Jeff Jean-Baptiste

I became familiar with Gusto several months ago through my last gig, and I was so pleased with the user experience that I had to find out who some of the folks were behind it. And wouldn’t you know it — one of them happens to be a former 28 Days of the Web honoree. Meet Jeff Jean-Baptiste!

After a quick check-in to see how things are going, Jeff talked about his role as a product designer and gave some info on his behind-the-scenes design work at the company. From there, Jeff shared his origin story of growing up in Miami, how anime became his gateway to art, and talked about his interest in architecture and how that drives his current design focus. He even gave some insight into the Orlando design community and talked about finding success at this point his career.

For Jeff — and for all of us, really — anything worth having is worth working hard towards. So get out there and make it happen!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Hey, so my name is Jeff Jean-Baptiste, a designer focused on just building great thoughtfully crafted experiences for people, just software that works.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going so far?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Oh man, 2022 has been actually pretty amazing. I mean the backdrop of a lot of things happening in the world for me personally, is worked out pretty well, both professionally and in my personal life, my wife and I, we closed on a house so that’s going to be our first home, so that should be done in a couple months.
So that’s pretty exciting and, yeah, work it’s been pretty magical. Just the things that I’m doing is pretty exciting. I’m still very much so happy at my current role, and we’re doing a lot of great things that I’m looking forward to building on.

Maurice Cherry:
So what is it that you want to try to accomplish for the rest of the year? Do you have any sort of plans that you set forth at the beginning of the year that you want to try to do?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah, I’ll talk about the two things. One on the professional side, I would say one thing I’m trying to get better at is becoming a better storyteller and I can get into more of that later as well. But yeah, that’s one thing, it’s a part of my goal is just can be able to tell a more cohesive and better story about when you’re designing products.
There’s always this the customer aspect and the pain that you’re highlighting and how you’re the things you’re designing, how it solves their pain. So I believe that’s one of the best ways people communicate and I’m a big, big movie buff. So I love stories. I’ve also started to read a lot lately and it’s just the way that stories are told. I feel like it’s an awesome communication method and I want to get better at that.
And first personally, in my life, I mentioned earlier where we’re close on the house, so that should be happening soon. So yeah, just ready for that whole process to be done and then going to be booking some time to relax. So we’ll be going on a cruise in a couple months and just out in the open sea. And that should be cool.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Take it now before the next global health scare happens, if you can try to squeeze it in there, I’m curious about this storytelling. Are there certain resources or things that you’re looking at to try to help increase your storytelling skills?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
I haven’t looked at anything specifically. I just follow certain folks that I think are great story to. There’s a lot of people at my Gusto that are really great at this, and I’m actually being mentored right now by somebody internally in product who’s just trying to build that muscle a little bit more. And then, yeah, I think I’ve taken some cues from folks internally and then as well as I think Twitter is a great place for resources.
If you follow the right folks, there’s a lot of good nuggets of information there, but just trying to hone that skill a little bit more just through actually doing it myself. That’s I think is the biggest part of it is as I’m presenting design work, I’m really cognizant of how I am delivering that message and trying to communicate. So I’m actively doing that work as well as taking in some of his other external information as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about your work at Gusto. You’re a product designer there and you started last year. Is that right?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s almost been a year now. So in September I started. Yeah. So I started last year. Yeah. I’m going to working on a zero to one team and basically just a part of Gusto that doesn’t exist yet, which is specifically around HR tools and we’re building things like performance management and also some other things around HR tooling for customers to help develop and retain their talent at their organizations, which is super relevant right now in this environment with recruiting and everything and layoffs.
And I’m learning in real time, just seeing everything happening and also looking at my work and how I’m trying to help other businesses to try to develop and retain being a really big piece of that, their talent and how we can support that. But Gusto has been super great. It’s really great when you interview with a company and oh, you sell these mission and values and everything and you align with those things. And then after a few months at the company, you’re like, “Okay, something don’t match up.” But I found that.
I thought that I’m still like, wow, it still makes sense. It’s still relevant. And everyone is still what they sold me was true so that’s always good. It’s been quite the experience. I’m learning so much at this scale up and everyone around me and how we collaborate cross functionally is just awesome to work with these folks. They’re super talented. And it’s just an honor to work for a company. That’s doing some great things with some great folks.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s actually, that’s really good to hear. I can tell you just from the end-user perspective, I first encountered Gusto last year at the current place where I’m working at. They use Gusto for payroll and all that sort of stuff. And the whole experience is so friendly and inviting-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… which for HR software is a feat to accomplish because most of that stuff is like, “Oh, I’m only going to go in here to file time off or whatever.” It’s not user friendly. It doesn’t spark joy to use Marie Kondo’s phrase it. It doesn’t give you those feelings of like, “Oh, I actually want to poke around and see what’s on these other pages. The illustrations are fun. The color coordination is great.” I mean, again, from the end-user perspective, I like it a lot.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. That’s a big part of what you’re beat against those as well. It feels likely human. You talk about these friendly aspects of it. It’s a delightful experience. It’s easy to use. And yeah, typically HR software is not that, right? It’s not sexy. It’s not-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
… doesn’t make you want use it. It’s not approachable. Yeah. Design has been a big part of Gusto’s DNA since the beginning that one of the first hires of Gusto and when they were a startup 10 plus years ago, it was a design hire. So design has always been a big part of Gusto’s DNA.
And we’re continuing that we have a big investment in design and being led by Amy, our chief design officer that speaks volumes to where, “Hey, at the highest levels we have advocacy for design.” And her leadership is she’s bringing that influence to conversations at those levels as well in our strategy and direction in our vision.
So we don’t have to fight for that seat at the table. It’s already there. It’s all right now design, shows what you got let’s make this happen.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s really good. I think for a lot of tech startups, at least maybe it’s just the ones I’ve been at, but certainly there’s others that I’ve seen where design is always this afterthought. It’s something that maybe they’ll bring a designer on or they’ll have a few freelancers.
But you can tell the focus is really on just making sure that the product works and adding new features to it. Design tends to be a bit of a… We’ll get to it kind of thing. It’s very utilitarian. So it’s good to hear that for Gusto, that design is really at the forefront of everything that y’all try to do.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Oh yeah, totally. You hit the nail around here what you said, design have this afterthought a lot of times, and it’s a strategic part of building a product, thinking about design. It’s not just that fresh coat of paint you do after you build something, right? It’s from the beginning talking to customers, learning about those user problems, and distilling that down to the root problems and finding a thoughtful way to approach that even that is part of design way before even start putting those pixels out there and start delivering mocks to the engineers and stuff like that. So it starts really, really early on before any code is pushed. So yeah, design being like this thread that’s followed throughout, even from the end of delivery of the designs. And that’s what we try to practice, keeping that spirit of design, being at the forefront of everything that we do. And that’s super important. It really shows in the product, right? So that experience that end-to-end experience, you can tell, “Hey, this has been designed,” not like, “Hey, we just layered something on top of something that was probably just strictly technically engineering led or something.”

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm. Talk to me more about what the team looks like? You’re on the product design team. I imagine. Is it for a specific feature of the app? Talk to me more about that.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. So we broke it up in these segments and I mean, an employer segment. So we focus on all of our customers, our business owners who are using Gusto to pay their employees and ensure them and use HR tooling for performance management and all that. And my team specifically, we’re working on the HR side and our mission is to help customers develop and retain their talent.
So my team is made up of myself, I’m the designer and I have a PM counterpart. He’s actually a hybrid a PM engineer, which is pretty amazing. He actually was a pretty strong, strong engineering leader in our team. And he actually started this PM rotation. And now he’s diving into that world and it’s been awesome to work with someone that has two sides of that coin there.
And we also have about four or five other engineers supporting this team. So our team we’re pretty much building those HR tools. We have that part of Gusto’s space expanding, Gusto’s portfolio past, just the payment and the ensuring benefits and side of things going into that HR tooling space. So yeah, we’re super excited to bring that part of Gusto to our customers.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, is this your first time working remotely for a team like this?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
No, actually my remote professional journey actually started in my previous role at AdventHealth as a huge experience designer so that was the beginning of the pandemic. This is right around what? January 2020, somewhere around there. And a couple months into that, I was about a little bit over a year or so in that role, when I got into doing remote work for the first time, when they sent us home, they were like, “Hey, take your laptops and everything.” And being a part of AdventHealth, that’s a large health system.
So there was a lot of need, as you can imagine for us to deliver some digital experiences, to help with some telehealth type of things we’re working on at the time. So that was a pretty accelerated, but a hyper learning time for me on both the product, working on a product side for designing those products for app health and as well as, “Hey, now we’re in this remote world.” How do we work, right? And just learning that you have to be really intentional about remote work to make that work. And communication is one of those big key learnings there during that experiences.

Maurice Cherry:
I think a lot of companies definitely had to come to terms with that very quickly over the past couple of years. But for me, it’s been interesting. I’ve worked remotely since roughly about 2009, late 2008 was when-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Wow.

Maurice Cherry:
… I started, but I’ve been working remotely because I had my own studio for a long time. And then once I got back into the quote, unquote, “workforce,” at the end of 2017, every gig that I’ve had after that has been remote first. So even with times where you’ve had to still go to an office or for something like that, most I say 90% of the work that I’ve done over the past five years has all been remote.
And it’s interesting seeing now how companies are trying to adapt to that, particularly in environments where that in person collaboration one was so key. But I would say also when it comes to looking for talents, a lot of these companies, if they’re in New York or in the San Francisco, Silicon Valley, et cetera, they’re used to looking for design talent right where they’re at.
And now with the pandemic and people being able to work remotely as they are. I feel like that probably does a lot for decentralizing design talent. What do you think about that in this current environment?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah, I think just being forced at a mass level to work remotely, I think a lot of employees, right? So as I sees, we realize that, “Hey, I can still do this work from home and I’m actually enjoying all these other benefits that comes with that, right?” So obviously I don’t have to commute to work. There’s all that stuff eliminated. You save some time, but then also on the business side of things, you realize that there’s more focus on your outcomes versus your outputs.
I feel like there’s a new type of lens being put onto what are actually the employees producing, what are the actual outcomes of that experience? And I think just realizing all these different things and some of the advantages, and obviously there’s some disadvantages around communication and being more intentional about that. But I think it levels the playing field in a way. Now we’re looking at it from a perspective of, “Hey, I can hire anyone from anywhere in the country.”
They can do that work from home, right? And then we have to think about how do we strategically compete now on this level because now that someone like myself where I’m in Florida, so Gusto in California and being able to work remotely, there’s obviously a distribution now of talent across the entire country. So I think it switches the conversation a little bit less about location and proximity to some of these more bigger tech hubs in New Yorker, San Francisco.
And it’s now strictly focused on the talent itself. What are they producing? What are the outcomes? What impacts that come with these specific candidates when we’re talking to them? So I think, yeah, it’s pretty much leveling that playing field, but now I think another shift in that is around now that it’s a level, in a sense we’re looking at talent, that bar is getting more competitive as well.
So I think that’s an interesting dynamic that’s happening, but I think it’s a good one. I think on both the company and the talent side of things, everyone’s looking at the things that matter more. So at the end of the day, it’s about the outcomes, the impacts that you actually have as a designer, as an engineer versus your outputs. It’s like, oh, I can see you doing things in the office. And generally these office of conversations and things it’s easier to hide.
I feel like when you’re in an office setting versus remotely like, “Hey, we’re strictly measuring based on,” Like, “Hey, what can you actually tangibly impact to the team in the business?” There’s more of a focus on those things now. And especially in this time where we’re contracting a little bit in the markets, right? So companies are doing layoffs and they’re trying to save money, right? So they’re looking at like, “Hey, do I have the right people to support my company for the next 10 plus years?” Where do I need to strategically invest in talent? And where is waste?
Unfortunately, there is a layout since things happening because people might have over hired, right? During previous years and didn’t foresee some of this economic type of turmoil going on and everything with the market and the economics of this country. But yeah, it’s being very strategic about who you’re hiring and there’s a more to focus on individual impact.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I know that there were certainly a few companies that during the pandemic, they really became unicorns in a way. A lot of companies really leaned on them. And then now that culture is changing. As people are starting to get back out there, more travel, offices in some places are reopening, et cetera.
Now it’s like, “Oh, we need to scale back because we can’t support the level at which we’ve grown or they haven’t found an effective way to, I don’t know, I guess pivots to that, which is just business. That’s just how business goes. But to what you said earlier around about how this new environment means that you can pull talent from anywhere, it does strip away a lot of the…
I would say trappings of work, a lot of social trappings of work before I’m saying this we’re back in the old days, but it was more about showing up to work at a certain time and you hang out after work and you get to know people. And I mean, that stuff is great. But then when everyone’s just reporting in a Slack team, it strips away all these ways that you try to be so overly social that it’s like, “Okay.” What about the work that you’re doing-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
… is the output of the work? What we need? Or are you just nice to have around?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That whole thing about, I feel like, and I don’t know how true this is, but I feel like that whole excuse about a culture fit gets weakened a bit now, because of this new environment.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. I totally agree with that. That culture fit is definitely weakened in a sense, right? One of the interesting thing, I don’t know if you saw this, but with remote work as well, a lot of companies have able to become a lot more diverse. They saw Black employees have risen some of the percentages there. It’s pretty interesting to see how it’s that decentralization of talent, someone who’s in a specific part of the country.
That’s not willing to move to the west coast to work for a specific company but they’re available now, right? So now I can hire that person and companies have actually become more diverse now being able to do that in remote. So there’s a lot of different changing dynamics. And I think for the most part, I think it’s a net good.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think so, too. What would you say is probably the most challenging part about the work that you’re doing now?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Oh man, the challenge that I would say the work that I’m doing now, well on one side of it, the remote side of it as well, communication, I alluded to this earlier. That’s one of the keys to being super successful in a team, right? So being able to communicate effectively, but as far as the work itself, we’re taking on a new challenge, right? So Gusto historically has been more on the payroll and benefit side of things and we’re doing a lot of learning and talking to customers and trying to figure out what are the hardest challenges they’re facing right now in trying to engage and retain employees.
And what’s happening right now with folks that are doing layoffs and things like that. It’s very hard to try to get ahead of that, right? In case as an employee, but also on the business side, if you’re not doing layoffs, then employees who decide to leave for another company, how do you even get ahead of something like that? We talk to a lot of customers who try to understand those pains and how do you develop people internally too?
So it’s a super interesting space just working. It’s working in people, basically it’s people management and that’s a super hard thing to work in as well. Just how do you look at these relationships between companies and employees and try to help these companies retain these folks?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think now certainly with us now being roughly three years in with this, there are people I’ve had on the show who have started their career in a remote position. And now they’re moving from remote position to remote position. And the difficulty that I see some of them with is that the job changes.
But I’m still in the same place because it’s from home, they’re working from home and it’s like, yeah, you can set those boundaries and close that laptop and such. But that separation is just so hard to have between a physical office and your home. Everything is condensed into one space.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. It’s hard to make that separation for sure. And even every day I just get up and close my laptop and then I turn around and the TV’s right there. I’m just like, “Okay.” It doesn’t really feel like you’re actually disconnected sometimes. But I have done a lot of freelancing actually for a very long time since being in college and I’m actually been used to it to some degree.
So I’d have a day job as doing a design and going into an office, but then I’d also do freelance on the side where I’m actually working at home and helping folks with doing their websites or whatever at that time. So it was in a… I was prepared for this moment and I think that’s why I leaned into it so heavily.
As soon as I got tasted remote, I was like, “Oh yeah, this is me.” And I literally was looking after my last role. I was like, “Hey, I got to find something that was that’s remote first.” That’s what I want. I know that’s where I’d be comfortable.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, for me, the main way to have that separation is to… And I mean, this is a luxury, I think to even say this, but to have two separate machines, my main machine at home that I work on is a windows desktop. And my work machine is a MacBook pro.
So it’s completely different for me at the end of the day, I close my laptop, I put it in the closet one, so I don’t have to see it, just I don’t want that visual cue, but then when I’m getting ready for the next day work is right there. So it’s like, “Okay, take the laptop out, plug it in. I’m at work now.”

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
So you not only have that physical separation and actually being able to see it, but then you also have a different operating system.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, exactly. It’s completely different operating system, different peripherals. I’m like, “Okay.” I have to really separate it that way. Because back when I had my studio and I’ll talk about your freelance work too. But back when I had my studio, I would tell people, “Yeah, I can work half days all the time, any 12 hours I want.” I would just stay on the computer, working, working, working, because there wasn’t that separation for me. I was doing work and non-work from the same machine.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. I will say that. So I’m the type of person where time can run away from me. I can be working and then I can forget that I need to quote, unquote, “clock out, right?” So my wife tries to pull me my desk. It’s like, “Hey, it’s past five. What are you doing?” One thing I’m excited about. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m working to be getting a house soon.
So I will have a dedicated office. So right now I’m in this, it’s an office/space that we used to watch TV. But when there’s more of a separation there, I can intentionally walk out of here and be like, “All right, works done.” Now I’m going to live my personal life.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You’ll love it. I’m telling you just having that separate space. That is great.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. I’m looking forward to it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So let’s switch gears here a little bit, learn more about you and about where you grew up. You alluded to college and studying design and I want to get there eventually, but let’s go back. Tell me about your childhood were you kind exposed to a lot of art and design and stuff growing up?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah, I would say I have been exposed to a lot of art and design in very subtle ways. I grew up in Miami, Florida as where I was born. And at the time, I used to watch a lot of cartoons. I loved cartoons and I used to just try to redraw different cartoons. Of course, during my time, Dragon ball Z stuff like that. And I used to really do a lot of comics myself. I could try to basically create comic book series. I actually came up with one, I think in middle school. I even distributed it out and tried to sell some.
And so I was always super into drawing and art and design, and I was just always trying to find creative outlet. I was more of a house like nerd. So I’m looking into doing things on the computer. I didn’t even start doing anything digitally until later, but I was very much so thinking that, “Hey, I’m going to be an artist or something like that when I grow up or whatever.”
And then when I got to high school, I started looking at really, how can I really make a career out of this? And that’s when I started contracting a little bit on the creativity side and looking to what actual careers are out there. And I looked at being an architect basically. So I did enrollment for architectural drafting while I was in high school, which I came out with an architectural drafting degree actually out of it.
This was basically me doing half my time in my senior and junior year at a trade school to earn that certificate. And then after that, I went to USF for college and major in architecture. And I was really convinced in that was what I was really going to do first of my life. And I tried to put myself in this box where I was like, “Hey, I can only make money doing something that’s serious, right?” I have to be an architect-

