrarian, because I was just afraid of what people would say. I just didn’t have the confidence yet. I started to build the confidence at EA and started to really start to call people out and, “Hey, why are we not thinking about these things? Why are we not thinking about what this Black character is doing or saying, or the fact that we’re even having Black characters in this game?”

The designer that I started doing the ERG with, we used to do a Valentine’s event for Tapped Out every February. And he was like, “This time we should do a Black history event.” And I was like, “We should do a Black history event. Let’s do it.”

And so things like that are things that I would’ve never thought to advocate for when I was working in animation. And I really started to advocate for it and started to really gain my identity too as a Black creative, when I started in the game industry. And it felt very empowering. And I really felt like I could really use my voice, because there were so few people who looked like me. There were no other Black female game developers at the time I was working at EA. And also when I moved on to Zynga four years later, there was still no other Black female game devs except for, I think there was the VP art director, which was really cool to see a woman like that in management and leadership. But that was the first time I had really seen someone like that. And it shouldn’t have taken that long. It shouldn’t have taken five years for me to see that. So I really wanted to work to change it.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, good on you for really stepping into that. Stepping into that sort of, I guess vacancy that you saw. And being an advocate not just for yourself, but for other Black people, Black women particularly in the industry.

Lauren Brown:
It wasn’t easy because I also had to deal with people not understanding why things were important, not understanding why I prioritized the stuff. I didn’t let it get in the way of my workload. But we actually started to advocate at EA for all of our advocacy work and all of the things that we were doing to actually count towards our year end reviews and performance, and to be an actual positive mark. And so it actually became a company mandate. Through all of our being vocal, it became a company mandate for ERG work to be considered as a part of our performance review. And so it encouraged more people to join ERGs, and more people to advocate. And I think that it ultimately funneled up to become something really positive.

And so it worked in spite of any pushback that I got and any misunderstanding that it received, because then the company started to really back it. And that was really, really rewarding. So I feel really grateful to have a voice that was respected and had been a part of that change. But I still want to continue to do that in my work at Wizards as well.

Maurice Cherry:
What gives you purpose to keep doing the work that you do? What is it that keeps you empowered and motivated?

Lauren Brown:
I think when I was talking to a student at an event that I was doing, this was when I was still at EA. I was talking to him and he was like, “These are the things that I’m interested in, but I don’t know if I even fit in the game industry or where I could go.” And he was like, “I really like engineering, but I also like doing art.”

And I told him, I was like, “Hey you know, there’s a whole field just for you called tech art, where you get to be an engineer for artists.” And to see his eyes light up in that moment was the takeaway for me, because I got to help somebody realize that there’s space for them in the industry, and that there’s somewhere that they can fit. And so something that I love to do is to see, and mentor people, and give them reviews and give them advice. And then see them sometime later, actually break into the industry and do the job that they always wanted to do.

So being an influence for people to go for something that they would not have previously thought they could go for is such a rewarding experience for me to be able to give somebody that, because I feel like I’ve been really fortunate in the people who have supported me, and my parents being a support for me, but also my friends standing by me and advocating for me, recommending me to these things. I wanted to be able to provide that helping hand for other people. I wanted to be able to give back. And so that’s what really keeps me motivated is to be able to give back and see it really come to fruition.

But I also really want to make a more diverse game industry. I grew up playing games where very few people in those games look like me. And the more people we have behind the scenes making these games, the more diverse it’s going to get, and the more inclusive it’s going to become. And then the more accessible games will be for people who look like me. And so maybe we won’t think of it as an impossibility once we start to see faces to these games, and see people on the stage talking about what their experiences were making these games. And I think eventually, we will start to see that more and more. We’re already seeing it more and more.
So if I can get at least one Black person in the industry, or one Black woman in the industry, or somebody who didn’t believe in themselves to believe in themselves to do it, then I’ll have succeeded at my job. And I think it’s already happened a few times, so I feel like I’ve succeeded at my job. But I want to keep that going. Because I really believe that paying it forward is really our step to a better future in gaming, but just in the world in general. So I want to be a part of that change.

Maurice Cherry:
And speaking of paying it forward, I have to bring this up that you’re also a podcaster as well. You have a show called Painted in Color. Tell me about that.

Lauren Brown:
Yeah. So we started Painted in Color in 2020. And previously, I kind of always wanted to start some kind of YouTube show or podcast, but I was always too afraid to do it or I was like, “What could I say that anybody would even listen to?” But after doing all that advocacy work in the game industry, I realized that I do have a point of view that people don’t get to hear that much. And so I really wanted to take the opportunity to share that.