Maurice Cherry:
Uh-huh.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
… that’s the only way I can create, I can express myself creatively and I still love architecture. I still love it. But I quickly realized when doing that coursework that I was mainly interested in the purely aesthetic side of just… I know if you ever seen concepts of different buildings and things like, “Oh, if what nature was integrated into certain structures and we could live in harmony with nature and these different wacky building styles.”
I was doing stuff like that and doing in that course and architecture and I was less interested in stuff like building code and stuff like that. So yeah, about halfway through that, I was like, “This is not for me.” I was lost for a little bit honestly. I was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” But I think around that time I pledged five days Sigma in college.
And one of the things that I had to do for my coming out show, well I took it by myself, was we needed a flyer and I actually made. My first flyer that I ever made was actually created in a combination of PowerPoint and Microsoft paint, so that was my first flyer, yeah. And then I was like, “You know what? That was cool. I enjoyed that.”
And then I sat down for a summer and was looking like, “Hey, what’s the actual industry standard tool I can use to make something like this.” And that’s when I taught myself Photoshop. And after that was the bullet train to just creating endeavors and doing things for people, just designing flyers that started off with that and then doing logos. And then actually guys started doing websites for people.
And that’s when I started to see the light, right? I was looking like, “Oh wow, I can actually create these really cool websites for people and make them look really nice and people will pay me for it.” And I was doing freelance while I was in undergrad. And then I was still searching like, “Hey, I want to do this professionally.”
And that’s when I started taking jobs, doing graphic design. I took a job at a local. There was a Gyros and Subs locally in Tampa, Florida. And I did all their marketing. I did their menu and I did some work on their website, their email marketing. And yeah, I took a series of jobs after that, just around design and web design and started doing marketing sites.
And yeah, then after that I actually got exposed to doing product design and UX design. When one client basically asked me, “Hey, can you do an app?” And I was like, “Sure.” I will say yes to everything and just figure out with the layer. So I’m like, “Listen, I already know.” And sometimes I’ll tell them straight up. I was like, “I don’t know how to do this, but I’m going to figure it out.” Yeah. That’s why I took this deep dive into learning UX myself.
And I was like, “All right, I need some formal structure around this.” It’s not just something I could just pick up. I have to know how to think in this way and how to solve a specific problem and approaching it from these different ways. I took this Interaction Design Foundation as this online type of classes that you can take basically different modules.
And that’s where I formalized my education around UX design I was like, “Hey, how do I apply some of my creativity and get some more of this skills on the side of UX to really understand having user-centered problems and really solving it from these really thoughtful ways and using user journeys and end-to-end flows,” so that was how I really started to formalize my education around it.
And from there, that’s why I started taking jobs from different companies doing product design eventually got to… I feel like AdventHealth was my first true rigorous cross-functional experience. I was working with product design, but I did along the way, I’ve learned so much from different companies out at Sodexo for a few years, doing graphic design there. And I got a little bit of exposure to doing some product design and I just wanted more of it. So I just started to align myself more and more with doing UX. And, yeah, here I am today.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I think it’s really worth mentioning that you cut your teeth on product design online. It wasn’t through a traditional four-year course or something. It was because you already, I guess, built an interest through your natural talent and curiosity and the work that you had been doing, but to then find a program online and then use that to level up to the next stage of your career, I think is something that probably a lot of people listening can get inspired by.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah, I think the most beautiful thing about. I think a lot of careers in product, there’s a lot of these unconventional pathways and especially in UX, I’ll hear different stories, very similar to mine. You don’t have to actually go to these specific design schools and stuff like that. There’s other ways that you can get there. It’s really just aligning your passion and just being able to apply yourself. Because if you’re going to do take a path like mine, you have to really want it.
So you got to be really committed because it’s not easy to pretty much teach yourself, stay focused because all this stuff was self-paced, right? It’s all out of my own passion, wanting to learn more. I was hungry for that knowledge. If you have that core part of like, you can definitely chase that in these different paths. But if you need more structure, then yeah, I would definitely say, “Hey, go to design school if that’s for you.”
But I know for me that was… I probably would have gone to a design school and like that, but I did not even have the exposure. I even to know that was out there. So I had to make due with what I had at the time. I was like, “Okay, well I’m already three years in here at USF. I wasted a couple years doing architecture. I know I want to do design.” Then I see that I can still probably get hired for doing design without having a full design degree. So I was like, “You know what?” I mean, I got a degree in information architecture, which did a lot of web design things, but that was actually supportive of it as well in my skillset.
So yeah, there’s these very unconventional pathways you can take, but just find what works best for you and get after it. But I think just having that exposure earlier, the better, if I would’ve had that, my path would’ve been much different, but I found a way eventually. So it worked out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And I mean, you found a way, but also as you mentioned, you had that discipline to do it on your own. A lot of these courses they can give you or they do give you the information, they lay out a path for you, but if you’re not going to actually follow it and take it, then it’s for nothing.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Exactly, exactly. Just have that focus. If you’re going to like just be intentional about everything you do. If you know that something that you really want, just go after it and just stay focused. I think over the next few years, I think just the fact that information is so plentiful now. You imagine 15 years ago, all these resources weren’t even out here and then go even further back.
It’s just so democratized at this point, but now it’s going to be the difference makers, the people who want it versus the people who are just doing it like, “Hey, just so nice to have. And I’m half in half out.” So yeah, it’s going to be… We’ll see that separately time plays out so.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, I’ve been around long enough. I can imagine. I know because I was there. I remember 15 years ago. It definitely was not like this at all. I mean, hell even I would say maybe not even 10 years ago, you started to have some of the beginnings of some things you had, I think the beginnings of a general assembly or a tree house or something, but what you also really just had were things that people cobbled together of different snippets of code and things of that nature you had like, “Oh God, I’m dating myself.”
But you had dynamic drive. You had W3 Schools and stuff like that in lieu of something that could be more, I guess, official like a general assembly or a tree house or something of that where you could actually go through a more formalized career thing, almost like school, because you would have an instructor of sorts or someone that’s at least looking at assignments and giving you feedback in that way. It’s self-governed but at least you have that expert authority to help you along the way.
Prior to that, you just put stuff together and hope for the best. You really were like. I hope this works or there was so much experimentation back then. And I don’t know if the web really encompasses a lot of that now because so many things or productized and there’s design systems and such that everything is pretty rigidly locked into certain systems in order to scale.
And of course, to bring in designers and engineers and writers to all work together. But one thing that the early web definitely had, was a lot of just creativity-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
[inaudible 00:37:35].

Maurice Cherry:
… just people experimenting, just people making things up. And I feel like that same feeling is why a lot of folks are interested in Web3 right now.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Mm-hmm. I think so.

Maurice Cherry:
They want that or they’re trying to get that feeling of freedom back that the early web had and granted Web3 encompasses a number of technologies. It’s NFTs, it’s crypto. It’s a number of stuff. And I feel like a lot of what’s reported out of it is largely very negative, but to be fair, it was like that when the internet first came about.
Like everyone was not hopping to get online. It was a lot of skepticism about what is an email address? Should my business be online? How do I make this happen? There was a lot of skepticism and granted, eventually people got over that hump. I think Web3 is probably a little different in this accord because of aside from just the learning curve in terms of figuring out all these different terms and stuff, which again, very similar to before, it’s also just the cost. I mean, I would say back then personal computers were, I mean my God, I got my first personal computer in whoo ’99, 1999 it was a Pentium 3. It was 500 megabytes. Maybe not megabytes, maybe it was 500. It probably was 500 megabytes.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
It probably, it might have been.

Maurice Cherry:
It might have been. Yeah, it might have been.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
It might have been without so much more computing power in the palm of our hands. Actually on my wrist right now, probably-

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
… computing power.

Maurice Cherry:
Back then you could play solitaire, but now you could easily do that on your phone or something like that with an app. But I say all that to say that even that was a bit of a curve for a lot of people’s like, “Can I afford a computer in order to do these things? Can I afford?” Well, there actually wasn’t high speed internet back then. You had dial up, but you had two lanes, you had a slow lane and a fast lane. That’s what they colloquially called it.
And then eventually you had DSL and then cable and now high speed is fiber optic, et cetera, and stuff like that. But I see a lot of those parallels. And then I notice just how design is very much following those parallels as well. So I wonder in the future how Web3 is going to impact a lot of what we know now, even typically as product design, because product design is very much within a two-dimensional space.
But it’s also a lot of the interactions and the patterns and stuff are for a level of computing that we’ve had around roughly for the past 15 to 20-ish years. Once people start jumping into augmented reality, virtual reality, the metaverse and stuff like that brings up a whole new host of interactions and scenarios and problems as well, so-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
… that’s interesting.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
I think it’s a lot of unlock. Yeah. I think it’s a lot of unlock that’s going to happen in the next few years. I think definitely what you touched on with augmented reality. I don’t know if you had Annie Jean-Baptiste here on the show but, she works at Google and I saw something recently with basically just allowing folks who deaf people, folks who can’t hear like to wear these glasses essentially. And they can basically see on the glasses, the words that are being spoken, written out in the glasses from there, they can see the words, right?
So I thought that those were one of those magical things that can be done with technology. And when things that are changing with having some of this spatial computing happening with augmenting your reality with adding another layer, basically into your environment, I think that’s yet another frontier that is yet to be designed for a lot of exciting things. I think as it technology matures, that’ll be really cool to touch upon.
And yeah, I’m excited to see where things go. I do like experimentation just generally seeing folks going to the NFTs and doing all these different things. I think everything happens in a cycle and things have become very strict and there’s a lot of rules and everything fits into a box and this might be another frontier where things are starting to expand a little bit and there’s a new space to start to design for.
And there’s the rules aren’t set in stone yet. So until that happens, there’ll be a lot of experimentation and folks are going to be going in a lot of different directions. So I’m excited to see where things go. I’m pretty optimistic about technology usually. So I’m definitely open to seeing and talking about those things too.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So you’re in Florida, you’re in Orlando or right near Orlando. How is the design community there? Have you found a lot of that there?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Oh yeah. There’s a design community here. I would say basically on the UX side, there’s a downtown Orlando UX. This is actually a group that my former manager at AdventHealth, he organizes that group and it’s pretty small. It’s pretty small. That’s one of many design, little meetups that happen here. But I wouldn’t say the design community is that big, but it is growing.
There’s also a small VC startup community here as well. There’s a lot of little startups that you might not have heard of, but then are stealth mode that are happening here. I think there’s a lot of just between some of these major Florida cities. I feel like there’s a lot of cross-pollination that is happening folks that are in Miami, folks that are in Tampa, folks that are Orlando.
There’s a lot of networking that are happening between folks there, because I think there’s a lot of little bit of proximity there, but I think there’s going to be definitely just a lot bigger community of designers and folks doing product here in Orlando. I mean, especially since the people can be remote now, it’s like, “Oh, well I can move to Florida.” I was like, “Cool.”
So Miami is super expensive, but Orlando is getting there, but they’re not the worst. So this is my open invitation to folks that come to Orlando. I think it’s pretty great community and it’s growing. So yeah, interesting to see where that goes.

Maurice Cherry:
And you talk a bit there about that startup scene. I think we know when folks look at the south. I mean, I think they can, I don’t know how much of Florida they really leave out. Well, I know for example, back in the day.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
But Florida is not like a south-

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I mean.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
… if you don’t include Florida at all. I’m like,-

Maurice Cherry:
I know it’s tricky.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
… “I think [inaudible 00:43:54] southern,” but sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it is tricky because I don’t know. Maybe let’s say from Mississippi to Georgia. Well, so all going further, let’s say Mississippi to North Carolina, a lot of that, of course, people think of as the south. And then even when people think of tech or design, a lot of that gets left out unless people are thinking about Atlanta.
I remember just even 10 years ago, people would talk about what’s going on in design in the south. And they wouldn’t even look at Atlanta. They’d just look at Florida. They’d look at what’s going on in Miami? What’s going on in Orlando? And there’s six states that you all are missing. They’re like, “Yeah, nothing’s really going on there.” I guess, they thought we were just all barefoot blowing on jugs or something.
There’s technology here. There’s design here, which people now are taking note of, particularly as it relates to diversity. But again, the way that things are changing in just a number of different years and now with people being able to work from anywhere because they have remote work, you’re starting to see, I think you’re starting to see these talent centers even shifting.
I was reading today about how folks a lot of people are working out of Mexico City and the locals in Mexico City are go away. It used to be good here. And now y’all work from home. People moved here and you drove the cost up and you acted stupid like go somewhere else.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
The techies are ruining the scene.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it wouldn’t be the first city, right?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
But what you’re starting also to see that point of decentralized talent is now work from home means work from anywhere. There’s people at my current job that, I mean, they are like jet setting. They’re like, “Oh, I’m in Hungary this month. Oh, this month I’m in Memphis, Tennessee. Oh, this month I’m in Mexico City.” And they can work out of those places because they can work quote, unquote, “From home,” which people are taking to me from anywhere.
But I think companies now are even starting to try to restrict that because what if you work from, I don’t know, what if you work from Cuba? What if you work from Russia or something? If you’re working from maybe a place that’s not so politically stable, what does that mean? So it’s opened things up, but then I think it’s also probably generated some different issues also.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. I think that some of the companies are out there are finding some strategic ways to still give that flexibility with you can work from anywhere. I think Airbnb had something recently around, “Hey, you can even work at a different country for a set period of time.” You’re not going to be there for the whole year or something, but you can go to different countries and work from there for a month or something.
I forgot what the timeframe was, but there’s different things like that. And those companies that are going to be setting some of these different policies, that’ll be flexible and that they’re going to make sense to folks. So when you look at them, you be like, “That makes sense.” And also that’s really attractive. I like that model, folks are going to start picking those companies over others.
That’s a competitive advantage when you look at it from this 10,000 foot you’re looking at, “Hey, what are the companies that are being super restrictive? What are the companies that are the most flexible with this? And with that fits with my way of life.” I think all of this is going to be a journey of alignment. Everyone is looking for what is that company you able to do for me? And what the company is looking at for talent is like? What are these specific folks able to do for my company?
So that I think is on both sides, space, you had journey of alignment. We’re trying to find that equilibrium. We’re not there yet. I think everybody’s learning, but there’s going to be a lot of folks stumbling along the way as we’ve been seeing for a little bit now. And when we find that place to meet, find that middle ground to where things work, people will be making those choices. And they’ll be that clear separation of folks who are doing remote well and folks who aren’t doing remote well. And I think it’s going to play out.

Maurice Cherry:
I think so too. I mean, even now for job seekers, that’s now a consideration. It’s like, “Oh, well what does the remote work policy look like? Or can I work from anywhere?” Or even if you’re able to work from anywhere like some hybrid situation. Because some people do want to have that option to go into an office, but-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry:
… it varies now. And I think companies have to try to realize that now with the pandemic, things have changed. It’s not even so much that things have changed in terms of the fact that people aren’t working in offices, but workers expect more flexibility now with where they work-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
… and that’s something that is… That’s a big paradigm shift.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah. It’s been proven that it work can be done from anywhere and that you can still deliver product right from anywhere.

Maurice Cherry:
Right.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
And companies are seeing some advantages of that too. And we’re just trying to find our way, I think, with some of the shortcomings of remote. So I think having that hybrid model is what’s there to stay is, like some folks might still want to go to the office. They have that option. Cool. They’re in proximity of some of those epicenters, the New York, California have those options, but then you’ll also have that talent pool that are fully remote as well.
But I think it’s still important that these teams can still come together. At Gusto, we still like find these moments that, I’ve only been there for about a year now, but we’ve already come together twice. I went to San Francisco to do an onsite with my team and I left that feeling super energized for sure, meeting my teammates for the first time and us going out and doing some activities and team building exercises and my team building, I just mean just going to have fun going have dinner, stuff like that.
But those times were pretty fun. And we’re actually looking forward to in a couple months, I think in October, I’m going to go to Denver, we’re going to do another onsite there. So yeah, so still coming together for those special moments with your team, I think is a good balance. If you have a fully distributed team being able to do that a couple times a year, I feel like that works pretty well in my experience right now. I feel like it’s a good balance.
Everyone loves how structure is so far right now. And I think that’s where companies are trying to find where that what makes sense for their company and then what also works for employee engagement. So I think everyone just finding their way with that and finding what’s the right balance? What’s the right cadence of meeting up together? Those are the teams they’re going to win.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Right now with where you are in life and in your career. How do you define success?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Well, I think success is definitely going to be defined by your impact at the end of the day, you on two fronts, right? So impacting those interpersonal relationships, the folks that you’re working with around you, people remember how you make them feel, right? So how they remember working with you? So I’m trying to also level up how I communicate? How I work with folks? Being able to include folks in things that we’re doing on our team and then also leveraging business impact as well. I think that’s another big key part.
I think of leveling up in careers in general is just being able to tie back what you’re doing to the goals of the business. So I think alluded to the storytelling piece as well. I think that’s another big part of that is just being able to tie that back to, “Hey, here’s the story that we tell about our customers. Here’s the opportunity that I’m trying to unlock with their pain and then how this translates to how the business can thrive by helping customers.”
So yeah, I’m just trying to tie all these things together. Be a good person, be a good human at the same time. I think it’s very much so about how as well, how you get to certain places in life and also professionally? I think those things do matter and how the impression that you leave on folks? So I’m just trying to do things sustainably and make sure that I’m having that impact along the way and growing.
I consider myself a lifelong learner as I’ve taught myself a lot of things, but there’s a lot more that you can still learn. And I’m just trying to take in as much information and trying to level up as a designer from different avenues, even beyond design, trying to getting to learn more about product. I’m trying to understand the technical engineering side and how to work better with my engineers as well.
So it’s a learning process, but I think if you’re challenging yourself every time to do better and learn more, it’s you don’t do 1% better, you do a little bit good every single day, 1%. And you’ll start looking back to a year, be like, “Wow, I made so much progress.” It didn’t feel it at the time, but damn I did that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What advice would you give out there to people that are listening to your story and they want to follow in your footsteps? What would you tell them?

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah, I would say be hungry, just be hungry for learning, be hungry to solve problems for people because that’s what these companies are looking for. At the end of the day is aligning your passion like, “Hey, I can do X, Y, and Z really well.” And then a company’s looking for that, but then also you want to align to their… You want your values and motivation to be aligned to that company as well.
So just try to make sure you have the baseline like, “Hey, I have the skills now let’s look at some of these other quote, unquote, “Soft skills.” Like how’s my communication? How’s my storytelling?” Those parts are harder to master, but with practice, you’ll get there. But I think just at the end of the day, I think that talent bars is going up for designers.
And I think what’s going to be a big differentiator for designers that are starting out as well, is being able to pair their design skills, being able to augment their design skills with storytelling and business strategy, because companies are really, really looking for that and making sure you can tie back what you do to those things. It’s just going to be crucial.

Maurice Cherry:
That reminds me a lot of the words of Douglas Davis that we’ve had on the show twice now. He’s the author of a book about-

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Business ticket of design.

Maurice Cherry:
… yeah, exactly. It’s about making sure that you’re able to bring those things to the table because in terms of visual design, and this is pandemic aside, your visual design skills are a dime a dozen. And honestly there’s probably always going to be someone that could do it for better, cheaper or faster. If you’re able to bring some advantage to the table, along with your design that’s what’s going to be the differentiator like you said.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah, yeah. I read that book and I remember that as well. That was a key unlock for me in my mind. I was like, “Wow.” There’s a lot of folks who have great design craft and it’s great to look at it. You can look all over dribble and see all that awesome design, but none of those are solving business problems. Most of them, anyways, they’re just there for aesthetic folks.
Just look at it for pleasure, but actually what does it solve when you look at business at the end of the day, that’s what you’re there to do. They hired you to produce these outcomes for the business. There’s a goals that they’re trying to attain. And I think as designers, we of heard, “Hey, design wants to see the table.” All right, we’re at the table now. Yeah.
Now, at the table, you got to be able to have that business speak. You have to be able to tell that story and be able to tie these things back to business outcomes. So yeah, I think Douglas Davis book is excellent read. I would definitely recommend every designer to read that. And then yeah, I’ve done some work as well in trying to level up my business skills and design and trying to pair that impact and was great at Gusto too, we did a workshop with designer fund as well to talk about that and learn more about how you can bring that business impact into your work and tell that story?
So it’s definitely something that we think we invest in ourselves and our designers at Gusto so that tells you a lot about how important this is? The business cares about leveling up their designers to understand that so that’s super important.

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

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
You know, I’m at this crosswords where you think about a designer or any profession where you’re an IC and you think the next step is logically going into management or people management. I never saw myself in people management and I’m not sure that I do, but I know I do like to be able to mentor folks, mentoring a designer, I guess.
So right now, and it’s super rewarding to hear their experiences and how they’re approaching network. And I’m starting to get more comfortable with that type of work. But I could as much see myself as still being an IC at a higher level in the future, as well as maybe dialing into people management, because I think there’s some rewarding work. It’s very different work. It’s not like, “Oh, I go to people management, I’m going to get on a promotion.” It’s a different level of work. You’re in the people business. You’re there to empower the folks that report to you and help unblock them to help them to develop.
So I think that’s a way of being able to be that resource for other people and just being able to pass on knowledge that you have and to help others grow. I think that’s awesome. I think at the end of the day, if you have a passion for helping people as designers, that’s what you’re doing, but going into people management is another way to do that as well.
I’m empowering and helping someone else to help other people and help unblock them as well and guide them. So that might be a path for me, but we’ll see, I’m still learning and I’m very much so in IT space right now, but we’ll see what the future holds. Maybe we’ll have a podcast in the future. You can ask me again.

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

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Yeah, I’m on Twitter mainly. Twitter is my jam, but also I’m on LinkedIn. Those are the main two places that you can connect with me. You can reach out, you can DM if you have any questions and I’d love to talk to people. I love to chat. I’m pretty open. So yeah, just hit me up on there.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Jeff Jean-Baptiste, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think what really comes across to me as you describe your story and even the work that you’re doing right now is that there’s this energy and there’s this passion for what you do that really, I think shines through. It’s one thing, like you said, to be able to roll with the punches with the way that the current environment is going.
But the thing that sets you apart from other designers is what you’re bringing to the table. And I think more so than just your design skills and your business skills, you’re bringing yourself to the table. You’re showing up as a very personable, energetic person. And I think people will be able to really feel that from this interview, they can get that sense of this is who you are and this is what you bring to the table. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jeff Jean-Baptiste:
Maurice, thanks so much. I just want to say this was awesome time talking to you and yeah, I think what you’re doing is well for the design community and Black designers and practitioners and engineers at large has been great. This is a show I’ve actually listened to way back and earlier in my career. So I would attribute a lot of my success to this podcast. So thanks.

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Matshoshi Matsafu

November ends with a fantastic conversation with Matshoshi Matsafu, and let me tell you…she has lived. Lived, I tell ya! She currently works as a senior UX designer at Microsoft on their Flipgrid product, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what she does and what she’s experienced.

Matshoshi talked about growing up in South Africa and attending college in Johannesburg, relocating to South Korea to teach for a few years, and about her most recent move to Minneapolis and how life has unfolded in the years since then. She also spoke about being a Black creative in flux (and how to embrace it), the joys of embracing being a generalist, and shared what keeps her motivated and inspired as a creative. According to Matshoshi, being a Black creative is a myriad of things. So why not explore them all?

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Matshoshi Matsafu:
So my name is Matshoshi Kholofelo Matsafu. I am originally from South Africa. I’ve been based in the US for almost five years, six months and a couple of days. I am currently working as a Senior UX Designer for Flipgrid, which is a subsidiary of Microsoft. Essentially it is like a video exchange software where it became really popular during this pandemic because it was really useful in the education field. Yeah, I work in tech. I create digital artwork from time to time. I illustrate, and I’m into music, into a lot of things that just like equal creativity. I guess that would be the sum of me. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I was going to ask you about Flipgrid because I had not heard of it before. So I’m guessing this is a company that Microsoft acquired. And you work on the team?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yes, yes. So it was acquired actually not too long ago. Essentially we make a really robust video editing camera and software that’s available online predominantly for students and educators now, but it’s expanding. What I love about it is that I get to work directly with real educators. We’ll get into this a little bit later, but I spend some time doing ESL teaching myself. There was always a need for tools to help students that aren’t necessarily comfortable speaking out loud in front of a classroom forever, or giving them prompts and creative ways to elicit a response. This is one of the things that I get to build on a day to day. That’s what really is exciting.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I could see how something like that would be really useful, especially with so many classrooms over the past, God, two years now, geez. Like adapting because of the pandemic and things like that. But also not just schools. We’ve done some work in the past with the Smithsonian,. I know that do or they tend to have curriculum for schools like summer programs and things like that. I could see where they could even use something like that because especially in terms of curriculum, a lot of schools will look to museums and such for field trips and things like that. But when you can’t travel to the museum for a field trip, then how are you supposed to get that same I guess, cultural exchange? So I could see how Flipgrid might be super useful for something like that.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It certainly is. I’m really glad that you went into that because looking at some of the very surprising use cases that have come about, it’s exactly that. It’s families connecting with each other when being divided because of COVID, sending each other video messages on a private secure platform. It’s teachers obviously connecting with their students. It’s book clubs and choirs and auditions for plays that are happening on this platform because it’s a way to be able to ruminate about what you want to create, but not have so much pressure to have it be completely perfect and still be able to express your creativity. So I think that’s kind of why I love it.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. So how has 2021 overall been for you?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I can say there’s a definite shift in terms of my feeling of not being tossed into the wild like 2020 was.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I think the acclimation that has happened, whether it be from a mental health perspective or from an understanding how I work and what works and what doesn’t. Like a lot of people, the introspection helped a lot. It has definitely been a year of revelation for me as to what’s important. How do I want to spend my time? What do I think is worthy of my attention and what relationships do I need to foster? How do I hold myself not so much accountable, but how do I grow in a non pressurized and from a perspective of love standpoint?

Maurice Cherry:
You’re located in Minneapolis, which last year was such a nexus point for so many things happening just in this country around police brutality and protests and things of that nature. How was it being in the city during that time?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It was incredibly wild because little bit of history, I grew up in the dredges, like the end or not quite end of Apartheid date in South Africa. So when I saw the tanks patrolling the streets, it just drew me right back to memories of growing up in a policed state.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Where white people were trying to kill us. They were holding AK-47s. There were tanks patrolling the areas that we were essentially forced to live in. We call them townships. If you speak to a lot of South Africans, kind of like if you speak to a lot of indigenous and black people here, there’s been a a reclamation of areas that we were sent to die, essentially. By calling them townships or the hood and not actually calling them what they are, which was essentially a concentration camp.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
We are a resilient people. All I remember is seeing those riots and understanding what is driving people is not about actually the incident that occurred, that was just the tipping point. This iceberg has been building. Like everywhere else in the world, I was really in turmoil about the conversations that were being had and the ones that were being avoided. There was so much focus on the masses of people, black and brown bodies showing up and demanding to be heard.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
But there was very little talk about what would lead to folks to be so desperate, and so disenfranchised, and so broken to have to break up our own resources. It doesn’t just come from nowhere. Thinking about, looking at … We need to talk about colonization, we need to talk about settlement. We need to talk about the remnants of capitalism. We need to talk about all of these things that show up in these ways.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It’s incredible to me that a lot of those things were not being talked about. So it was hard for me because I had a little bit of PTSD, not a little, a lot. I was afraid to go outside some days because I couldn’t reconcile seeing tanks and young kids, younger than me in uniforms holding rifles, ready to do what.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow. I can only imagine how much of an eerie parallel that had to be to see that as an adult, and then to remember how that was in a totally different country as a child, like, oh my god.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Right. The only thing that’s different in the world is that some regions, things got given names. Ours was called Apartheid. In Europe, they called it the Holocaust. Here, it’s loosely called slavery. But the remnants of all of that are ever present. That was the most sobering thought.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
But on the flip side of that though, because I always try not to dwindle in the maelstrom, is that whenever there’s destruction, creativity booms. So walking through a ghost town where things are boarded up, but people have reclaimed those boards and created some of the most incredible public art that I’ve seen in all the places that I’ve lived.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
That was a wild experience, people expressing pain through art, like visceral, tangible arts and the dichotomy of emotion that comes as you’re walking through a street, knowing that at any point, a crowd could come rushing through, breaking windows. But then immediately after, folks will be boarding up and painting. Those are such extremes.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Goodness. Geez. It almost feels weird to try to pivot back to talking about what you do for work after focusing on that. But I mean, I think what you bring up and certainly from your unique vantage point of, like you said, having lived through a very similar type of situation as a child, one thing that really struck me during the pandemic last year was how many people I talked with for this show.

Maurice Cherry:
Us, Even in these conversations like you and I are having, trying to reconcile what it is to be black and work during this sort of time and have to compartmentalize the issues that are happening in our society, and what’s going on outside of our windows, while also expecting to show up to our and be productive, and still hit your numbers or whatever you have to do for work. Oh goodness.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It was wild. In as much as it feels like it was a total alien experience, I think every single person who was just really in tune, it felt like you’re having an outer body experience because you are looking at the world going up in turmoil. But at the same time you’re facing yourself, like truly having the time alone with yourself to really figure some things out.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
One of those things is reclaiming your time even from work, which I think I saw a lot of evidence of, being black and creatives really standing up for, “You know what, you’re not entitled to have 18 hours of my day. You’re entitled to have this many hours of my day, and I’m entitled to have this many hours. I’m going to pour love into myself,” however that looks like that was certainly something that came up a lot.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I was appreciative of seeing that too because you just don’t know how many of us are functioning on empty. We never take time off. We always have to work harder than everybody else. We have to explain things and be the cultural competency solution in most of our jobs. Having to do all of that labor without getting paid for it, even though most of us do have a so-called equity, diversity and inclusion department in our workforces or workplaces, they don’t infiltrate the every day. The day to day, when you get on a call immediately after the Floyd incident, and somebody makes a joke about murder as a icebreaker. Like how? Navigating those and having to have that conversation with your manager and having to not teach all of these white people that that’s not the right thing to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So I guess I’ll try in some way to pivot this back to work, but not in a complete way. But what do you do to separate yourself from work when that sort of stuff happens?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Well, black Twitter has been very helpful. The reason is that without black creatives, all of the social media platforms would’ve been dry. The amount of effort that people have put into creating humor out of nothing or making really think pieces just an equipped, like one tweet that makes you really reevaluate things or laugh so much that you can forget for a little bit of time has been helpful.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Also because of building new language and ways to talk about things that are quite heavy, but there’s a lightheartedness to it, right? The memes that keep coming up across the board, that has been one way to help. Of course, other things include being very intentional about mental health practices, simple things, taking breaks, going for walks, engaging with people that I love, my friends, my family, and also pouring time into things that make me happy. They may not necessarily be hobbies per se, but just things that make me happy. That’s it really.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I try to keep it as simple as possible because sometimes also trying too hard is trying too hard, you know?

Maurice Cherry:
No, that’s very true.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It’s very stressful.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Around that time last year, I was actually unemployed. I had gotten laid off from my job right before Memorial day. I was feeling this sort of a different kind of tension because at that time, I’d say the summer, at least June through August was really the first time in my professional career that I had any sort of a break. That I didn’t have to feel I needed to rush out and get a job or something like that. Like you have down periods between jobs and stuff like that. I would always feel like, “Oh, I got to go find something else.” But I was fortunate that I got enough of a severance and had enough savings that when I got laid off, I was like, “Oh, I’m good for about like four or five months. So I’m just not going to do anything.”

Maurice Cherry:
For me, it was so odd to reconcile this time of rest with this huge time of unrest happening out in the world, and in a way almost feeling guilt for taking a break and not getting out in the streets and what have you. I don’t want to say I rationalized it, but I don’t know. Have you seen the Tony Morrison documentary, The Pieces I Am? I think that’s what it’s called.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry:
She has a part in the documentary where she talks about her role or what she felt her role was in the Civil Rights Movement. She was saying that I can’t go out and be on the streets. I can’t do that, go out and march and things.

Maurice Cherry:
She’s like, “But what I can do is like publish a writing to get it to a bigger audience. I can support the writers and the poets. I can help fight in a different way.” So I guess even in a small way through this podcast, I felt like, “Oh well, as long as I’m sharing this out still with people, then I won’t feel so guilty or guilty at all about …” I don’t want to say taking up arms because it sounds like I’m joining a militia. But I wouldn’t feel like, “Oh, I’m not out there, you know, marching the streets with a sign or anything.” It was such a weird, weird time because really, I mean, I’ve been a working professional for so long. But I’ve never really had that time where I could just have a break for several months and not worry about what the next thing was that was coming.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yeah. That whole existence was some of the most trying. Because for myself personally, I had the added layer of being an immigrant in this country. So I was having such a push and pull in my mind. It was like, “Oh, when my country was going through its liberation, similar things happened.” People on the streets, other countries came and stood up. People were in the crowds, and bodies were out there. But what it means for a black body to be out there is a whole different thing here.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
When I was talking to different types, different groups of folks, those who were adamant about physically being present and also sometimes that came with judgment too, right? That if you’re not in the streets, then you’re not really participating. You’re not really standing for anything. I think that needs to be to, Tony Morrison’s point, that needs to be taken to question because we all have our different roles to play.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Right? So I think we need to really talk about expanding what resistance looks like from a more holistic view. From yes, we have bodies in the forefront. Yes, we have intellectuals that kind of theorize. Yes, we have business people that are like, “Okay, how do we change these structures?” Yes, we have money people even like, okay, so capitalism is not working. How do we think about something different? How do we build equitable society? Not just in the moment, but what happens after that?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
That’s where I think design comes in. That’s why I’m excited to be a designer because even in the smallest things that I’m building, those things play a part.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, absolutely. I want to go more into your background. I know you mentioned earlier being from South Africa. Tell me about what it was like growing up there. I mean, you mentioned the apartheid. But what do you really remember from your childhood aside from that?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I mean, my gosh. It’s kind of a Willy Wonka experience. Right? There’s moments of extreme insurmountable joy and awe because of the creativity of black people, the music and art expressed. I think the first time I encountered design was in the township. Most people grew up in what are called like Shanty houses, which are made out of tin, aluminum bars or even asbestos at some point. It’s one room, there’s no electricity, toilets outside, everything.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
But the creativity to make one room feel like a home, that is invention. I remember there was a neighbor that I used to visit who took the covering of of a can, just like a can of … There was a brand called Lucky Star. It’s Sardines essentially. But the graphic art on the label was so striking because we were in that era of just poster designs, so really bright colors and just beautiful typography.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
They spent however long gathering those labels and made wallpaper out of them. When you look at that, and I look at that, and I look at what is called, so-called modern design. I can see that that could easily be in a pop art museum because that’s the kind of art that it was. Or it could be likened to mid-century modern repetition wallpaper too. So I feel design came through just because of necessity. Design is the answer to anguish and pain. Design and art and creativity is the answer. So it was everywhere. I was lucky enough to notice.

Maurice Cherry:
Now being around it as much as you have, when did you decide that this was what you wanted to study? This is what you wanted to go to school for?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I initially wanted to be a fine artist. I remember in high school, one of my memories is my mom made the decision to send me to what we then called multiracial schools, which meant there was a handful of black kids in a white school, which was interesting. But I really loved my high school because it was in the middle of a forest. I was in boarding school. It was designed like a little European village, I suppose. The classrooms had a lot of natural light, which is not common here. All of the classrooms look like prison industrial complexes.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
One thing I remember is painting. I would paint for hours. I would be covered in paint from 7:00 AM in the morning until 6:00 PM when I had to go back to the hostel. Eventually, when I was head of hostel I had the keys to the hostel. I don’t know why I was lucky enough to be in a really nurturing environment. My teachers believed in me. I would be painting well into the night, and they trusted me.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
That’s odd. It’s unheard of. As a black girl in a white school painting these massive three-by-six pieces, and being free to do so, that’s one of my best memories. From then, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to pursue a career in fine art.” But reality hit when I left school and things were not good. I got accepted into one of the biggest, best art institutions in South Africa, but I couldn’t afford to go. So I found a design school down the road from me. I literally took all of my paintings, my huge portfolio in public transport, and walked up a hill or two, and arrived at the administrator’s office with my ill-fitting clothes and a hat over my head, and sweating, and being like, “I do arts. I think I can do design too, if you give me a chance.”

Maurice Cherry:
Now this school, that was Vega School, is that correct?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yes. Yes. I spoke directly to the head of department at the time. His name is Gordon Cook. He’s an eccentric white man, not typical, very much future thinking. He saw me, I’m sure when he saw me, he was like, “Oh my goodness. What? What is this?” I was disheveled and I had this big portfolio case of art pieces. He looked at my stuff. He was like, “Okay, we’re going to give you an entrance exam.” I wrote the paper.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
The last question I answered, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, they’re never going to accept me. I don’t know what I’m trying.” Then they accepted to me. So I ended up doing design and multimedia at the time, which was the introduction to digital, which is interesting, like user interface design, and also animation, and of course communications, and just graphic design. So that’s how I started. I haven’t looked back since.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So once you graduated from there, what was your early career like in Johannesburg? Did you feel like the school had really prepared you to go out there in the working world?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
In a sense, yes, because when I was working, there was definitely a push to have more black creatives. So I found myself in a network of just really great black creatives. We all grew up in similar ways. But some of course more extreme than others. It was just really great. Because you’ve got to remember that my country has multiple, I’m going to use the word “tribes” loosely, but multiple cultures too.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Because of the separations, some of them were just melded all together. So if you can imagine being in a brainstorming session with people from multiple cultures, but we’re all in the same country, all speaking different languages, and just throwing all of ourselves into it. The texture of what came out of those years is amazing. Sometimes I look at that work and I’m like, “Wow. South, Africa’s just a incredible place in terms of creativity, because it’s such a vibrant with different cultures.” So yeah, that’s kind of what stood out. My first job, I was making those really, really terrible user interfaces for phone recharge cards. I don’t know if you all ever had that service here where you prepay for like $30 worth of money to put on your phone so you can call people.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember though. Oh my god, this was back in … I’m showing my age here. This was like back in the early, like late 90s, early two 2000s, I remember those. Because I got my first cell phone in 1999. God. I’m really dating myself here. I got my first cell phone in 1999. I remember having to buy cards to put minutes on it. It was from a-

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Exactly. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It was from a provider. It was from Powertel, which is now out T-Mobile. But I had to buy cards and then put like 500 minutes on it or something like that.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yes. So those little machines that you would buy your minutes from. The buttons were all embossed and made in Photoshop. Terrible. Like minute fills. Yep, that was me.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, somebody had to do that. Somebody had to do that work.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It was terrible. Then, I mean, the cell phone companies were coming up. So I’d be making little animated banners on the sites that would just live there. Then I worked for a production, like digital print production, which it wasn’t creative work, but I think it just taught me the basics in how to work quickly, print stuff and B2B stuff.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Then I worked in a network BBDO, subsidiary of like the larger network agency, the global agency. That was really, really fun. I was paired with a copywriter. We were one of the few fully black creative teams, like all women creative teams. We got to work on some really fun campaigns, local ones, but also some international brands. Yeah. Then I remember the turning point when I decided to leave advertising. I loved the advertising world. I learned a lot. I was in charge of people who had been in the industry for so many years. I was like, “I’m making ads and you’re older than me? But you have to listen to what I have to say? Oh my god, this is so scary.”

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It was just so fun. Very exhilarating. Then I decided to leave home because of a number of things, but also primarily because I felt like the advertising industry back home, this is hard, was kind of masquerading as being for black people, as in using black imagery and our colloquialism, like our style, our dress, our lingo, our music, and selling us these things. But in real life, it wasn’t really reflected for most people. One of the so-called marketing research sessions we did was with a group of aunties. I would call them aunties. Most of them, single mothers and caring for multiple people in the household because our culture is as such, is that you’re not an island.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
So they’d be caring for multiple kids. So why it disturbed me is that the company I was working for wanted us to encourage this demographic to use what would’ve been their 12th check in December, which they would usually use to stock up on supplies for the following year because people aren’t rich. You buy extra bags of flour, and you send them out to the village or to the neighboring family. You share, and that’s the way we were all able to survive. So we were trying to encourage these aunties to spend that money on a cellphone contract. I was like, “No. I’m not doing this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting you mentioned that about advertising. So I live in Atlanta. The part of Atlanta I live in is, I want to say it’s the black part of town, but like most of Atlanta’s the black part of town. But the neighborhood that I’m in the west end, is I’ll say one of the lower income areas of the city. It’s a historic neighborhood. Morehouse College is here, Spelman College. Like it’s well known in terms of just black history and whatnot.

Maurice Cherry:
But I do see a lot of the advertising that’s done around here, and it’s always for like prepaid cell phones and things of that nature. For things that don’t really better the community in any sort of way, it’s just like, “Hey, you just got paid. Give us your money.”

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Not even for well-meaning whole things. It’s like, give us your money so you can buy some shoes. Give us some money so you can buy a combo meal or something like that.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It felt sickening at some point to know that we’re putting things out there that actually catch people’s souls because that’s what we are meant, what we’re trained to do as communicators, as media makers, as creatives is find a nugget that makes people feel that connectivity to being human and exploit, use, expound upon, whichever one you want to use and sell them a product. That felt really disgusting to me. So I left.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I also just kind of wanted to experience life. I originally wanted to go to Korea to go in … No. I originally wanted to go to Japan, to apprentice with a calligraphy master and eventually become the second black samurai. That’s what I wanted to do. Okay. Because Yasuke is one of my heroes. I was like, “Okay, well, I’m 24. I don’t really have any reason to just stay in one place. I really love of Japan and Japanese culture.”

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I consume Manga and Manhwa and everything. So I wanted to go there. But I applied in Korea as well. Korea got back quicker. I knew that I didn’t have the resources to just travel. I knew that I’d have to work. Teaching English felt like an easy way because I’m really good with languages too. Then I didn’t mind kids. So I was like, “All right. So if I teach English, I can save up money. I can travel. I can build some character, learn about different things. Maybe I’ll still figure out how to be a samurai.”

Maurice Cherry:
I mean. Matshoshi, the samurai, it has a nice ring to it.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Right? That’s what I thought. I thought. Everything. I was going to have my braids. It was going to be so cool.

Maurice Cherry:
So you decide to leave Johannesburg, leave South Africa, go to South Korea. I’m sure it was a big culture shock. But what ways did I guess … So many questions. One, how was it a culture shock for you? Two, like when you think back to that time, what really sticks out to you the most?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
The funny thing is that I think moving here was more of a culture shock for me than moving to Korea.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yes. The reason being is culturally, I think indigenous cultures, we tend to have similar social structures in the sense that you never address your elders by their first name. You defer. There’s a different type of way of speaking, which is more formal or informal. That was familiar to me. There were things like gestures to show reverence for older people. You don’t just hand somebody something without supporting your arm. It was universal.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
All of these things were apparent even before I learned the language. So those things felt familiar. Also our families tend to stay together. Your grandparents raise you or have a part in raising you. You grow up not just as a nuclear family. The idea of all for one, one for all, we share resources. There’s even a word in Korean called chong, which is the direct and same meaning as a word in one of my language called Ubuntu. Ubuntu and chong, loosely translated, mean the spirit of humanity. That we are beholden to as humans and should respect and impart upon each other. That’s powerful to me.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting that moving from South Africa to Korea was not that big a shock, but moving … Yeah. I could see how moving to the us would be a big, it’s definitely a huge change for that especially depending on the part of the country that you’re in. Because even what you’re describing in terms of that familial structure, I’m from the like deep south, from Alabama. In a way, it’s sort of similar to that.