Around the time we started Painted in Color, this is in 2020 right after the protests were happening. And people started to really take notice for the first time, some for the first time that Black game devs, or Black animators, or Black creatives in the industry were really not getting their dues. Started to really reach out with different opportunities. But I found myself both feeling pleased at this, but also frustrated that it took this long. And there was also a show that I was on, like a podcast. I’m not going to mention them by name, but they had run for six years, and I was only the third Black person on the show. Yeah, I know right?

And they interview people all the time. And I’m like, “Why did it take this long?” I actually called them out on the show about this too. It was live, so they couldn’t do anything about it. It was something that really needed to be called out. But I really thought about that and took it to heart. I’m like, “Why was it that I was only the third Black person on the show?” There are so many Black creatives out there, and so many people who have great stories, and people who are highly talented, who haven’t really gotten a platform to share it.

And so when all these things were happening, we had a female fantastic art group about fantasy art. Somebody was talking about, “We want shows that are really uplifting, like women, and minorities, and creatives.” And I commented in that post saying that I really wanted to start something like that. And one of my friends who I had met at a convention had also commented on that post saying that she wanted to start something like that. Until she reached out to me on Facebook and said, “Hey, I saw that you commented that you wanted to start a show. Do you want to start a show together?” And I was like, “Heck yes I want to start a show together. That sounds awesome.”

So we started it with Esther Wu, Mia Araujo, and ended up pulling Eric Wilkerson, who’s also a fantasy artist, amazing painter, into our show. But we wanted to make a show that was dedicated to uplifting underrepresented artists in the industry. And we wanted to tell their stories, and interview them, and really get them to talk about the true experiences of what it was like to be an artist. We didn’t want to run it like a typical art podcast where people tell you, “You have to do this to succeed. You have to be like this.” Because it often comes from a white male perspective, and that’s not everybody’s perspective. And people can also feel very down on themselves when they can’t do all the things that people are prescribing them.

So we wanted to talk about all of our nuanced perspectives, and we ended up talking about a lot of mental health aspects as well. Because we were all going through it. Obviously it was the pandemic. It was a really hard time mental health wise for each of us and everybody. And it kind of ended up becoming that too organically, even though that wasn’t a part of the goal. But I’m happy that it became a part of the show, because it really showed a perspective from professionals that were still struggling in some kind of way. So we wanted to talk about our struggles and talk about how we were working to gain better mindsets around those struggles, and better perspectives around it. And a lot of the artists that came on our show also talked about those perspectives as well. And we got to hear about so many different journeys, and it was so inspiring to be able to get their sensibility and how they learn and grow. And so we started in 2020 at LightBox Expo Virtual. We had a panel discussion about what it was like to be a creative in the industry as an underrepresented group.

And we kept going from there. So we air biweekly on Mondays. We’ve been doing it for two years now. We’re about to air an interview soon with somebody amazing named Michael Uwandi, who started something similar, 9B Collective, which is a creative group over in LA that employs underrepresented artists and Black artists who work in the film industry, which is really awesome. We got a chance to really start to exercise that voice and grow our presence over time. And it’s been really, really fun and rewarding, and super inspiring. So that’s what I’m currently continuing to do now.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ve definitely checked out the podcast, and I’ll make sure that we put a link to it also in the show notes. I know 100% that feeling of being on a show that has not had a lot of Black guests, and you ask them. And then there’s all this hemming and hawing and, “Well, we tried.” Yeah. Okay, sure.

Lauren Brown:
A lot of the excuses too from recruiters as well and from shows is, “We don’t know where to find them. It doesn’t seem like there’s that many of them.” There are a myriad of us. We are everywhere. It’s really sad what’s going on with Twitter right now, because Twitter was actually how a lot of places had found me to interview me. I didn’t an article with Apple on the App Store. And so when people opened the app store, they saw my face. And that was because of Twitter, because there’s hashtags called drawing while Black, Black and gaming, I am POC and play. All these hashtags that really elevate the presence of underrepresented artists and minorities in the industry. And I hope that we don’t lose that platform because that was a really big presence for us. And so it’s a shame that has happened, because it was proof that we were out there. And we were present in droves, and a lot of really amazing talent too.

And so that excuse was really invalid. It was just because companies and people didn’t want to put the effort forward to look in different spaces than they were used to looking. If your spaces are only netting a certain kind of artist, then you probably need to change up the spaces that you’re looking in.