Maurice Cherry:
The town I grew up in, Selma, is a very insular town. So even as you’re describing that family structure and reverence of elders and things like that, that’s still very much a thing. Now, it might be different in other parts of the country. Actually I know it’s different in other parts of the country. But yeah, even depending on where you would move here and settle in, it is totally, totally different.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I mean, there were the obvious things, right? There were reactions to my skin color, obviously. We’ll get into the not so nice things about that. There were reactions to my hair. There were to my perfume because when I had moved there, black people, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t use Cocoa butter or Shea butter. That’s just what it is. There at the time, it was difficult to find things that we were accustomed to, like lotion that doesn’t have whitening agent in it, or deodorant. I had to import some stuff because it was just not commonly used. So there were so many reactions, reactions to my hair obviously.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I remember one day standing at a bus stop. I felt something tugging at the back of my braids. I was like, “What the hell is going on?” I turn around, and there’s these two really small grannies, and their faces are all wrinkled, like crinkle paper. They’re playing with my hair. Then I have this moment of, “Don’t touch my hair.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
At the same time, I’m looking at their expressions. I had learned a little bit of Korean then. I understood what they were saying. They were saying A, that my hair was beautiful and that it looked so familiar to a style that their ancient Koreans used to do as well because they also used to braid hair. Right? Braids were something that royalty used to have. So they were talking about that. I decided to focus on that aspect of the conversation.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Even though it was a teaching moment, like, “Next time, please ask.” It was also a humbling moment for me to have grannies that are 70, 80 years old being fascinated with my hair, and not from a judgemental perspective. That’s the beauty I drew from those moments. But when there was full out racism, oh man. Whoo. I had direct jobs declined because I’m black. People were not shy to say.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Very clearly, “We need you to speak in an American accent in order to have this job.” We had to send photos in with our resume. The moment they got my photos, they would just say, “No, sorry. You’re not what the school wants to represent itself by.” In other words, you’re not blonde, white haired and blue eyed. Yeah. There were some serious racial offenses. But as you know, those are all over the world, if you’re walking around in a black body.

Maurice Cherry:
This is true. But I would imagine, even more so in such a homogenous country like South Korea or in Japan or something like that. It’s definitely a lot worse because what it does … I mean, it’s one thing for it to be racism, but similar to how it is. Well, maybe not so similar to how it is in the United States. It just impedes how far you can go in society. It keeps you, the racism keeps you down literally at a level where it’s preventing employment and any like social rise in that way.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Right. But at the same time, it was a balance of, yes, I’m being racially profiled, and these things are happening. I’m not able to make a living in some. There were some spots where it was really bad. I was like, “Oh my gosh, if I don’t get another contract, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” But then at the same time, because teaching wasn’t the only thing I was doing there, I was performing music. I was doing like graphic design and design stuff, freelance and production assistant on some films, and things like that, because I never stopped being a creative. In those areas, because of what I looked like. I had so many opportunities. I was a wedding singer.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Because everybody had this idea of a black soul woman in a red dress, just like belting out these love songs from the fifties and jazz. I was like, all right, I’ll play that role. Sure.

Maurice Cherry:
That is amazing.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Oh my gosh. There was aspects of living in Korea that was so fun. I got perform on stages. I got to do weddings. I got to be in a couple of movies and ads. I got to sing in K-pop songs. It was the truth, and purely because of being black and because of the consumption of black culture. So I have to sit with myself and reconcile some of the really negative feelings around that. But for the most part, I was just like, “Okay. At least in the granded scheme of my life, I can say I once did this.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, those are the kind of memories you keep with you for a lifetime, just great stories too, to tell, to get to know people and things like that.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So in 2016 you ended up relocating here to the United States, in Minneapolis. How was it, making that change?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It was brutal. It was brutal. I wasn’t even based in Minneapolis first. I was based in Duluth College. Duluth, it’s a college town, but it’s also an old town. So not a lot of people around my age. It was in the middle of winter. I’d never experienced a winter here.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow. You went to one of the coldest parts of the country in the winter. My goodness.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It was brutal, but it was I think a character building exercise for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more homesick than in those years. Especially considering the political climate too, being in a small town in an almost reddish state, and being highly aware of how many or how few black people there were in the vicinity was very jarring for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Did it ever get that cold in Korea?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Oh yeah. I mean, it did get cold. I think the Minnesota cold hits different though because of all the other things. Right? Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, I feel you. Yeah, totally. Also you came, because if you came in the winter of 2016, I mean, that was just such a contentious time in this country because we had the change in leadership from Obama to the president whose name I shall not mention. All of that combined, did you feel like at the time, that you had made the wrong choice?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Absolutely. I had so many moments of … I was like, “Why would I choose this? Why, why, why?” But I also know that life has peaks and valleys. If anybody grew up the way that we grew up with all the things that we’ve seen, this is nothing. In the grander scheme of things, there’s growth to be had here. That’s why I think I’m still in the city, is that I feel like the city is a place for treading water and refining, refining.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
This is a place where I refined. Okay. I want to work in tech. But what do I actually want to do in terms of my career? Is my career serving my purpose, innate purpose or is it something that I do for money? Do I feel like the surroundings or the circumstance determine my happiness? I’ve had to be very, very, very active and intentional about answering those questions for myself because it would’ve been really, a much harder time, if not. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How has the Minneapolis like creative community been for you? I mean, it sounds like wherever you’ve managed to go or wherever you’ve managed to be, you’ve tapped into some creative community, whether it’s in Johannesburg. In Korea, you mentioned being a wedding singer and all this stuff. Have you found like similar creative opportunities or communities like that in Minneapolis?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
When I’m being intentional about it, yes. This is except for the past two years.

Maurice Cherry:
Right, right. Because of the pandemic. Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Right. The thing that I appreciate about here is that even though it was very difficult to find black, brown communities, there are things that show up, like events. If you’re active, you can figure it out. I mean, I had, at some point been planning my month’s activities in advance to go to book launches or independent films or live sketch, anything that would put me in proximity to creativity and art ,like visiting galleries or talks or going to photographer’s exhibition, something, anything. When you do that, then it is very possible to find a bunch of creative people. Right now, I’ve been attending a lot of virtual things and slowly getting into communities. There’s pockets of really interesting things that are happening in the city because oddly enough, there’s tons of funding for the arts, like tons of funding for the arts.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
So when you really go out there, you realize that it may not necessarily be completely futurist yet. But there’s an underbelly of building here that’s really exciting. Black people owning co-ops, black people owning artist collectives and exhibition spaces, black people putting on shows and music and theater and everything. You’re just like, “Wow, this is actually really great. I never expected it here.” I would always be going to Chicago and New York, around LA to find those. But more and more, I think people are actually staying in Minneapolis and deciding to build it here rather than seek it elsewhere.

Maurice Cherry:
We just had on the show a few weeks back, someone that’s in Minnesota. Terresa Moses, she’s an educator at the University of Minnesota. She also has a design studio called Blackbird Revoke. I’ve had other folks on the show, I think in the past, that have been in and around Minnesota. Of course, as I mentioned to you, I know some people there just personally. So I’ve always heard like great things about the community there. I’m glad you were able to really sort of tap into that, to hopefully make it feel … I don’t want to say like home, but at least feel like it’s a place where you can be.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yeah, absolutely. I actually know Terresa.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh really? Okay. All right. Nice. Tell her I said hello.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Oh yeah. I will go tell.

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned to me that you wanted to talk about how to embrace being a black creative influx. I’m sure that a lot of folks in our audience want to know how to embrace that, especially during the midst of this very uncertain, weird time that we’ve been now in for about two years. Can you like expand on that?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
So when I think about that, it’s essentially how in this time of what it means to be a black body working in corporate world, especially in a creative profession, our creativity is very closely linked to our identity. Now you’re working with your identity, and your identity is now your work. So you have to really think about like, how do I separate? How do I accept that my emotions, my state of being, my home life, all of these things, the fact that I’m in a black body is going to influence my work, whether I like it or not? The expectations that are put on us to be at the forefront of creating new isms, and memes, and things, and media can, I think, lead to a little bit of an identity crisis.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I’m saying this out loud because I’ve certainly felt that way sometimes, and embracing the fact that A, you don’t have to be one thing. That’s been the biggest thing for me is that yes, the messaging around find your passion, gear your emotion and your focus and your work towards that passion. Then it’ll turn around for you. Hopefully, be equitable.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yes. But also we are multifaceted intersectional beings. Right? Half of the time, all of the way that we are around working and being productive and showing that we are worth anything is very Western. Being in one lane is a very, very just constrictive way of being. Part of me kind of realigning myself with my cultural learnings and what feels true to myself has been this, having grace for myself to say, “Okay. So I’m an illustrator, but I’m also a singer, but I’m also a writer, but I’m also a great arter. I’m also a really great technologist.I am also a great philosopher.” These are all the things that I am and more, and I can be good at all of them. I can be good at all of them. I don’t need to be good at all of them at the same rate at all, all the time. But I can certainly not squeeze myself into one lane feeling like that’s it; and if I don’t do that, then I’m not worth anything.

Maurice Cherry:
So what is it that sort of keeps you motivated and inspired these days, like knowing that?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
The funny thing is I inadvertently surround myself, maybe not even physically, but I somehow manage to find people that when we connect, we remind each other of our natural frequency of joy. Whether that be just a conversation or exchanging a message or something, just to reset and remind and inspire. Right? That’s what keeps me going. I have a friend of mine that like a ton of my friends, we don’t maybe not even speak to each other for six months at a time. But when we do speak, it was just like, “Oh, I remember what it feels like to be really happy existing in this time right now.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
That’s it. Then on a more practical sense is not stopping the things you know bring you joy on a practical day to day level. Things like journaling doodling without purpose, not thinking of the final product, whatever it may be taking pictures, cooking, doing something that removes you from being in front of the screen all day. Right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Don’t stop doing those things and don’t stop documenting because when you feel like there’s absolutely nothing left, then you have a whole archive of things to remind yourself that you are more than your work. You are more than productivity, and that you are an actual massive being.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I feel like that a collective thing that a lot of people have started to really discover within themselves this year. We hear all this talk in the news about the great resignation and people casting away. Casting away the jobs that they may have once had under pre pandemic life and doing their own thing. I know so many people over the past two years that have ditched their jobs just to become quote-unquote “content creators”.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a very broad term, but they’re doing stuff on YouTube. They’re doing stuff on TikTok. They’re podcasting. They’re doing any number of things that are not what they were doing beforehand because they realized as society shut down and things got stripped away, they realized what’s really important. For many of them, it was not the jobs they were doing. So they had to tap into who they were and find out how they could become more of that authentic self and really lean into that.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Right. Then also balancing the pressure of even if it’s okay to be multiple things, it’s also okay to be one thing. I think we have this pendulum swing that keeps the happening where it’s like stick in your lane or be a complete hustler and have five different, six different hustles going on at the same time. But some people aren’t built that way. The true thing is to really take the time to know yourself and understand how you built and go with that. It doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Absolutely. Do you feel like you’re living your life’s purpose now or do you think you’re still searching for that?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I think that’s a constant search. I the think if I ever assumed that I know or that I have found, then my ignorance is really set in deep, personally. If I don’t continue searching, refining, pivoting, learning, becoming new, then I personally feel that I’m denying the very nature of existence. Our cells change on a daily basis. You’re not the same yesterday as you are today. Our personalities, our minds are constantly evolving. So for me, that means that everything should be constantly moving. Will I find some lanes that I’m comfortable in? Sure. But to say that it’s found, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Maurice Cherry:
I remember, I think this probably went around a couple of years ago about how the body cells replace themselves every seven to 10 years. So in many ways, you’re literally physical not the same person that you were because your body is always in a state of change.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
To that end, and I mentioned this because you had touched on this a little bit before we started recording. But where do you see yourself in the next five years? Is it staying in Minneapolis? What do you want to do or where do you want to be in the next five years?

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I know for a fact that I’m building my life to be as such that I don’t need to call one place home. I want to be three months in one country, three months in another country, in another city and another, and be comfortable in all those places because I know that that’s what I need, to be a structured nomad, I suppose. Because that’s fun for me. I love learning. I love being immersed in different cultures. I love languages. I love building and designing from that perspective of having multiple sources of influx. That makes me excited.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
So that’s one of the things I’m building my life as such to make that easy for me, whether that means also delving into real estate and understanding how that works, so that I can have another passive income that’s actively happening. So I can facilitate my being able to move around, whether that’s increasing my technical knowledge and skill. I mean, I can definitely work from home from anywhere in the world. But the more proficient I become in my particular field right now or the things that I’m able to do, whether it be the illustration or the UX or design, getting even better at that. So that it’s easy for me to move around, and I’m not encumbered by one contract.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I think I also definitely want to pursue some business aspirations that I’ve had that have been lurking around. Yeah. So that’s it. I want to be in a state where I can live anywhere in the world for three months at a time, unencumbered, be working whichever way it is. Whether it’s through my own business or through contracts, and to be exploring and learning about different cultures, and also being able to spend a lot more time with my family because I don’t like this, what’s been happening for the past two years and not being able to hold my mom. I need to be able to give my mom a hug, and my brothers. It’s intense. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I just got to see my mom this summer back in July. I mean, it came unfortunately at a tragic time because my grandmother had passed away suddenly. That was the first time I got to hug her was after that happened. Oh my god. Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. I know because I live in Atlanta. My folks live in Alabama. People will ask me like, “Oh, why don’t you do what you do in New York or in San Francisco,” or da, da, da, or whatever. I’m like, “Look, I got to be close to home.” Even if it’s just a state over, that’s close enough. I can’t go too far out like that. I would love to, maybe one day, but yeah. Sorry. That brought up something that was not … I was not expected to go there. Oh my god. No, no, no.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
It’s real though. It’s real.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s real though. Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
When you feel it in your chest and in your throat, and you realize that such a simple thing … Right now, there’s not even any words for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Yeah. I mean I want to travel with my mom. That’s the next thing I want to … This is strange. I don’t know why old people like cruise ships, but it’s fine.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, oh my god. My mom, my mom wants to go on an Alaskan whaling cruise or something like that.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
Exactly. Oh my goodness.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m like, “You’ll be by yourself, lady. I’m not doing that.”

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I’m so shook. I’m like, “What? Okay. That’s what we’re going to do.” So yeah. Yeah. I want to build a life where I can fully take care of myself and my mom, and my family. Just be like, “All right, we’re going to be on a cruise ship for the next couple of months.” Because that’s what you want to do. Let’s do it.

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

Matshoshi Matsafu:
So everything is under my first name Matshoshi on the Grams and Twitter. That’s M-A-T-S-H-O-S-H-I. Also my website is Matshoshi.com. You can see all of my design work, and my forays into creative experiments there. So yeah, that’s where I am. Sometimes I’m vocal online, but most times I’m not because I live in the moment. That’s just the way I function. So if you catch an illustration or a thought here and there, cool. But I mean, I’m there.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Matshoshi Matsafu, thank you so much for coming on the show. One, really for just sharing your perspective of working in the world and creativity in different countries and stuff. But just sharing your story, sharing the deep thought that you have behind your work and around, your artistic practices and everything.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I’m kind of getting a little tongue tied. This was such a really good interview because we didn’t really talk about your work that much. But I’m glad that you were able to really just talk about who you were and showing how being a black, creative is not just the work that you do. It encompasses so many different things. I really feel you embody that. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Matshoshi Matsafu:
I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. It was a wonderful experience. Thank you.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

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Elsa Amri

We’re going international this week to talk with a super talented visual designer — Elsa Amri. I first learned about Elsa via an Adobe Live presentation, and I had to reach out and learn more about her and have her share her story and her message with Revision Path!

Elsa talked about how she’s grown over the past year, including doing work with Adobe, and she spoke about growing up in Tanzania and studying abroad in the United Kingdom and discovering design. We also talked about her time teaching English in Japan, returning to Tanzania, the Tanzanian design scene in Dar es Salaam, and the power of networking over the Internet (and how it has helped boost her design career). I love how Elsa’s ingenuity, drive, and determination have contributed to her design success!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Elsa Amri:
Yes. My name is Elsa Amri. I am a visual designer from Tanzania and currently I work as a junior visual brand identity designer with an agency in Canada, actually. So more of a remote role, but I also do freelance work as a visual designer with clients here in TZ and also a few outside of TZ, so more international clients. I was until recently a student at Humber College, a school in Canada studying user experience design, but I graduated, technically I completed my course. So up until recently, that’s what I’ve been doing education-wise and now primarily I kind of just work as a freelancer and designer with a company in Canada, but that’s a bit about me and what I’m doing right now.

Maurice Cherry:
Congratulations on your recent graduation.

Elsa Amri:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious, what’s been on your mind lately? How are things going in general?

Elsa Amri:
It’s definitely been a bit of a switch up. I was doing the course since January. So I kind of got used to the whole schedule of learning for a couple of hours, kind of working on group assignments and now it’s like I have all this free time. I technically still have work, but it’s a lot more free time than I was used to for several months. So I think I’m still in the process of trying to adapt to all this extra time I have and trying to use it more productively, building myself up more as a designer. But it’s kind of a limbo period for me right now that I guess will go away soon, but that’s kind of how I’m feeling.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I’d say maybe aside from you just graduating, how have things changed over the past year? Have you grown and improved in any ways? What’s been a big change from this year to last year or from last year to this year, I should say?

Elsa Amri:
I definitely would say that I have grown and improved because at the start of the year, I told myself that I wanted to really push myself in terms of promoting my work and creating more work. So actually creating content that I can promote and just really putting myself out there in ways that I didn’t do last year. And I’ve seen kind of the outcome of actually doing that and taking on that challenge.

Elsa Amri:
So there have been opportunities and roles I’ve gotten that I would’ve never thought I’d get to do at this point in my career, but I have been able to do simply because I was a lot more open and a lot more forward in terms of really reaching out to people, connecting with people and just sharing my content and not being afraid to do that. So I’d say this year I’ve been a lot bolder in that sense and I’ve seen that it’s paid off in a lot of different ways, which has been pretty awesome. And I’m just hoping to keep that up and do even more as the year goes on as well.

Maurice Cherry:
That is awesome. One of my favorite sayings is, fortune favors the bold. And you have to shoot those shots. You have to be bold and forward because the worst thing that anybody’s going to say is no. So you kind of have to, especially if you’re, I think just starting out as a designer or you’re starting to get your footing as a freelancer, you have to take those big wild shots in order to even grow and progress. Because no one’s going to hold your hand and tell you which way to go or anything like that.

Elsa Amri:
Exactly. No, I agree with that. You have to kind of put yourself outside of your comfort zone, which can be scary, but likely you’re going to benefit from it in some way. You just kind of have to take that first step.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And speaking to those big opportunities and we talked about this before we started the recording. You’ve been doing some presentations with Adobe over the past few months or so. How did you first get involved with them?

Elsa Amri:
Oh gosh. Let me try to think back. I think Adobe, the main design program I use for interface design for website or app design is Adobe XD and that’s kind of been my go-to for a while. So I was always using the product and over time, I guess you could say around last year or maybe even end of 2019, I became more involved in the actual community. So on Discord and stuff, they have challenges and they have these different channels that you can participate in. So I started becoming a lot more active within the community and even though they didn’t help directly, I think it kind of put me on a path towards, like you said, doing the Adobe stuff that I’ve been able to do this year.

Elsa Amri:
So around the start of this year, like I mentioned previously, I decided to kind of put my content out there more. And I made a Twitter specifically for my design stuff, which was kind of an interesting decision because I didn’t think Twitter would be effective at all. I had a personal Twitter but I didn’t tweet at all. So I didn’t even have any followers or anything. I kind of just used it to catch up with what other people were saying but somebody recommended to create a design Twitter. And I was like, “Okay, cool. Let’s try this out.” Apparently the design community is pretty awesome, which it is. I ended up discovering, but I would share a lot of my content on Twitter and I would follow all these other accounts, also Adobe accounts as well and particular designers within Adobe that I admired and look up to.

Elsa Amri:
And in terms of the Adobe Live opportunity, that really came by chance. I can’t even say that it was directly me. It was more like I posted something cool or what other people thought was cool. And it got a lot of reach and engagement and then somebody tagged one of the senior designers in Adobe. So his name is Howard Pinsky, to check my content out and he did and he liked it. And then that same person recommended that I should be an Adobe Live. And for some reason that was more than enough because Howard asked me if I wanted to be an Adobe Live after that. And I said, “Yes, I definitely want to be on Adobe Live.” So that’s kind of how that happened. So it kind of by chance, but I think it wouldn’t have happened at all if I didn’t obviously create a Twitter and put more of my content out there.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, it sounds like initially you found a way to kind of get on Adobe’s radar by doing things that are in the community properties that they manage and things of that nature but then also you had this separate Twitter. So you were really doing a lot of brand marketing with getting your name out there and getting your work out there, which I think that’s a really smart thing to do. I’ve worked for some SaaS companies that they try to do community, not in the best way, but it’s interesting the way that people get on our radar or the way that we know who our fans are or who other people that really like the work, is through the community stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, especially if you’re using something where all your users are just usernames and they don’t have profiles or anything like that, it’s hard to really kind of know, well, who are these people? You just sort of see them as this aggregate set, but if you’re participating in our support forums, if you’re on a Discord, like you said, or even Twitter or something like that, that’s how we ended up finding like, “oOh, these are the people that really like the work that we do. They’re tagging us, they’re talking to us.”

Maurice Cherry:
So I would, for designers that are listening that want to sort of, I would say get in the good graces or get on the radar of companies that they admire, reach out to them through their community efforts and platforms. That’s really the best way to do it. Not just to complain. A lot of people complain about Adobe, of course, but if you’re doing work with that platform and you want them to just kind of know about it, that’s the best and easiest way to kind of get noticed and seen. So that’s really cool.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. I agree. Because you might be surprised how many brands do appreciate that and we’ll respond in some way. So there’s another brand as well called Voiceflow, I don’t know how many people have heard of, but it’s kind of a platform where you can implement voice features in whatever product you’ve designed. And I made something that included their product with one of my class projects and I posted it and I tagged them and they were so, I don’t know if grateful is the right word, but they responded so positively. They shared what I said. They followed me. They promoted the post that I published. So a lot of brands do respond positively to you tagging them or sharing your content with them, telling people, “Oh, I made this with this particular program.” It’s typically seen in a positive light. So people should always kind of be forward and doing that kind of thing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. They really should. And I’m telling you from the company that’s worked in those marketing departments, it makes our job so much easier. And we can see the community talking back to us and letting us know because then we don’t have to try to hunt and find down, well, who are the people that we should focus on and spotlight on? Especially, especially people of color and especially women. It makes all the difference if you’re reaching out to the company and letting them know about this kind of stuff that you’re doing because it makes our job easier. And it helps us help you because a lot of these companies are really, especially software companies, and I’m kind of giving a bit of inside baseball here, but a lot of software companies have zero idea how to approach community, zero.

Maurice Cherry:
The most that they will do is put up a Twitter account, maybe a Discord account or Discord about something, that’s about it. They’re really depending on people to talk to them because these are generally, and I’m generalizing here, these are software developers that do not have social skills. I’m being completely honest here. It is so, so, so beneficial to just reach out to us and let us know what you’re doing because there’s a saying, closed mouths don’t get fed. A lot of these companies that have these community efforts are struggling to find ways to do things better for their users because they want their users to be rabid fans. They want this tool that they’ve spent hours, weeks, months, years building to take off and be really profitable. And the way that that happens is if they have a community of people behind them that love the tool and the product. So reach out, talk to them. Trust me, they want to hear from you because otherwise they really don’t have much to go off of. I’m just being totally honest there.

Elsa Amri:
I agree completely. We’ve got [inaudible 00:14:45] inside from you.

Maurice Cherry:
So I see on Instagram, you’ve been doing this little personal series called, Introverts Talk. Tell me about that?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. And also a good reminder that I need to kind of create a new post to that series that I started it initially because I do describe myself as an introvert. Typically, because I do like my own space and my own me time, which is, I guess, your typical introvert and I thought, “Oh, okay. So I’m an introvert and I work in design, which typically is a collaborative kind of environment.” You’re working with other people, other designers, sometimes people in different roles, engineers, et cetera. So you do kind of have to know how to work with people in different ways and accommodate yourself to their situation or vice versa. And I thought, “Okay, this is interesting. I’m in this industry, I’m working as a designer, but I’m also an introvert. So what are some things about both those aspects of my profession or aspects of my personality that would be interesting to talk about?”

Elsa Amri:
Because I knew other introverted designers, but I had never really come across content from the perspective of an introvert designer. So I was like, “Okay, why not share my perspective, my stories, kind of what I’m experiencing on a day-to-day basis and maybe other people would relate to it in some way.” So initially that’s kind of why I started it. It was more of a personal thing. I wanted to take a bit of a break from just typical design stuff and put out more personal content. And a lot of people did resonate with it, which was extremely surprising more than I thought would, but it was reassuring to kind of see that all these people were in somewhat similar situations and related to some of the points that I mentioned. I was like, “Okay, there are a lot of us and a lot of us kind of have those similar experiences and we should definitely talk about it more.” I feel like that’s not talked about enough except occasionally, but it should be a point of discussion a lot more often in the design industry.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I agree with that. I mean, one of the interesting things about sort of what this past, gosh, I’d say two years now has done, even with this pandemic is, it’s in a lot of ways kind of flattened communication across different parts of the design industry. I know prior to all of this, the people that really were out there that were getting seen and doing stuff were the folks that were always at conferences and doing podcasts and they were outs being visual, not being visual, they were out really in a very big way in the community, you could see who they were. And now that everything has kind of been condensed to online, it’s made people that maybe aren’t as social or don’t want to be a social for whatever reason, have an avenue to also now be seen and talk about their work in a way that maybe prior to this they wouldn’t have, because it would involve stepping outside of their comfort zone in that way.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah, exactly.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you are in Tanzania, which I don’t know how much of our audience really knows a ton about Tanzania. Is that where you grew up?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. That is where I grew up. I moved right before I started uni. So essentially 99% of my life has been here in TZ and that’s kind of where I am now as well, but that’s totally where I grew up.

Maurice Cherry:
Were you exposed a lot to art and design growing up through your family or anything?

Elsa Amri:
No. I actually wasn’t. The only exposure I had to, let’s say in art, was learning art in school and that kind of art was either music. So growing up, I did play the piano or it was drawing. So the typical painting classes that you would have at school. And that was kind of what I did, but neither of those were stuff that I thought I was great at. I was decent at the piano but it wasn’t something that I wanted to do full-time or anything like that. And when it came to literal arts or drawing and that kind of thing, I never thought I was that good at it. So growing up, eventually going through high school, I kind of lost interest in both those things.

Elsa Amri:
When it actually came to the type of design I do today, so graphic design or website design, app design, we didn’t do that at school at all. So it was never something growing up that I was like, “Oh yeah, this is interesting. I want to do this.” But I also think back then it was also just not popular or not a thing yet. Graphic design, maybe to a certain extent, but definitely not user experience or user interface design at all. So my path to actually becoming a designer started way later. So towards the end of university, because I didn’t really have that exposure to art or a similar kind of art growing up.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Well, let’s talk about university. You went to the University of Leeds and you majored in communication and media studies. What was your time like there?

Elsa Amri:
Leads was awesome. I was there for three years. Yeah, three years and it was such a great experience. Whenever I think back to it. I’m always like, “Yeah, I’m definitely glad I went to Leeds.” Because it’s interesting, when I applied to go there, I didn’t know what I wanted to do like I’m assuming most high school graduates. You don’t really have an idea of what you want to do as a career for the rest of your life. It’s a lot of pressure to kind of figure that out at such a young age. So when I did apply to Leeds and a couple of other schools, I didn’t have a solid idea, but I thought, “Okay, I like media.” And at the time I liked studying media representations, I thought that was interesting. So I was like, “Okay, let’s apply for communication media at the university of Leeds.” And that’s what I ended up going to do.

Elsa Amri:
In terms of my actual experience at the university, the course itself was very theoretical. So not what I wanted exactly or what I learned, I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to be writing essays and doing research for the rest of my life, but everything else outside of it was an experience that I think really helped me grow as a person. So the city itself, I fell in love with. I think, Leeds is an awesome city. I guess you could say not super busy if you compare it to places like London, but also not boring. There’s a ton of stuff to do. So I found that I became a lot more outgoing and a lot more open and social during my time there because it was such a new experience, very different from the city I grew up in. And I was able to kind of do a lot more stuff that I never had the chance to do.

Elsa Amri:
The university was huge. There were so many, societies is what they were called, I guess maybe in the states you might call them clubs, after school activity type things, that you could engage in and participate in and I did so much. So I felt like during my three years there, I picked up all these new skills and met all these great people and it just helped me grow and develop as a person. So I kind of always looked back on it as, “Okay, it was an awesome experience.” Maybe in terms of the course I took, it wasn’t the best but everything else outside of that was awesome. It kind of helped me grow.

Maurice Cherry:
And Leads is kind of, I mean, here in the states we call it a college town, but it’s a town that has several universities. So you always have kind of this vibrant throng of students and culture and everything that comes through, I think every year.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. You would always run into young people or you said students, there were quite a few universities there. So exactly, it always felt vibrant. There was always something going on, something that you could do. So in that sense, it was just such a great city to really kind of branch out in.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. And so while you were at Leeds, this is when you kind of first saw and looked at design as something that you wanted to do, is that right?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. I guess you could say kind of. So in my final year I took an optional course where, it was called mobile design and it was mostly theory. So studying concepts about mobile design, but we had an optional assignment where you could actually design a mobile product. And I remember I took the option of doing that assignment because I thought it might be interesting to kind of do more of a practical concept piece. That I would say is the first time that I really designed anything at all. And that whole experience was new to me, but also exciting because it was the first time I was doing a school assignment and I wasn’t bored. I was actually interested in what I was creating. I didn’t mind spending hours and hours and hours of my time building this product.

Elsa Amri:
I even remember back then I was using Sketch, I believe, that was the first UI/UX design software that I came across and I downloaded it and I used it to build that app. Looking back on it now it was not a very well-designed app, but at the time I thought, “Wow, this is amazing. I’m really good at this.” But the whole point was it really ignited something in me for the first time and really made me think, “Oh, okay, this is interesting. I kind of really liked doing this. Maybe I should look into what kind of career might involve this type of work more.”

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s go a little bit deeper into that. When you describe that feeling, how did it fulfill you? In what ways do you feel like doing that project sort of made design really click for you in your brain?

Elsa Amri:
I think it was because I enjoyed every single moment of it. So we had a problem that was presented to us and had to come up with a solution. So obviously involving brainstorming and then actually creating that solution. So ideating building a prototype or a design or a sketch, and then having your final product that you then presented. And it was the first time that kind of, I enjoyed each and every single step involved in the whole process. I think with previous things I had done it was more about the final product. Like let’s just do this, get all this out the way and create something that we can then submit and be done with it, but there wasn’t any sense of attachment to what I’ve actually created.

Elsa Amri:
That was the first time that I did feel attached to what I made and I felt proud of what I’ve made and it was a feeling that I wanted again. I wanted to be able to create and design products at the time, really. I just wanted to design more apps because I thought the process was fun and also I was proud of what I kind of was able to come up with in the end. So it was that kind of pride. I don’t know how you’d describe it. Maybe I’ve described it well and you kind of understand what I mean, but it was that feeling that I had.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think Pride is a good way to describe it because sort of as you alluded to earlier, when you’re in those young ages, let’s I say, 17, 18, 19, et cetera, and you’re going off to school, there is this really strong expectation, I would say, particularly among black folks. There’s a strong expectation to really kind of figure out what it is that you’re going to do, especially if your family isn’t really supportive of the arts, that it’s something that will make money. They want to make sure that you’re going to be doing something that will provide for you and that you’re not necessarily just kind of like chasing up a hobby, I would say. I don’t know, maybe it’s different in different cultures throughout the diaspora, but I think once you find that thing that you get really excited about it and you feel proud about that’s a feeling that inevitably you continue chasing because that is what will fuel you and kind of guide you through your career.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. No, I agree completely. Growing up my parents have always been supportive regardless of what I wanted to do. They just kind of wanted me to figure out what I wanted to do because for a long time I didn’t know. But like you said, there is that pressure that whatever it is that you decide to do, you want it to be something that you can use to support yourself in the future. You don’t want to be completely reliant on your parents forever. So there is a pressure and that expectation. And at the time when I was building that project for the class assignment and I had that feeling, I wasn’t even thinking about, “Oh, I can earn a lot of money from this.” I didn’t know how much designers earn from designing products at the time. It was just more of, this is something that I think I love doing and that’s the first time I felt that way, so why not explore that field?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. So you finished up at Leeds. What was sort of your early career once you graduated? So you’ve gotten this feeling like, “Oh, I designed this mobile project. I love it. I want to keep doing stuff like this.” What were sort of your first early career experiences after that?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. So I graduated from Leeds and initially it’s very, not necessarily complicated, but in direct pathway to what I’m doing right now, but initially I wanted to go for my masters and I wanted to study front-end development, which is a bit different, but at the time I thought, “Okay, I like design.” So I like the visual aspect of designing something, but also I had taken a class on coding and I kind of liked that too. So I thought, why not pursue front-end development and see if that’s something that I’d want to do, but that didn’t end up working out.

Elsa Amri:
So plan B was to find a role in like marketing or PR in Leeds, more of a temporary type position that I do while I figured out everything else, which also didn’t end up working out. So I went to plan C, which is very left field and that was going to teach English in Japan. So my first job outside of university wasn’t anything design-related. I was in Japan for a year and it was teaching English, but it was awesome and amazing. And I think that’s also where I also kind of built my interest in design more on the side, but that’s kind of what I started out with first.

Maurice Cherry:
Talk to me about what it was like teaching English in Japan?

Elsa Amri:
It was amazing. I would definitely say of all the places that I wish I could go back to most Japan is number one and probably will remain number one forever. It was just such a different experience. Before going to Japan, it was on my list of places I wanted to visit. I’d met a couple of Japanese students while I was at lead, so exchange students, and gotten to know them really well and become good friends. So the whole experience for me was, for one thing, I could reconnect with those people and link up with them again, but also I could explore this country that I’d been wanting to visit for such a long time. And for me for the entire year that I was there, initially I knew it would be very new and very different from anything else I had before. So putting aside the language barrier, just adapting to a whole different culture, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I wouldn’t even say it was hard as all.

Elsa Amri:
Right from when I first arrived, I stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then eventually I kind of started orientation for my job and everything, but it felt so smooth and easy. And everyone I had met both internationals on my program but also local people, were just really nice and accommodating. One thing I’ll always say is that the Japanese people, well, actually it wouldn’t be right to generalize, but everyone I met while I was there was very accommodating and very polite and very helpful in a way that was so different from anything else I’d experienced. People would go out of their way to help you in any way possible.

Elsa Amri:
So it was just so surprising to kind of be met with that politeness and be met with that type of sincerity and people’s actions and the community that I lived in. So I lived in a small town that was kind of near Kyoto and Osaka and it was a really small town, but community-wise, the people I met there were just so, they brought me into their community in ways that I initially wasn’t expecting. So I’m Christian. So I went to church even while I was there and the church community in particular, I guess you could say even adopted me.

Elsa Amri:
They were just so accommodating and so helpful and so nice and really went out of the way to include me. Because it is easy to feel alone and to feel like you don’t really have anyone, especially in a small town way out in Japan, super far from Tanzania, but the community in particular was just, they went out of their way to really make you feel like you were at home and you were with people that cared about you. So that was something that I really grew to appreciate during my year there. Just getting to know different people and learn more about them and feel accepted by them. And that’s something that I miss as well from my time there.

Maurice Cherry:
Very cool. I’m curious, what’s the one thing that you really kind of remember that sticks out aside from the anecdote that you just mentioned, but is there a food or a piece of culture or art or anything that really sticks out to you when you think back to that time?

Elsa Amri:
I would say, I’m trying to trace my memories of the very many things that stick out. I would say, I will mention a couple. So for one, just how much you could do, which sounds a bit weird, but where I live now, so TZ or the specific the city I live in, it’s great. There’s a lot to do, but in comparison to Japan, obviously not in any way comparable. So living in Japan just really put me in a situation where you can be like, “Oh, this weekend, I’m going to go to Kyoto and I’m going to do X, Y, and Z.” I remember I went to Kyoto for new years on my own for just a couple of days, exploring different temples and stuff like that to celebrate new year’s or next week and you can be like, “Oh, I want to go to Osaka and I want to go to USJ and go on all these rollercoasters.”

Elsa Amri:
So it was such a new experience in terms of being able to do anything and everything whenever you wanted and that really allowed you to have a wealth of experiences in such a short amount of time. So that’s one thing that I really remember, having the opportunity to have all those different experiences. And the second I would say the food, I loved the Japanese food a lot. I would say my favorite was sushi. That was number one. The first time I had sushi in Japan and it was amazing. And then a couple of others that I really grew to love takoyaki which is, oh I forgot what even it is.

Maurice Cherry:
Octopus. Yeah.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Yeah.

Elsa Amri:
I didn’t think I would like it at first, but [inaudible 00:32:14] one of my favorites. I absolutely loved it. I mean also Okonomiyaki, was one of my favorite stew. I ate that a lot. So I really grew to like the food as well. I didn’t pick up any recipes, sadly. I wish I could. I would have been making them here. So the food and also just the opportunity to have different experiences were the two things that stood out for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Very cool. So you finished up teaching English in Japan. Did you then go back to Leeds or did you go back to Tanzania?

Elsa Amri:
After I was done in Japan, I finished end of 2019 and I actually came back to TZ. So the plan was to go back to school and do my masters. And at the time it was because as much as I liked teaching in Japan, teaching wasn’t something I wanted to do as a career forever. I always knew that I wanted to go back to design. So I thought the best way of doing that would be to go back to school. At the time, that was kind of my thought process. Go back to school, get another degree, and then you’ll become a designer and that was kind of my plan coming back home. So that’s kind of what I immediately worked towards applying for different schools and eventually I went to Humber College.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. And you mentioned just now that you just finished up there. Can you tell me about what you were studying and kind of how the program was?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. It was a short program. So technically a year, more under a year, and I was studying user experience design. So it was a pretty comprehensive course in the sense that we got to learn about UX research methods, which is great, but also practice actual visual design skills and visual design processes. So it was a good combination of both aspects, the UI and the UX part of it. And I would say that the professors we had and the projects that we did, really helped me kind of grow and refine my skills as a designer. So when I came back from Japan, I was applying to school but in the meantime I was also working. So I had these jobs as a graphic designer and as a junior art director at different companies. So even before I started my course, I had design experience from these different jobs that I have, but actually taking the course helped me really develop the research aspect of my skills. So how do you conduct UX research? How do you become an empathetic designer, which is something that people do talk about a lot?

Elsa Amri:
So it was a really good course in terms of developing those kinds of skills and the great thing is that we also had an internship that we were supposed to do after you were done with your study. So right now I’m completing my internship. I’m done with my classes, but I’m finishing up the actual design internship that I’m doing and then I’ll technically be completely done with school. But overall it was a really great course, not that long and I managed to learn a lot. Everyone I studied with, I think helped me learn and grow in some way as well. I worked in some really dope projects, one of which I’m working to add to my portfolio right now, but yeah, it was overall a really great experience.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you think your prior experiences, both teaching in Japan as well as studying in the UK, how do you think those things helped you out as you were studying UX at Humber?

Elsa Amri:
I think they kind of helped me become quick to adapt in terms of working with different people. So our course had a lot of group assignments. Most of our assignments were group assignments. We’re working on projects with different people. And that was really easy for me because both during my time at Leeds and in Japan to a certain extent, I was working with a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds. And I would say for anyone in that kind of environment, you have to be patient and you have to be flexible in a lot of different ways. And I felt like doing this course, it was a lot easier for me because I did have that experience, even in terms of time zone.

Elsa Amri:
So a lot of the people that I was working with, so the other students on my course, lived in Canada. Canada is seven hours behind my time, I think. So even in terms of adapting to working in the evening or late at night, my time, which was easier for them because that was early in the day for them, was just something I adapted to as well. So I think it just made me a lot flexible in terms of just working with whatever it is that was working with and bringing out each other’s strengths and just kind of working collaboratively to achieve the same outcome. It just made it a lot easier for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Overall, what appeals to you? What about UX design really appeals to you?

Elsa Amri:
I think for me it’s about kind of creating a solution that benefits people in some way, except it’s more of a tangible solution or a solution driven by technology. So I always had an interest in technology, but when it came to UX, it helped me look at it in a new kind of light. So we’re not just building products for the sake of building products, like designing a website just because you want to or building an app just because you think, “Oh, it’ll be fun.” It’s about kind of building these products in order to address a problem from an innovative point of view and I thought that was always really cool.

Elsa Amri:
And after I started my course in Humber, it was more about learning, how is this process driven by looking at users and looking what problems they’re experiencing from an empathetic point of view and really trying to put yourself in their shoes and understand what it is they need or what it is they expect from this solution, from this product, from this service, and really trying to frame your mindset and frame your thinking as a designer in that kind of way. So I always thought that was really interesting. That’s kind of the designer I want to be. I want to be someone that can take on these issues, working in a team to address these issues in ways that helps a specific user base in some manner. And that’s something that I’m also still working towards, but ultimately that kind of became a goal of mine and really is what solidified my interest in UX design.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, throughout your both educational as well as professional journey, who are some of the mentors or people that have really helped you out along the way?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. Well, I always say my first mentors are my parents, not from a technical perspective, obviously they’re not designers, but more from an emotional and supportive perspective. I think I mentioned a bit earlier, they’ve always been very supportive in terms of whatever I wanted to do. And there have been times when things have not been going well or I felt that this wasn’t a career path that I would be good at and they’ve really been the main people kind of holding me up and pushing me forwards. So I always kind of label them as my first mentor, so to speak in terms of life lessons in general.

Elsa Amri:
In terms of this design industry, I have a few mentors that have really guided me in my path up to where I am now. So the first is a designer based here. Her name is Lillian and she’s kind of head of design at an agency here called AIM Group. And she was my first official design mentor. She actually ended up becoming my mentor because I applied for a role at her company and I didn’t get it, but I guess here’s also another tip, I didn’t kind of let that be. I reached out a couple of weeks later and I was like, “I know I didn’t get the role, but I would kind of love your feedback on my portfolio or on a specific case study and see what I could improve.” And she was completely for it.