So I really want to emphasize that a lot in the show and as well as all the panels that I do, because I really do think it’s a matter of effort. There’s a lot of excuses that go around about it, and people, they’re not used to making that effort.
And we’ve had to make that effort for years. We’ve had to code switch, we’ve had to be twice as good, four times as good in order to get into the industry. So if people don’t want to make that effort, it’s time to start now. Because we’ve been doing that for a long time, and we know what it’s like to go above and beyond constantly. So we would like to be met halfway a little bit please.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. Listen, I did a whole presentation called Where Are the Black Designers in 2015. Because so many companies were asking me that. They had found out about the show, and they would be like, “Where are you finding all these people?” And I’m like, “On LinkedIn, on Twitter. I’m just reaching out and talking to them. Are you not doing the same things? My melanin doesn’t grant me any special search powers. I don’t have Black spidey sense or whatever. I’m just talking to people. Are you not talking to people?” And they’re not. They’re not putting forth even the baseline amount of effort.

Lauren Brown:
The minimum amount of effort. Yeah, and my LinkedIn started to also get very diverse because I just started to follow more people who were talking about these things. And that’s really what you have to do. When you follow people who discuss these issues, people who are in the industry will respond and comment. It’s very easy, in fact, to find these people. Just follow a few DEI experts on LinkedIn to start with if people are listening to this and wondering how. Follow people like Crystle Johnson who talks about DEI issues in the industry all the time. And people will comment and say like, “Hey, this is what my experiences are.” People share their stories in these LinkedIn posts. And so that’s a great way to start finding more Black talent and Black creatives. Or maybe make a post yourself and be like, “Hey, I’m doing a search for Black creatives. I just want people to comment and see who I find.” I’ve just done that on Twitter as well.

I do several times a year when these hashtags start to go around. I’m like, “Hey, drop your portfolio in the comments. I would love to be able to follow these artists, and be able to follow you, and see what you’re creating.” So there’s so many different ways, like the hashtags I dropped earlier, so many different ways to find Black creatives or just creatives of color, diverse talent, underrepresented artists, people with disabilities. Any group that you’re looking for, you will find them. We are around, and we talk about these things all the time. So it really, really isn’t that hard. You just have to know where to look. You just have to do some research, find places to look. And then you’ll start to open up your dashboards and broaden them. And you’ll learn something along the way too. So please do that. Cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to tell people this, too.

Maurice Cherry:
What have you learned along the way from the podcast? What has it taught you?

Lauren Brown:
I can’t even go into all the things that it’s taught me. But I think one of the most important things that it’s taught me to be curious. Always be curious about learning something new, and growing, and being self-aware of who you are, and what it is like to work in your own mind, and how to work with yourself to be the best you.

Because again, a lot of shows will talk about, “Here’s what you have to do to be successful.” But if being successful means that you have to get up in the morning every day at 8:00 AM and you know you’re not a morning person, you’re not going to do that. You’re forcing yourself to do something that you hate doing. So what do you do instead? If you’re a night owl, then maybe do the bulk of your work at night where you know that your brain is awake during, and that you work with your own body. You know you get bored about working out? Then maybe switch up your routine every now and again. The fact that you’ve fallen off of a routine is not a failure. You just need something new to mix it up.

It’s the same way with any kind of aspect. Know yourself and work with yourself to be your definition of success, because success means something different for every single person. You can’t follow one set prescription of success. And so work with yourself the way you need to in order to get to your brand of success. That’s what I’ve learned about the show the most, because every single person who’s started to do the things that really make them happy has followed not the rules of society, but their own rules of how they best function and what makes them happy. And that’s what I’ve taken away the most from the show.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you worked to stay your authentic self throughout your career? I get this very strong sense of one, I think determination. But also, it’s coming from a very earnest place. It’s not grand-standing or anything like that. It’s coming from a real, genuine place. How have you worked to keep that authenticity?

Lauren Brown:
I learned not to compromise myself anymore. Not just in my art, but just personally as well. If there is something that I feel very strongly about, I know automatically that it is not for me, or it is for me. And I pursue it, or I reject it however I need to. But I’ve learned that the person who I am will attract the people who I want in my life. And compromising myself and being inauthentic is going to bring around the wrong people that I don’t want to be involved with.