Elsa Amri:
So that was kind of my first experience getting insightful feedback from someone in the industry. And she kind of became a mentor for me and still is. So she’s just somebody that I always go to for advice whenever kind of different things in my life happen in terms of my career. So she would be my first mentor and a mentor that I still have, and I’ve managed to acquire a couple more mentors.

Elsa Amri:
So there’s a platform called ADPList that I’ve recently became an ambassador of and that I use often. And that’s really made it a lot easier to find mentors in different companies all over the world. So through ADPList I’ve managed to connect with mentors like Rihanna, who is a designer in the states. And she’s been helping me a lot in terms of really refining my portfolio and adapting it to improve. And it’s just kind of been a really great way to talk to people and a lot of different companies and learn more about what they expect from hiring designers and getting their feedback and getting their insights.

Elsa Amri:
In terms of people that maybe I haven’t spoken to as much directly so on a one-on-one basis but I still credit as inspiring me when I was younger. One I’ve already mentioned Howard Pinsky, who is a designer at Adobe. I would always watch his videos and kind of be inspired by his design work. Andrea as well. He used to be Creative Resident at Adobe, was also somebody that inspired me a lot. Others, Brandon, who is, I think, what is this exact role? There’s so many different roles, but I think he also kind of works in collaboration with Adobe and has his own community. I remember when I joined his community, that kind of really motivated my desire to design, not just from a professional perspective, but also just for fun as well. So those are a couple of people that I’ve learned from in different ways over time.

Maurice Cherry:
When you said Brandon, do you mean Brandon Gross?

Elsa Amri:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, wow. I had Brandon on the show a couple of months ago, actually. Look at that, small world.

Elsa Amri:
He’s always awesome. Yeah, I know. Joining his community was just so awesome. I’ve never experienced something like that before, but he’s great.

Maurice Cherry:
Now people here in the states may not know a lot about Tanzania just as a country. When I think of Tanzania, I know it’s, and honestly this is mostly coming from my grade school education, from watching, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? But I know it’s a country near the equator. I know it’s between Kenya and Mozambique and the Serengeti is there and Mount Kilimanjaro and you have the island of Zanzibar. If you were to sell or I guess just speak simply about Tanzania, how would you describe it to folks?

Elsa Amri:
I would say it’s a place brimming with culture and experiences that are probably unlike anything you’ve experienced, if you’ve, for example, if you’ve lived in the states and had a chance to visit. From a cultural perspective, it’s really a place where you can really kind of learn a lot of different things in terms of different cultures and different practices and traditions. So I know sometimes people, that’s kind of one thing that they really look for in visiting new places, learning more about the culture, and there are a lot of ways that you can do that here.

Elsa Amri:
So obviously there’s one aspect in terms of the wildlife, which is great. Serengeti, all that stuff that you can definitely do. You can also kind of immerse yourself more in specific local cultures. So something a lot of people do is kind of embrace themselves or other immerse themselves in the Maasai cultures, actually living within these communities for a certain amount of time and just kind of experiencing their different traditions and customs or even if you were kind of just visiting more of the mainline area.

Elsa Amri:
So for example, the city I live in Dar es Salaam, there are a lot of different ways that you can really kind of just have a different experience from what you’re used to. Walking along the street, kind of looking at different artistic products that people have created, sculptures, paintings, handsewn objects, all that kind of stuff. And really just getting to learn more about what it is that they’ve created. Taking the initiative to kind of take those products for yourself as well as mementos. In terms of food as well. Just kind of getting to walk around and experience the culture in some way.

Elsa Amri:
I think for me, the one thing that I really do like about TZ and that I missed when I was abroad is how chill it is. And I think that’s something that a lot of people will say that it’s just a very laid back place. Some might say too laid back at times, but I think sometimes when you compare it to other places that are extremely high paced and stressful, when you come back to Dar es Salaam or come back to TZ, everything slows down a bit. People aren’t in so much of a rush. There isn’t that feeling that’s around you all the time. So that’s something that I do appreciate a lot that it does feel laid back and it does feel a lot more relaxed. And that’s something that growing up I became used to and when I’m away from TZ that I missed a lot. Just a very relaxed, accommodating, welcoming place whenever anyone would like to visit.

Maurice Cherry:
Before we started recording, I had sort of incorrectly said that, “Oh, you live in the capital.” Dar es Salaam is not the capital of Tanzania is-

Elsa Amri:
A lot of people think that.

Maurice Cherry:
… it’s the largest city though.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. Dodoma is the capita.

Maurice Cherry:
Dodoma, okay.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. I live in Dar es Salaam.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is like… Are there specific elements to Tanzania in design? If you had to sell, I’m asking you to sell the country, but if you have to sell when you think of Tanzania and design, what jumps out to you?

Elsa Amri:
I would say maybe the uniqueness to it and that might be something that’s maybe applicable for a lot of different countries. But when you do purchase a product from here made by people local to here, there’s a certain uniqueness to the design. So whether it’s a sculpture or a painting, there’s this essence to it that feels very Tanzania or feels very, at least for me, it feels very home and so that’s something that I think stands out for me. It can be something as simple as a small sculpture of a man, but a lot of times tells a story from whatever it is that the sculpture is taking inspiration from.

Elsa Amri:
And I think that a lot of artists here are able to convey those stories and convey those emotions within whatever it is that they create. So there’s a lot of homeness to what’s created here, which I guess maybe is a perspective unique to me or unique to people who are from here that maybe people not from here might not get to experience. But I do think that a lot of the stories and a lot of those emotions and feelings are conveyed in the art that people make.

Maurice Cherry:
I was doing a little bit of research earlier and I saw there’s this unique kind of painting style to Tanzania called Tingatinga?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Can you talk about that a little bit, as much as you might know about it?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. We actually have, I think there’s an arts museum as well, close to where I live, Tingatinga Arts Museum, but that’s kind of an example of the kind of work that I think people make that does convey a story or convey some kind of idea in a colorful and unique way. And for me, Tingatinga products aren’t something that I bought a lot growing up just because I feel like when you live someplace you kind of tend to neglect embracing the art of where you live as much as you should in comparison to where you travel elsewhere. But for me Tingatinga has always kind of just been an art style that is unique and that is able to kind of convey those different stories in really dynamic and colorful ways.

Maurice Cherry:
Are there any Tanzanian designers that you know of that maybe we should know about or we should be on the lookout for aside from you, of course, are there any that you though of?

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. There are a couple that I do typically follow and that I do, I guess you can say, quote unquote, admire or their design work inspires me in some way. Most of them are if not product designers, it’s graphic designers, because that’s more of the area that I’m involved in, but a couple that I’ll name, I guess. There’s one called Rafael. He is a brand identity designer. He designs a lot of brand identities and logos for clients and he’s someone whose work that I’ve seen a lot, even before I actually started working as a designer, I would see his work often and I still find myself being inspired by his work every day. Even though I don’t typically want to become a brand identity designer, but what I admire is how he’s able to kind of take what the client is asking for or expecting and really create these unique identities for these clients. So I think his logo work, his identity design work is awesome. He’s somebody that I found that I learned from a lot.

Elsa Amri:
Another designer is a female designer, her name’s Edna. She’s actually an animator, but we connected on LinkedIn. And occasionally I see her work on my feed and I’m always a big fan of coming across other female designers or female creatives who are from where I’m from, because it isn’t something that’s super popular or that you come across often here, unfortunately hopefully that changes over time. And that’s an example of somebody whose work that I genuinely do appreciate whenever I come across it. I’m not super great at animation and motion graphics. So it’s just always really great to see somebody who is and see some of the great concepts that they’re able to come up with.

Elsa Amri:
In terms of another person, I guess I would say Jackson is one. He is a director at a company that I can’t quite remember the name of, but I’m inspired by some of the work he recently shared. It’s more of creative work created for a specific company located here, but I kind of just thought it was a really creative interpretation of the idea they had. So it was kind of this connection between a telecom company here but branding it from the perspective of something ecological or it was more of a sustainable type of project. And I found that the creative products that he was able to create were really unique.

Elsa Amri:
And as somebody who has worked in that environment before, so junior art director at an agency, I know how hard it is sometimes to really come up with creative executions and concepts that the client actually likes and wants to move forward with. So I kind of just thought that his work was really dope. I mean, it’s something that I should learn from as well. So those are just a couple of names, but there are definitely a lot of designers out there within the industry with different roles that I’ve gotten to know a lot this year in particular. So I’m super grateful to always be learning from them.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give to any designers that are listening that want to get more into UX design in general?

Elsa Amri:
I would say a couple of tips. The first one being, I kind of already talked about this, but putting yourself out there. I know in the beginning in particular, you are so much more self-conscious about your work and what you’re putting out there because you think it’s not good enough. And we live in a day and age where people are always sharing their work online. We have so many different platforms dedicated for that kind of thing, especially from a creative point of view. There’s Behance, there’s Dribbble, there’s Instagram. There’s so many different platforms where people are sharing awesome work and it’s easy to feel intimidated by that and feel like what you’ve made is not good enough.

Elsa Amri:
But I’d always say regardless of what stage you are at in terms of your career or your progress towards becoming a designer, don’t be afraid to put your work out there and share it and people are more than likely going to provide positive feedback in some way or form. I think there are very few people out there that are going to see something you’ve made and judge it harshly. People tend to be very accommodating, very welcoming, especially for newer designers. I’d say Twitter is one of the best platforms for that kind of thing. So first step is to put your work out there.

Elsa Amri:
Second tip would be to always find ways to learn. So my ways of learning was to take a post-grad course in UX design, but you don’t have to do that. I mean, you can learn a lot of different ways. I think with online platforms these days, there are so many different ways that you can really pick up new skills. So there’s YouTube, but there’s Skillshare, there’s Udemy. There are a lot of different platforms where you can take actual courses that will teach you specific skills or alternatively, you can just learn by involving yourself in different communities. There’s Design Buddies, there’s the Adobe creative community, there’s Brandon’s community. There’s so many different design communities out there that you can really become involved in and that’s a great way of really learning to become a designer, but also building friendships and building relationships with these different people that can help you on your path.

Elsa Amri:
And then my last tip would be I guess, to kind of find what your motivation is. I think, especially when you are transitioning from a different field, that’s something that a lot of people have been doing lately, which is awesome, but sometimes it’s really easy to lose sight of what’s motivating you to pursue this path as a designer. For me, my motivation was I wanted to build solutions that would help people, especially on a community level. That was kind of the main thing that kept me focused on my goal up until this point. So I think for anyone at the start of their career that’s something that you need to identify so that when things do get tough and when they do get hard, especially when you are applying for full-time roles, it’s not easy at all. For most of us, you do need to have that source of motivation that keeps you going regardless and that you can hold onto even during those tough times. But those are kind of three main tips I’d give to people.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say you are obsessed with lately?

Elsa Amri:
Obsessed with Netflix.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Elsa Amri:
No, not Netflix. I think my obsessions haven’t changed in the past few years. My main obsession, I think is anime and manga. That’s kind of, if I’m not designing, that’s typically what I’m consuming in some way.

Maurice Cherry:
What shows or what titles are you checking out?

Elsa Amri:
A lot of them, I guess, mainstream ones that most people are. So like My Hero Academia or the slime, one whose title, I can’t remember. It’s way too long. Haikyu, the volleyball one. So typically I’ve been watching anime and reading manga since I was in high school. So quite a few years now. And it’s just something that I always go back to because there’s never a shortage of good content, ever. There’s always some things that will peak your interest in a lot of different genres, really any kind of content. So up until this point, I kind of have kept going with that and that’s typically what I use for entertainment, I guess you could say.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Have you seen Cowboy Bebop?

Elsa Amri:
I’ve seen episode one of Cowboy Bebop.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I was going to ask if you had heard about the live action. I think it’s a movie or a show that’s coming to Netflix.

Elsa Amri:
Oh, yeah. I have heard of it. Yes. I have heard it looks good, is what I think people are saying.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m interested to see what it is. I’m always a little wary about live action adaptations of anime because it’s one thing to convert from animations to alive action but there’s so many cultural things about animated that are intrinsically Japanese, that when you are converting it to English and English speaking audiences and cultures, it just doesn’t mesh well for some reason.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m thinking specifically about the Ace Attorney series from CAPCOM. It’s this lawyer, Phoenix Wright, that’s what the American title is, but the Japanese title is Naruhodō something, I forget his last name, but anyway, there’s certain very Japanese things that they try to convert over to American. Like instead of them eating ramen they eat hamburgers and the fan community calls the city that they live in Japan Angeles, because it’s supposed to be in Tokyo but they’re actually in Los Angeles in the US or whatever. The Cowboy Bebop, I’m interested to see what that’s going to look like in live action. The cast looks great. I wonder how they’re going to really capture that feeling. I remember reading an interview with John Cho and he was saying that he wasn’t going to sign on unless Yoko Kanno, who’s the composer of the theme and much of the music throughout the series. He’s like, “If she’s not on board, I’m not on board.” So that gives me hope that it’s going to be good, but we’ll see, we’ll see.

Elsa Amri:
I see what you mean. Live action adaptations do not have a good rep at all. I don’t know what the good ones are. A lot of them people typically say suck. The most common example, so I don’t think Avatar is necessarily anime, but people always trash the live action of Avatar because it’s awful. So I personally haven’t seen any live action adaptations yet, but if the Cowboy Bebop one is good, I might just have to.

Maurice Cherry:
I hope so. I think anime fans everywhere wants, I think they want it to be good. I mean, no one wants to go into seeing these things and they hope that it fails because there’s such a rabid fan base behind it. So they want it to be successful, but what the fans want and what Hollywood gives you are two different things, two entirely different things.

Elsa Amri:
Yeah.

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

Elsa Amri:
Well, I hope I am working in a company as a full time product designer, just because that’s something I haven’t gotten an experience of doing so yet. So I’ve been working as a freelancer for quite a while now. And although that’s great and has its merits, there’s also a lot of value in what you can learn working in a company environment or even working in an agency. So right now I do work with an agency but more of on a part-time basis. So I definitely see myself kind of working as a full-time product designer, hopefully even in a senior role as well.

Elsa Amri:
I think I have high expectations for myself in terms of kind of how I want to improve and progress career-wise. So I don’t want to be stuck in the same position I’m in right now a year down the line. I want to be able to look back and see, “Oh, okay. I went up this many levels, figurative levels.” So I kind of see myself, yes working as a product designer, but hopefully in a more senior role too, I want to kind of be at that point, but I also want to be able to look back and really feel like I’ve made an impact in some way.

Elsa Amri:
So I talked about this a bit before, but I’m really interested in kind of how you can create solutions for the communities you belong to. And there are a couple of projects that I have in mind for my own community. Just kind of based on my experience, being back in TZ since 2019 and what I’ve experienced here so far. And there are a couple of things that I really look at and I feel like we could have a solution for this, but we don’t yet. Why is that? And how do you approach those problems to create solutions for those problems?

Elsa Amri:
So I hope several years down the line that I have participated in creating solutions for some of those problems as well on a community level. I think that’s something that I really strive towards creating as a designer as well. Yes, you are a designer and you have successfully worked on this many global projects, but also what impact have you had on your own community? I think that’s something important for me too.

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

Elsa Amri:
Yeah. I’m on a lot of platforms. So the main ones that I use Twitter, @elsaaamri, so that’s a bit confusing. It’s Elsa and then another A and then Amri, so three A’s in the middle. I’m also on Instagram, @elsaedwardamri. I’m on LinkedIn a lot too. You can find me there. My name is Elsa Amri, so same as always. Am on Behance as well. I always love following other creatives on Behance and checking out the cool work that they do. My username there is also Elsa Edward Amri. So you can find me in all those different platforms. I also have a portfolio website, elsaamri.com that you can check out and all my social media contacts are there as well. So that makes it a lot easier if you want to find me on a different social media platform too.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Elsa Amri, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for really sharing your journey as a designer and how you really kind of came into your own and really were able to use the experiences around you from going to school in the UK, teaching in Japan and really bringing that to your work. I really hope that this interview will help more people not just learn about you and about Tanzanian designers, but also just about the ways that they can put themselves out there and really be seen and be recognized for the work that they do. Because I think what you’ve done, certainly just from what you’ve described and from what I’ve seen has been something that I would love to see more designers do to try and make a name for themselves. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Elsa Amri:
No, thank you so much for inviting me. This was super fun. I’ve never done something like this before. So I was kind of nervous going into it, but it was really fun to just kind of talk about my experiences and for anyone who does listen and if they do learn something from my own experience so far, that’s awesome and that’s really all I could ask for, but it’s been super fun as well.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

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Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills…all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Black in Design 2021 Conference

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On the weekend of October 8-10th, join the Harvard Graduate School of Design virtually for the Black in Design 2021 Conference!

This year’s theme, Black Matter, is a celebration of Black space and creativity from the magical to the mundane. Our speakers, performers, and panelists will bring nuance to the trope of Black excellence and acknowledge the urgent political, spatial, and ecological crises facing Black communities across the diaspora. You don’t want to miss out on this weekend of learning, community, and connection!

Visit them online at blackmatter.tv to learn more and be a part of the event.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Zariah Cameron

September means it’s time for back to school, so what better way to kick off the month here on Revision Path than by talking with a design student? Meet Zariah Cameron, a soon-to-be graduate of North Carolina A&T and an up-and-coming voice in the design industry.

We talked about going through her senior year and working as an intern during this pandemic, and we also spoke about the AEI Design Program, an initiative she started to foster and establish relationships with partner companies to create a pipeline for Black college students. Zariah also shared some of her future goals, current obsessions, and what she’s learned from her internships throughout college. Keep an eye out for this young designer — she’s definitely going places!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Zariah Cameron:
Hi everyone. My name is Zariah Cameron. I am a senior graphic design student at North Carolina A&T State University. Within the past two years, I’ve been independently studying UX design, which is now the space that I’m in. And I’m now evolving into a UX equity strategist. It’s now my evolving role.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How has the summer been going for you?

Zariah Cameron:
This particular summer is definitely been an unexpected turn of events in the best of ways I could say. Of course, just the opportunities of being able to speak and be in spaces where I definitely feel supported by my black community, specifically Black Designers has been great, but it has been hectic. I’ve been working my internship as a UX designer and then preparing for my last semester of school and just with my program and all the things we’re gearing up for. So it’s been a very busy summer. I’m trying to find ways to prevent burnout and exhaustion, especially again in the middle of pandemic. I’m currently home. I haven’t really gone anywhere in a year and a half, so I think that mental exhaustion is hitting me a little bit.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. This whole year, I mean, especially I think this summer in particular, it is probably harder than last summer, well for two reasons. One, we have a vaccine. And two, people aren’t taking it. COVID rates are going back up. And so, I really feel for, I mean, not just parents right now that have unvaccinated children, but also students right now. This is such a pivotal time in your development right now, from 18 to 21, 22-ish, you don’t really get this time back. And for it to be take in place during such a very stressful time in the world right now is really tough. But I mean, given all of that, what are you kind of doing for self care? How are you maintaining yourself while taking on all these responsibilities?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I feel like I always tell people sometimes it’s not enough time in the day, but I’ve been trying to force myself to implement that time and schedule that time because for a lot of people that do know me, I am a scheduler. If it’s not on my calendar, it pretty much doesn’t happen. So I’ve been trying to schedule in that time, whether it be through writing, whether it be through even binge watching. Just to have some mindless TV to just get my mind away from all the other responsibilities that I have. Going outside for a walk. I love hiking and going in nature whenever I can. And also, just journaling has been another way of me kind of releasing and relaxing from everything.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you say you’ve changed over the past year?

Zariah Cameron:
Gosh, I’ve changed a lot, but I really didn’t think that I’d change within a year being in the same exact place that I have been since March of 2020. But it’s surprising what a year will do. And within a year, I feel like I’ve gained so much confidence within myself and been able to really vocalize a lot of the things that I was maybe apprehensive or scared or anxious to express, whether it was me as an individual designer, as a person, as a community leader now. Those types of roles, I never really saw myself being a part of a year ago. And now, I’m leading the community. I’m advocating for other black design students. I’m being able to speak on that work through various different speaking engagements, which, one, I never at all saw myself as being that person to kind of go up and speak. But now I’ve just definitely seen myself evolved with being more authentically myself and being able to be comfortable doing that even if other people may have their own negative opinions towards that, and also being okay with that as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean, speaking of opportunities, you spoke at this year at Where are the Black Designers Conference that they had back in June. I mean, that was a pretty stacked panel that you were on. The panel was called Navigating Different Design Professions and Levels as a Black Designer. And you’re on there with people that have been on Revision Path before; Kevin Bethune, Timothy Bardlavens, Gabrielle Smith, Raja Schaar, who I think is a professor at… I think she’s at either at Temple or Drexel.

Zariah Cameron:
Drexel.

Maurice Cherry:
One of the two. I get the-

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, at Drexel.

Maurice Cherry:
At Drexel. I get the E in Temple and Drexel mixed up, but yeah, she’s at Drexel. And then moderated by Omari Souza, who someone else has been on the show. I mean, you held your own in that panel. Those were some really heavy hitters. I mean, to be able to really speak about the work that you’re doing and you’re still a college student is great. I mean, I think that’s wonderful.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. One, they’re all amazing people. Raja, I’m very close with. And so, to just be on the panel with her was just amazing, and just having that community. And I tell people being able to speak at the Where are the Black Designers Conference was really a full circle for me because I was an audience member just last year watching that. And so to be able to have that opportunity to speak on that panel and speak about my experiences was definitely an honor.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you mentioned this internship that you were doing, or you just finished up. That was at Ally Bank. How was that experience?

Zariah Cameron:
It’s definitely a surprising experience. I did not know what to expect. I mean, I had gotten accustomed to… Well, I got a feel for the culture of the company with a few of events that I had been able to participate through my university and just Ally being a connected company. But I really didn’t know how that experience was going to be virtually. And from my past experiences, I kind of mixed the idea of interning or working at another financial institution. And so, I really wasn’t sure what this experience would be like.

Zariah Cameron:
I had expressed to my recruiter before I even accepted the offer and even when I accepted the offer that I really want to focus on inclusion work, equity work within the design space. Honestly, I really wasn’t sure how I was going to do that in a bank and what that would even look like, but I definitely had a really good experience and just being able to not only connect with other interns that look like me, that went to other HBCUs and even non-HBCU students and just the closest we had together in that virtual space, but also having like, I realized how important it is to have a manager that really supports you in your growth and your goals. And so I was very grateful to have a manager that did that. He kind of helped me to maneuver through that summer. And through that, I was able to get connected to this inclusive design team that was actually just starting up within our design organization.

Zariah Cameron:
And so, being able to be a part of that and lead a lot of discussions that I believe needed to happen, it allowed me to kind of realize or see what role I fit best within design, and also to see the importance of how design fits into helping marginalized communities reach that economic mobility and financial freedom. And so, it was definitely a great moment for me, and also just to have people that were supportive with me during that process too.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s interesting how financial institutions are starting to become sort of the vanguard of that kind of equity center design. We’ve had several people on the show before from Capital One. That’s such a huge part of their design ethos, is making sure that as you’re saying about underrepresented or marginalized communities have that financial freedom, but just the level of care that they put into all of their interactions to make sure that equity is part of the goal from conversation design, to even how they sort of lay out the physical layout of their banks and everything. It’s really interesting how that sector has been sort of a forefront when it comes to that.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I definitely agree. I think I was able to see that from a financial lens and being able to have those conversations of like, “Hey, we really need to focus on the culture of our customers and focusing on working with our communities” and being able to provide this assistance, or, “Who are we actually excluding in these conversations?” and uncovering what our biases are or our assumptions are of our customers, or even people who could be potential customers of our bank and being able to create that organic relationship because we are an online bank. And so we have to be able to foster some type of connection to them, especially if we’re not going to be face-to-face.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, look, my money is at Ally. So I trust that they’re doing the right thing. They’re doing something right. Let’s talk about the AEI Design Program. I first heard of this actually at the Where are the Black Designers Conference this year when you were speaking about it. But tell me more about the project. I mean, you started this while you were still a student. I mean, you’re still a student now, but you started this while you were at North Carolina A&T, right?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I did. I started this right after actually Where are the Black Designers last year, and I was just very empowered and inspired by [inaudible 00:13:45]. I was able to connect with so many different black designers and have that support in that community. But unfortunately, I realized that a lot of what I was seeing, they were professionals. And I wanted something where there was a space just for us as students. Looking at my own journey, I realized that there were so many gaps that I was missing, and not just within my own education, but just the support whether it be mentorship, sponsorship, things like that, that were hindering me from really fully being successful or having access to certain resources or just knowledge in general that would help me get myself in that door of even just landing my first internship.

Zariah Cameron:
I realized there was a lot of other students, whether they went to a PWI or an HBCU, were experiencing those same challenges and they really didn’t have any type of community. No matter where they were, they didn’t feel any sense of belonging. And I wanted to bring that element to this space. And of course, there are tons of design student communities that were out there, but I wanted there to be a community just for us. And so we’ve evolved. I’ve evolved ever since then. I think AEI has definitely helped me to evolve into a leader that I never expected. I’ve always wanted to be some form of a leader, I just didn’t know what. And being able to have this program outside of just school has allowed me to flourish and have my own space and create a freedom to put all of these things out here with our programs, our events, all those different things. And also to be able to reach a larger audience than just the students that are within my school.

Zariah Cameron:
And so I was leading a team of three other students. And now we’re growing. We just added a few more team members to our group. And so I’m really excited of what we’ll be able to accomplish this upcoming school year too.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, as far as when you’re doing all this organizing and you’re getting students and stuff together, are events kind of part of this as well? Are you staging any sort of virtual events?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. All of our events are virtual because I realized, again, there was that access component, and I want students to be able to access us even beyond this pandemic if we get out of it, and just being able to have access to those resources whether you’re in our state, whether you go to our school or you’re not. And that’s what I want to be, provide through this program. Actually, within the next few weeks, we’ll be actually launching our Fall Design Bootcamp where students will be able to work with our company partners and create a design solution based on their stated problem. And so I’m really excited for this because it not only gives an opportunity for students to connect with each other, with other black students, but also for them to connect with companies and for them to see firsthand on a more personal level of how these companies operate, what their processes are like, and to ask those hard questions and for the companies to just see that talent that’s there. So I’m really excited for this, in particular for this year.

Maurice Cherry:
How would you like to see AEI continue to grow? I mean, it sounds like you’re already on a good path right now.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I’m really excited. I mean, of course, I’m hoping to have more company partnerships of course. But I mean just this year, this year in January, three or four of my students got landed their very first design internships. I think two of them are at Facebook right now. One of them’s at Spotify, and one of them landed a full time gig at Allscripts. I basically help them to transition through their interview process. And so, to see them land those interviews and land that offer was so thrilling for me. That’s one of my goals that I want to do this school year, as well as to continue to allow students to receive those offers and find a place where they feel comfortable and safe.

Zariah Cameron:
I also want within this next year to transition into our mental health initiative. A lot of students, especially during this pandemic, have definitely had burnout, have had several different experiences where their mental health has been at risk. Especially as a creative, I feel like we sometimes burn ourselves out even more because we’re exhausting so much creative energy. And so, I think one of my goals is to really start implementing different sessions or conversations around the importance of mental health and just finding that joy in our lives as black people and helping to separate ourselves from all the trauma that we have to endure and see and experience. And then I think my final thing is I’m in the process of making us an official nonprofit. So our main goal is the bootcamp, this mental health initiative, and leading into our nonprofit status.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s amazing. I mean, I’d take my hat off to you for being able to accomplish all of that even while you’re in school and doing these internships. I mean, that’s really admirable. I mean, I have to say you’re getting your career off to such a fantastic start right now, like you said, just helping out with community, it’s one thing to be able… Of course, you’re doing internships and being able to speak and stuff like that, but then to also give back to that community at the same time is, I mean, that’s really admirable.

Zariah Cameron:
Thank you. I definitely appreciate it. I think the reason why I wanted to start this out while I was in school is because I can see it from the lens of the student and I understand what those struggles are and what I’ve experienced. And I’m able to really advocate for what is a need. And not that people who are outside of school or far moved from school can’t advocate for those things, but I think within my current generation and just being within in the know of what really is going on and the realities of these educational institutions, I’m able to really speak on those gaps, those issues, and what solutions need to be implemented to move forward.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes sense. Students know what students need, you know? I mean, I couldn’t possibly guess what students now would want. I’m 20 something years removed from that so I couldn’t tell you. I mean, to be able to do it from that perspective is also a really added benefit.

Maurice Cherry:
Just to kind of switch gears a little bit here, because I’m curious where that spirit of volunteerism and everything sort of comes from. Tell me about where you grew up.

Zariah Cameron:
I grew up about… I always say I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, because a lot of people, when you say somewhere else, they’re like, “What? Where are you from?” So I’m about 30 minutes on the south side out from the city of Atlanta.

Zariah Cameron:
Design was never really a thought in my mind, that I would ever major in design. I’ve always seen myself as creative with writing, being an outlet, whether it be poetry, things like that, or even just expressing myself in a lot of different ways, but never really saw myself going into design. Because I was such a strong writer, I actually had in my mind all the way until my senior year that I was going to be a journalism major. That’s what I wanted to do. Everyone was always telling me that I was a strong writer and that was the direction that I was going to take.

Zariah Cameron:
But I was very fortunate enough to have the opportunity, for those that don’t know me, I went to a year-round school. That allowed me to have breaks in between the year when other students were in school. During that time, I was able to be around my dad who works in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. And I was submerged in technology. I was just completely at awe by computer science and how tech was able to just change and impact lives. And through that, just being around there, I was able to work with Black Girls CODE and work with students and teach them and volunteer in those different ways. I think through that, it was like, “Wow, I’ve really liked doing this type of work.” I don’t know how I’m going to do it or what I’m going to do, but I really do like the space. And I also really love working with children and teaching them in some capacity because I love just when their eyes light up when they’ve learned something new, especially when it relates to technology.

Zariah Cameron:
And so at the time, design really wasn’t this great big… Especially UX design, it was not this great big buzz word or exciting space to be in that people were talking about, especially within academia. And so everyone was like, “Okay, if you want to be in technology, go into computer science. That’s the only way. That’s the only possible way you’re going to be in technology if you want to impact tech.” And so I was like, “Okay, well I guess this is the path that I want to go into.” And I always tell this part of the story because I think it’s important for students and anybody else to know and understand the path is not going to be perfect. It’s definitely not going to be linear. And just because you get one rejection doesn’t mean that is end of your journey.

Zariah Cameron:
And so, I applied to our Computer Science Program at my school, and I got rejected. I thought it was the end of the world and that I was not going to be able to make the impact that I wanted. But I’m very glad that I did get that rejection because I don’t think I would be where I am right now in my journey. My school has a Graphic Design department which explores elements of game design and obviously the foundational elements of graphic design. We learn a little bit of CAD and modeling and all these different areas. I decided to kind of go into that space because I’m like, “Okay, well I can go into design, and maybe still somewhat have an impact in technology.” Through that, I was able to transition into UX design very easily through just like me researching, doing things on my own.

Zariah Cameron:
UX design isn’t offered a part of our curriculum. But through that foundation that I did have through my school and just the support of my teachers, specifically my black teachers, they were able to kind of help me and guide me into this new space that I am now in, which is UX design. Like I said, this path was definitely not linear. It took me a long time to figure out what exactly I wanted to do. But I think with UX design, it allows me to get the best of both worlds of working in tech if I want to and being able to still be in that design space while also just being able to understand people and implement their stories and understand who they are to implement within the experience. I think that’s probably one of my favorite parts about UX is, it’s really is all about people. And I think being a writer, I’m a natural storyteller. And so I think it always resonates with me when I’m able to connect someone’s story to the experience that we’re creating within design and tech.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s a really great way to sort of tie those two concepts together. For a while, Revision Path had a kind of this writing initiative, we called it Recognize, where it was sort of like an essay submission sort of thing. People would submit essays around a certain theme, but they would have to be designed focused. For last year for example, the theme was Fresh. And so you would write design essays that sort of in some way encompass the theme of Fresh. My goal with it is actually kind of the goal of what you were sort of alluding to. It’s about using writing and using texts and using storytelling as a way to kind of also put forth these certain design concepts or things like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Unfortunately, Recognize was not super successful. We have to kind of shut it down this year. I hope to bring it back at some point in the future. But I like how you’re able to kind of tie into what writing does for you as a designer and how that storytelling ties into what you do with UX design. I think that’s a really powerful connection to make.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. Like I said, I think I finally found my space. Just because I think even within computer science, there is that level of strategy and critical thinking that I had the knack for. And now to be able to kind of have that skill set or mindset and implement that ideology within design has been just really great for me. I think now I’ve definitely seen myself evolve from just an individual contributor, like an individual design contributor, to this person that is really being able to lead conversations about how we think about design, in again as I mentioned before, that inclusion equity space.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me more about the program at A&T. I think when folks look at HBCU and then they think about design, I’m not sure of North Carolina A&T is a school that they may readily think about. But can you just tell us like a little bit about the program and sort of what you’re going to remember the most from being at A&T? Because you’re about to graduate this semester.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. I wish that our program was a little bit more marketable. I wish they marketed us a little bit better, because I think a lot of students would benefit from just having black teachers that really want you to succeed and do well. And I think also, I wish that our particular department sat in a different space because I think sometimes we can get overlooked. So we sit within the College of Science and Technology. And so when a lot of people think of science and technology, you think of biology, chemistry, mathematics sits within that space too. And then you’ve got IT, informational systems, all those things like that. So you’ve got all these other majors, and then we have graphic design. And so, a lot of people whenever they think about the College of Science and Technology, they don’t think about that graphic design technology space being an option for them to major in especially because North Carolina A&T is especially known for agriculture, in the name, Engineering especially is one of the largest areas that we’re known for.

Zariah Cameron:
So again, design is really second priority. But I wish that it wasn’t, because again, like I said, I’ve had really great professors that have really helped me grow as a designer. Some definite tough love that’s been given to me and brief anecdote. I had a professor. I failed his class in my first year. I really just didn’t do well and had to retake it. And the second time, I got a B+. He had written and I told him, I was like, “Thank you. Thank you for helping me to get to this point.” And he was like, “I already knew you could do it. You just have to really prove to people that you can do it and you have the capability because I know it’s already in there.” And just him really believing in me and giving me that tough love that I needed, just helped me to appreciate not only him more but the space that I’m in, and really been able to push myself that much harder and see what I can achieve.

Zariah Cameron:
I think having those people in your corner that are looking out for you in that way is one of the best experiences. Now, reflecting and looking back, now that I’m getting ready to graduate, it’s something that I definitely love and will miss. Yeah, I have some more thoughts, but I’ll stop talking [inaudible 00:31:10].

Maurice Cherry:
No, I have to say that’s one thing about HBCUs that… I don’t know. You just don’t get that at other schools. The professors really do care. And that’s not to say that at PWIs and at other schools, other professors don’t care. But I mean I can only speak from my experience also going to an HBCU. I went to Morehouse. I mean, there’s just a certain different level of care. They’re really looking out for you in ways that you may not even really be considering. I mean, don’t get me wrong. There’s some professors that are like, “You’re just another student, just another number, et cetera.” But I think once you get into your degree program, you’d be surprised just how much the professors are really rooting for you and wanting to make sure that you succeed, because it looks good on them if they have graduates that come out of the program. So it makes sense that at HBCUs that they would just be more open to that.

Maurice Cherry:
And then of course, it’s just as black people helping black people. I’ve had several other folks on the show that when they talk about their time at other design institutions that I won’t name, but they’re not HBCU, but at other design institutions, it’s rough. Their educational experience is rough. There’s no mercy. And certainly not anywhere their having black professors or even really able to design towards their culture in the work that they do. I mean, you have all these different inherent benefits that come with being able to study at an HBCU. And just from what you’re sharing about the program, sounds like it’s a really great program. I mean, NC A&T overall is a great school. I think it’s one of the biggest research institutions in North Carolina. I’m guessing probably second to UNC.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, [inaudible 00:32:59]. I mean, of course, every school has it’s… I really had to advocate for myself and try to reach out to certain people and do certain things that I was like, “Hey.” That I actually saw everything that these companies had to offer, the realities of what things were, and being able to kind of bring that back to the students within my program and show that like, “Hey, there actually is great black designer talent that needs to be sought after.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Duke is the other school that I was thinking about.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Folks that went to Duke don’t kill me, I was like… But I know that North Carolina A&T though, is one of the big research institutions in the state. So that’s good to know. And also while you were at A&T, you worked at a number of internships. I mean, you mentioned Ally. But you worked at what? Like two or three other companies while you were there, right?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, I did. I worked for Wells Fargo last summer. It’s kind of weird because all my internships that I’ve had have all been virtual so I have no idea what this corporate world will look like once we go back in person. That’s going to be a whole another, I guess, hill or road we’ll have to cross to get there. But yeah, I interned at Wells Fargo. I wasn’t a designer, but it gave me the perspective of just how things work, how systems work, how corporate space work, how financial institutions are run, and in some ways being that fly on the wall of seeing the realities of what things were. But it gave me perspective of not just… Even though I wasn’t a designer for that particular role, I was a QA, I was a quality assurance analyst. And so that role taught me how to really pay attention to the details, the importance of how things work and how things function within a platform, a tool, and pointing out those shortcomings of how we can really better improve those products for the user.

Zariah Cameron:
And so, that really helped me to analyze a lot things better when it came to actually designing. And then recently what this is, I worked for a startup. It was really small. That was really catered to black women’s hair and finding the right hair regimen for them. And that was a really great experience to kind of work on it from the ground up and being able to work with other black women that had natural hair and just pouring my own experience, my own stories, and other people’s research and hair journeys into that. So that was a really fun experience. It’s also challenging in that quick, fast paced type of environment.

Zariah Cameron:
And then recently, before Ally I worked at PepsiCo as sort of a UX, UI designer, which I focus more on UI. And so, I realized I’m a better UX designer than a UI designer. I think people definitely should understand the difference because I think sometimes we group it together, but they definitely are separate things and have their own responsibilities. And I think people are stronger or, I guess, weaker in certain spaces. I definitely saw myself as more of a UX designer. But through that experience, I learned so much. I learned about the responsibilities and the job of a UI designer and how much work it takes in the input and all the different intricacies that you have to think about when developing certain things.

Zariah Cameron:
So that was a really good experience as well. And then I think just as I’ve grown, I’ve evolved and figured out what’s the best space for me to be in through all these different internship opportunities that I’ve had, and just where do I not only feel the most supported but also safe because I’ve definitely thought a lot about myself as a black designer. I’m not just a designer working at a company. But really just caring about the impact that I make. And does that company actually, or the people really care about my wellbeing and not just my individual contribution to the product?

Maurice Cherry:
And you say all these internships that you’ve done have been virtual. What is that like? What is a virtual internship like? Just kind of give a brief example of what that’s like.

Zariah Cameron:
I’m not going to just say, oh my gosh, it sucks, but it is a lot harder. Because, one, with PepsiCo for example, I was working or having to interact with working on a project with a physical product. And so it was a lot harder because it was like, “Okay. I’m designing for a physical product that I can not see, feel, touch anything. I can’t interact with to see how it functions to better make improvements on it.” And so it was more or less like, “Okay, well I have to watch videos. And I have to figure out, watch customer reviews on this product to see what are their pain points without me actually being able to physically interact with it myself, which was definitely harder.

Zariah Cameron:
I think if I was in the office, I could just go to that room, look at the product, be like, “Okay, this is what’s wrong.” And I think it’s even more crucial for black people because you do want to make sure that this is a safe and healthy space for you. I heard a lot of people have very toxic experiences from companies. I think that’s the one big fear because you can easily hide behind a screen and you don’t really know what that culture is like, and they could be portraying something that may not even be realistic. And then you get in the office and it’s something completely different.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting. The conversation in tech over the past, I don’t know, maybe like six or seven years has been around, of course, making sure that these tech companies and design focused companies are safe spaces for black people and people of color to work in. And now with the pandemic and it’s driving people to have to work from home, how do you make sure that that same feeling is also existing in the virtual space? I mean, I just know from the past few places where I’ve worked at that have been sort of a hybrid of remote and even in the office, and then of course with the pandemic driving it to be fully remote, it’s amazing how different sort of microaggressions can kind of pop up or just different sort of ways that you can feel left out in a way.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I think that’s something that companies are still going to have to deal with and try to figure out as it looks like this is not abating anytime soon. We’re still going to be on this kind of hybrid/fully remote sort of workforce thing. But how do you make sure that those digital spaces are also going to be safe and accommodating for your workers that are people of color? That’s the best way to put it.

Zariah Cameron:
I definitely agree. I think working with Ally is probably one of the best [inaudible 00:40:36] so far, just because, like I said, I’ve never been able to connect with other interns in this way. I think that was a big thing. The way that they’re recruiting was… I don’t even know how they did it, but they just chose a really good intern class that reflected the culture of the company that they were really trying to promote. Of course, again like I said, every company has its shortcomings and things like that, but I believe like from the top down, everyone was welcoming and really wanting to promote that culture where you can email an executive and they would reach out to you and they would meet with you and answer your questions or talk to you and have a brief conversation.

Zariah Cameron:
I think that openness is something that you don’t always get a chance to have and get exposure to. And so, I think not only having a intern class but also having your recruiters really just help you have that personal experience as best as you can in this virtual space. Again, like I said, it was hard not being able to be in the office and collaborate. Especially as designer, it’s so hard. You’ve got to find all these alternative ways to collaborate together to design, to communicate virtually, that it can make things a little bit more difficult. But I mean, if the people are good, I think the collaboration will kind of fall in line with that energy and that team chemistry.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Right now is your… I mean, again, you’re at this very pivotal point in your educational career as well as just your professional career, about to get out there in the working world. Do you feel supported as a black designer?