And even though I’m an introvert, I thrive around people who understand me. And in order to be understood, I have to share myself. And I have to really share who I am as a person, not just a veneer of myself. And so I think that’s what keeps me authentic, because being authentic just makes me happier. And sharing my point of view makes me really understand who I am. even more.
So I have a little anecdote. There was a convention called Gen Con that it was a prestigious convention. And they had amazing fantasy artists that had been in the industry for 20, 30 years. And I got in somehow. Somehow.

And I was so intimidated by this convention. I was just like, “Oh my God, I don’t have art that looks like anybody else’s. What am I going to do? I don’t know what to create.” And I psyched myself out so hard that I didn’t make any new work for this con, and I was meant to sell my artwork there.

And the last few weeks before this convention had started, I was like, “Oh my God, I haven’t made anything. What do I do?” And I was like okay. I had a moment with myself. I was like, “I got in not because of what other artists looked like, but because what my art looked like. They accepted me for me. So why would I not make anything that looks like me? Why would I want to make anything that looks like anybody else’s, if they asked me to be in the show for what my portfolio looked like?”
And so what I ended up doing was making the most self-indulgent piece ever, which was the Mushroom Queen piece that’s on my website if anybody wants to look at it. But it was just fully 100% my authentic viewpoint. And I was like okay. I went to the show. I set it up. I was like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to happen.”

And that was by far my best show that I had ever done. I’d been doing conventions for about 10 years at this point, and it was the most successful, the most positive experience ever. And that piece that I made was the most sold print. I sold out of that print. And it went to show me that being authentic is really what is going to get me that far. Because people are there for my voice, and so my voice I will give them. And that’s why I’m authentic. That’s why I try to be authentic.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have a dream project or something that you’d love to do one day?

Lauren Brown:
Yeah, there’s so many things that I want to do. I am ADHD, and so I want to bounce around between many different things. But what I’ve always wanted to do is make a video game, and an animated pitch, and a comic, and a graphic novel, and an art book, and a tarot card deck. So I have so many different dream projects.

Because I think the thing about dream projects is that once you’re done, you have to find a new dream. And so I have several dreams, and I want to pursue each of them one by one. And so the tarot deck is coming first. I’m going to be making a deck called the Avant Garden, which it’s a part of the Mushroom Queen series and the Rose Queen that I’ve made. They’re all different plant queens that have their own gardens. And I want to make a full deck based off of those, that project.

So that’s what I want to do first. I would really love to make a small game with a small team. But something that is meaningful, and special, and beautiful. And many different stories I have in my head. So I want to just work towards each of these different goals as I go forward in my journey as an artist. But I have several dream projects that that I want to work on.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I feel like there’s this sort of wellspring of creativity that you could really just dive into.

Lauren Brown:
Yeah, there’s so much that wants to get out of my head, and I really just think it’s in the doing. But with the podcast Painted in Color, I really want to create it as a community in the future, and start to do live events, and start to have art retreats, and create classes around the podcast so that it’s an actual active learning experience for students. Where a lot of the people who are on the show can mentor and we can mentor as well. And really create something that is a positive environment that starts to cultivate talent of color and underrepresented talent for the industry.

I also would love to eventually start my own studio. I would like to say at Wizards for a good while, but eventually my old hermit plan is to start my own studio and to draw together a bunch of wonderful people who I’ve worked with in the past who I know are amazing and are good people. And start to create products that really inspire and uplift the next generation of gamers or animators in the industry. So that’s where I start to see myself. But in the next five years, I really want to make my podcast a really good, strong network, and a strong presence in the industry.

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

Lauren Brown:
Yeah, I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible. So I have a Linktree. Everywhere online is LAB illustration. Labillustration, that’s my initials, Lauren Brown. And so labillustration on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Patreon, Etsy. I have an Etsy store. Everywhere you can find me, it’s labillustration. I have a Linktree to make that easier. So it’s linktr.ee/labillustration. That’s where you can find all of my links.

Painted in Color is on YouTube currently. We’re looking to expand it soon, but right now it’s only on YouTube. And that is youtube.com/c/paintedincolor. And so that’s where our channel is. And so that’s mainly where you can find me. So I hope that you do.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope people do too. Sounds good. Lauren Brown, thank you so, so much for coming on the show. Thank you for just really sharing your story of being a Black woman in illustration, in art direction, and sort of giving I think a really good behind the scenes look at what it looks like to not just be in this industry, but also to be an advocate for underrepresented voices in the industry. I mean, you’re doing that not just in the media you’re making, but also with your podcast. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you do in the next five years. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Lauren Brown:
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate this, Maurice.

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