Zariah Cameron:
There’s many different ways we can take that. I want to say yes, but I feel like yes is such a short answer. I think depending on what area of my life that I am a black designer, it could go yes, or maybe, or even no. I think with my Black Designers community, I’ve been able to find amazing mentors/friends who have really supported me and been like, “Hey, if you want to take a break, it’s okay if you want to take a break. We’re still going to be here when you come back and we’re going to be holding down the fort till you get back while you’re gone.” And being able to be comfortable and also vulnerable with these people has been such a privilege because I know a lot of people don’t get a chance to do that or don’t feel comfortable enough to.

Zariah Cameron:
So I think in that way, this community like Where are the Black Designers, my Black Ignite community, those people have really allowed me to be comfortable being my authentic self and also being vulnerable enough to express certain concerns or issues that I may have that’s going on in my life, whether it be personal or within my career. So I think in that way, I feel supported. I think in a corporate setting, I’m still navigating through that. I would say yes from certain people, but of course, I’m still getting a feel for what that is and what people’s intentions are. I think for the most part, I would say yes.

Zariah Cameron:
But then again, it’s just been something I’ve been thinking about. Even looking at Simone Biles and her deciding to leave the Olympics because of her mental health. And people just giving so much backlash to her making that decision because she was prioritizing her mental health and just the exhaustion energy that she was giving out and probably just how tired she was. And just seeing how people only appreciate your skill and the value you bring over your actual health and you as a person. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’m concerned about is like, “Are you really caring about me and my self as a human being? Or is it just the value that I bring to this company? The value that I bring to this community? The value I bring to this school?” or whatever it may look like. That’s where I’m trying to find what that balance is, and who are those people that I should have in my corner, and who are those people that will have access to those versions or sides of me. So that’s kind of where I am.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s really tricky now. I mean, I say that as someone that’s been in the industry for a while. I mean, certainly within the past 10 to 12 years or so, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in really just black spaces at design. There’s podcasts like this, but there’s conferences, there’s meetups, there’s initiatives like what you’re doing with AEI Design Program. A lot of that stuff really didn’t exist 10 years ago. It was hard to find. And so it can be interesting now, especially if you exist among different identities. Like, if you’re just like a cis black man, and there may be one thing. But what if you’re a woman? What if you’re a member of the LGBT community? What if you identify a different part of the gender spectrum? The level of support that you would get as a black designer can even vary within all of those spaces and so. It’s still evolving like you said, I think. It’s a big question with a not so simple answer. So I feel you there.

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. That’s kind of where I’m at with all of this. It’s like in certain places I could say, yes, that I do feel supported. In other spaces, it’s like you’re on the fence and you’re not really completely sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Zariah Cameron:
You still have to only give one element of you. I guess that’s where code switching comes in. But even then, it’s like code switching is this element of losing a sense of your identity. That’s a whole another thing that I’m trying to navigate through.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What are you obsessed with right now?

Zariah Cameron:
In terms of personal life?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I was going to say you can answer that any way you like. Personal, professional, whatever.

Zariah Cameron:
I would say… What am I obsessed right now? I think right now it’s maybe a weird answer, but I’m honestly obsessed with the friendships that I’ve gotten to have over this past year. It’s very overwhelming. I’ve never had friend group of black designers or even designers that have really been so overwhelmingly loving to me, not only my career but just me as a person, and really being that support system that I needed. I think for so long…

Zariah Cameron:
I mean, even the people that are like, “Oh, well you go to HBCU. Of course, you have support.” And I’m like, “Yes, but even within that HBCU, there are groups.” There are groups. And so, sometimes you don’t always fit into those groups. Or even within those groups that you may be a part of, you still don’t completely feel a sense of belonging. And so to be able to go in a space, be around people that care about me and love me for just who I am and whether I change or evolve or whatever phase of my life that I’m growing into, that they’re there to support me and guide me through those different shifts, those different transitions.

Zariah Cameron:
And I know, like I said, weird answer in terms of being obsessed. But I think, like I have my own podcast with Heatherlee who’s the founder of Black Ignite, and just how our lives cross within a year, I would have never imagined for our friendship to be where it is, going from professional relationship to this very personal friendship that I value very deeply and to be able to work on this podcast with her and hear her story and how much our stories literally are parallel to each other. And so being able to have people like her and other people like Mitzi, like my Design to Divest Community as well. Having them in my corner is something I’m truly become obsessed with and want to continue to be around and want to just have that energy around me, that healthy energy. Because sometimes being around your own people still isn’t healthy, so having those people in those relationships has been really great for me within this past year.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Aside from those friendships, have you had any mentors or anyone that have really kind of helped you out either over this past year or just along the way in your journey as a designer?

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah. I’ve had a lot of different people, some that I’m very, very fortunate and very grateful to have in my life. And they’re all for different reasons. At first, at the start of my career or even school experience, I thought that I could really only have one said mentor, and that’s what it is. But as I’m evolving, I realized I need different mentors for different things, different spaces in my life. And so, I’ve had mentors that have taught me about just how to run my program, guiding me answering those questions as we’re moving into becoming a nonprofit, understanding elements of brand strategy for our program. Then I have mentors that who I now can call friends as well, who have helped me, guide me as a person and just where I need to go on my life.

Zariah Cameron:
And then of course, I have two of my really close professors. One in particular that has become a very good mentor to me, that actually was the one who got me into UX design that just I go for not only personal advice, but of course career advice as well. So I think over this past year, I’ve definitely had some great champions and mentors in my corner that are designated to different areas of my life to help me to flourish.

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

Zariah Cameron:
Getting my PhD.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Zariah Cameron:
I mean, yes, that is a goal of mine. I’ve expressed I will not… a lot of people have told me like, “Oh, why don’t you just go ahead and get your PhD now?” I’m like, “I’m exhausted. I’m tired. I do not want to go through school again at the moment.” But I think eventually, right now I currently see myself leading a community, wherever that may be in, whether that be in the corporate space, I definitely see myself leading those conversations surrounding equity within the design space and growing in that, because that is a space that I want to continue to be in, in various different areas, whether it’s like I said, in the corporate space, leading my community, or even teaching. I think eventually I want to get my PhD within this element of design and psychology in understanding people. And to be able to eventually [inaudible 00:53:17] down the line teach to students, teach to that next generation college students that are coming in.

Zariah Cameron:
I think by then I already have that experience of being in the corporate world myself, and I can be able to instill that wisdom and have those connections to people through my community to be able to give back to those students that I’m teaching. That’s eventually where I want to evolve myself into.

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

Zariah Cameron:
Yeah, one, they can find me on Medium, in terms of my writing. By the way, an article will be coming out, not through my Medium, but through the Ally Tech Blog on inclusive design being more than a buzz word. So definitely look out for that. And then you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m very active on there, and it’s of course just my name. And then you can find me at Instagram. It’s just my name, zariah.cameron. And then of course our program, our program’s Instagram, aeidesign_. You can find me active on all of those. Definitely feel free to follow me and stay connected, especially those who want to get plugged into my community, my program, and even companies wanting to work with us, and just people just wanting to connect and definitely open to that.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Zariah Cameron, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, for taking time to come out on the show. Like I said, it’s been a while since we’ve had a design student on the show, particularly one from an HBCU. But when I first heard about you at Where are the Black Designers and heard you speak and everything, I was like, “I got to get her on the show just to have her talk about what she’s doing.” I mean, just the fact that you’re accomplishing this much as a student, I think bodes so well for your future career. I’m really excited to see what you’re able to accomplish once you graduated and really got out there in the design world, and are able to make an even bigger impact. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Zariah Cameron:
No, thank you. It’s been such an honor, and thank you for asking such great questions. I love being able to share my story with you and the audience.

Sponsored by Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX Logo

Support for Revision Path comes from Adobe MAX.

Adobe MAX is the annual global creativity conference and it’s going online this year — October 26th through the 28th. This is sure to be a creative experience like no other. Plus, it’s all free. Yep – 100% free!

With over 25 hours of keynotes, luminary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, musical performances and even a few celebrity appearances, it’s going to be one-stop shopping for your inspiration, goals and creative tune-ups.

Did I mention it’s free?

Explore over 300 sessions across 11 tracks, hear from amazing speakers and learn new creative skills…all totally free and online this October.

To register, head to max.adobe.com.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

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

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

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

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Brandon Groce

A dear friend of mine asked me to include a creative on Revision Path that could speak to building a personal brand online, and my mind went immediately to UI/UX designer Brandon Groce. I first encountered Brandon a year ago hosting an AIGA DC design event, and was impressed by his work creating content for design brands including Disney, Hilton, and LG. Did I mention he’s also an Adobe Partner?

Our conversation started off with an update on what Brandon’s been doing over the past year, and he talked about his current and upcoming projects, including the DesignOff Tournament. We also talked about building confidence, showcasing your work, and…the metaverse? (You’ll have to listen to the end to find out!) Kudos to Brandon for being a great designer and for helping elevate the next generation of designers through his events!

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Brandon Groce:
Howdy-doody, Maurice. My name is Brandon Groce, yes, gross as in nasty, not spelt that way, but I am a designer and Adobe partner, and kind of can be summed up in terms of what I do, not necessarily what I am, but I create content for design brands and I throw on some highly edu-taining design events.

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

Brandon Groce:
I’m not going to lie, I love being able to be in my house and not have any outdoor obligations, my friend. My partner asked me, he’s like, “Why don’t you like to go outside?” And I looked back to my childhood and I was like, “I think I was always in a corner with the computer, in two sheets to cover my whereabouts.” [inaudible 00:03:49] focus either playing games or learning things on the internet. Honestly, my year has been good. I absolutely love learning. It’s not the same for everybody else. Everybody has a different situation, but I’ve been very lucky to have healthy family members and be in this situation that I’m in. So it’s been good.

Maurice Cherry:
Good. What lessons did you learn over the past year? How do you think you’ve grown and improved?

Brandon Groce:
I’m a very anxious person. My parents are like Brandon, you need to wear that pro, I don’t even know Prozac is the thing, but I don’t think stress or anxiety is a negative thing. I really think it is a beautiful thing, or at least in my case, because it tells me it is literally a biological indicator of like that is just going to fuck up your day. So please fix that.

Brandon Groce:
So this year, I have learned how to effectively … or it’s going to get better as I get older, how to learn what I need to quickly to put out a fire or build a raft, or learn whatever I need to, to either avoid or somehow redirect whatever catastrophe is coming my way, specifically when it comes to my business. I’ve only been in business for two … I can’t even say two. Yes, I’m still saying one. I’ve had an audience for a while, but it’s only been, I think, a year, last month, where I’ve ventured on my own and trying to figure out with the relationships and things that I’ve had, how to kind of go from what we’re, not even taught, but how we’re built to think like employees. And I’m not saying that in the derogatory sense, but there’s certain brain patterns that I had that didn’t help me scale what I was trying to build. And I feel like I’ve finally broke some of those thought patterns, which have really helped me figure out, in addition, tiring business coach, which was part of the growth, but learning how to not be in the business, but work on the business.

Brandon Groce:
I mean, there’s a whole bunch of learning lessons, but essentially, me being able to, in a year where everybody was inside and where everything was becoming digital, or a lot of money was being allocated to digital events, digital this, digital that, AR/VR, being able to see a whole change in the market, in addition to finally, with the market change, seeing where I fit into it, as well as how to scale my business in that market change. Those are like the three things that have been highly, I guess, learning lessons when I’m continuing to learn and just been beautiful things in the past year.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes. And I have to say, it’s good that you’re learning that in your first year of business. There’s a lot of businesses that don’t get that until maybe year two or three after they’ve gone it alone and figured out that’s not the best way to do it. I like that part you said about being in the business, but not really working on the business. So it’s good that-

Brandon Groce:
Which is still hard because I have to be on camera [inaudible 00:07:06]

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean, but hey, that’s your business, though, right? That’s Groce media. What’s a typical day like for you?

Brandon Groce:
I can tell you what I would like to have my typical day be. It’s only in bouts of stress like this last week where I just throw it all away. Typically, I wake up at 6:00. I’m very structured, man. I get thrown off if you ask me to do anything outside of my routine in the morning. I don’t care if I wake up at … like today, I woke up at 9:00. I must get on my little cycle, must be either 15 minutes or three miles. I listen to audio books, while I’m on the cycle. I must take a shower after that, make my coffee, and then I make a list for what needs to get done that day, and then I sit in my chair for … I honestly don’t like to. If I can get all my work done before like 1:00PM because I know as soon as I eat, I’m tired. So I try to get … And this is why I went on a break last week and I’m trying to get my schedule back together, because I had a really challenging three-week, almost a month sprint where I work through the weekends, I typically don’t do that.

Brandon Groce:
Yes, from 6:00-7:00, 7:00 to about 1:00, I’ll probably … that’s my work. That’s where all my everything that must be done is done within that time. And then the rest of the day is just, what other things need to be planned, for example, one of the things I need to focus on is creating SLPs for whoever I decide needs to fill these positions that we were kind of talking about earlier. But yes, I mean, morning and till 1:00PM is kind of pretty structured after that. It just depends on what I want to do or what extra, like what would I have to be doing tomorrow that I can do today, but I am pretty regimented and I try to keep in mind that I know my brain is only probably optimal for like four or five hours of really good like no distraction related work. After that, I’m like … The bunnies and the Chipmunks they’re running around my brain at that point. No way. I’m not sure that answers your question. But that’s literally my typical day and Saturdays and Sundays in working is different, is typically strategizing in reading on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s not sitting at a computer. I don’t necessarily consider it work.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, but you’ve got that structure down, which I think probably helps out from day-to-day to make sure that you stay on task.

Brandon Groce:
That’s one thing that I know I’m really good at, is habits usually. And my dad is this way too. I got it from him. And people always yell at us, they’re like, there’s like an hour in the beginning of our days that you just can’t disrupt or we even have … There’s literally a calendar. Actually, I’m going to bring my dad into this. But he has a phrase like, “I don’t eat cake on Tuesdays.” And we’re like, “Why specifically Tuesdays?” But there’s a reason and he sticks to it. I’m the same way.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, we all got to have our rules. We got to have our structure that gets us through things, I think especially since this past year, people have just had to discover and develop their own kinds of habits to get through. So it’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. What are some projects that you’re working on now?

Brandon Groce:
So with everything going digital man, do you know what virtual production is?

Maurice Cherry:
Virtual production?

Brandon Groce:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Where it is?

Brandon Groce:
What it is.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I know what it is. Yes.

Brandon Groce:
All right. Have you seen these people on the internet with mocap suits? You’ve seen these … and they’ve been around for a while, but they’re starting to pop up a little bit more. For example, you have AiAngel, CodeMiko, you have these virtual influencers, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yes, yes. I’ve seen those.

Brandon Groce:
All right. So I have been studying how to do … I have a beta version of this stuff made. So I have a car, I have a city. You’ve probably seen it in my live streams, but I’m just getting my character made. I hired somebody to make my character and we’re going to start building in the metaverse. With the tournament that we were talking about a little bit earlier, designoff.live. It’s basically, think esports, but for design, and I really want that event to be almost like a virtual music concert/tournament. Do you play games Maurice?

Maurice Cherry:
I do.

Brandon Groce:
What games do you play?

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I’ve got a switch. So I’m not going to lie. I’m mostly playing Animal Crossing these days because-

Brandon Groce:
Oh, my God.

Maurice Cherry:
… it’s just a destresser. Wait a minute, you didn’t let me finish. You didn’t let me finish. I mean, I’m mostly playing that. I do have a PS4 and I’m between playing Fuser and Persona 5 Royal. So it varies.

Brandon Groce:
Persona 5 brought me back. You reeled me back in. Do you watch Twitch at all? Do you watch any gamers?

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve seen some gamers on Twitch. I’ve watched a few on YouTube also. I know I’ve watched some people do live streams on YouTube. I’ve seen some gaming live streams on Twitches as well.

Brandon Groce:
Got you. I think what’s really missing right now, and it’s also very challenging at the moment with, everybody’s on zoom calls, everybody’s watching live streams of some sort. The thing is, is that, and this has always been the problem even with webinars, it’s people on stage talking to audience and audience are just chatting. And yes, you can hit the clap button or the heart button or whatever, but I’ve been watching this one individual, her name is CodeMiko and she does the best. Her avatar and maybe the world that she has isn’t necessarily to my aesthetic liking, but the fact that she’s able to allow the audience … she’s a developer by trade, and so the audience can input commands or purchase certain things to mess up, or make things happen to her. Either mess up the environment or make things blow up, make her dance, mute her while she’s streaming. She’s basically gamified her live stream experience.

Brandon Groce:
And so you’re a gamer … imagine if you’re watching a live stream of one of your favorite brands, or maybe even one of your friends and you just want to mess with them. And you just drop $1 or $5 and maybe even just type this code and something funny happens on stream. It’s no longer a one-way street, it’s a two-way street. And there’s so many levels of complexity that you can make this, I mean, I really don’t even think the larger brands are even doing this right. We’re still at the point where we’re looking at these large organizations with millions, billions of dollars, and they’re still doing the side by side conferences, you know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brandon Groce:
With almost like zoom calls. So really what I’m looking at is how do we bring that sort of CodeMiko entertainment into design, through Design Off as a tournament, almost like, think about it as WWE is like the entertainment version of wrestling, this stuff is not saying what we’re doing on stage is fake, but it’s so dramatized, people get hype about it, and it’s entertaining, bringing that side of things over to the design world. And it also be somewhat of a learning experience as well. So the number one thing that I’m working on, is designoff.live and other design education related events. And now I’m so far down the line. I don’t remember your questions.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that was it? I mean, I was going to talk about DesignOff and you sort of mentioned what it is and everything, but I was asking, what projects are you working on? I’m really intrigued by this virtual production, so you’re going to have like a virtual avatar that represents you. It’s you, but it’s not you. Sort of like a VTuber, I guess, right?

Brandon Groce:
A VTuber essentially except it’s going to be … I wish there was like a video podcast, can you bring it up? Think VTuber, but not. VTuber is kind of like it’s the concept of what I’m talking about, but it’s niched into almost like the anime sort of sect, whereas kind of what I’m talking about. Think about, you’ve played Assassin’s Creed, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brandon Groce:
Or any type of dope 3D video game. Essentially, things have gotten so cheap, Maurice, I have a mocap suit. We’re about to dive in. My mocap suit was only 2500. I can put on this suit and I can download any character I want from a video game, from whatever, and I can become that. It cost 2500 for that suit, the character is probably between $25 and $100. And as I put on the suit, I become that. And even the scenes are like $25. So the ability to create almost triple A level quality game. And the thing is, is like games, right? You can create your own game, except what I want to do with it, is make it more so an entertainment platform, and also a tournament. So rather than making a game, we’re doing something a little bit different. We’re pulling a couple things together. But yes, essentially VTuber, however, it’s more so taking the thought of making a real triple A game, whether that be the latest Assassin’s Creed or some other high graphic game, basically utilizing Unreal Engine in its capabilities.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m very intrigued by that. I really want to see how that will come forth in the future, especially with people have virtual reality headsets and stuff like that, like how all of this will kind of work together because I do see things going certainly more into this, I hate to say the virtual world because I’m sounding like I’m a kid in the ’90s. Remember when the virtual world was like a thing in cartoons and television series? We’re going to the virtual world. That’s sort of what this feels like, but it’s actualized. You can do it. It’s in the realm now that any consumer can probably get into, it sounds like.

Brandon Groce:
Yes, man. The costs are really low. Things are going to be crazy man. At the end of this podcast, people are going to be like Brandon has his screws loose, someone get him a Home Depot set, used to call it, but yes. The way that I see things going, you were saying the virtual world, I’m making numbers up, but I really do think that there will be people that live in the virtual world. Have you seen on Netflix the Altered Carbon?

Maurice Cherry:
I’ve heard of it. I haven’t seen it.

Brandon Groce:
I’m not going to go too much into it because I’m horrible at explaining. Everybody’s going to be like, that sounds horrible. But it is a really good series guys. You should check it out. But there’s people they call the real world the real. And those are the people that live like in virtual reality by choice and these people that live in the real world. I really do think that that will be a choice. You’re not even a half life of your 100 years. So I really do think in the next 20, maybe 30, you have crypto coming up the ability for people to maybe not even have regular jobs, just play games for the … not even like streaming, just be able to play Pokemon Go for their income. We’re going into a lot of things, but I’m just very excited about the virtual world because like I said, in this, I guess, industry what people will call the world builder, it’s kind of the metaverse is what it’s called. And people who create within the metaverse are people that create games, but I think video games is going to be one of the ways that we enjoy life in the future, which is interesting and weird to talk about.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, the metaverse. That sounds like another ’90s cartoon. I’m not saying that to be derisive or anything, but it sounds really cool. Don’t get me wrong. That stokes the inner child in me to be like, “Oh, what is this about?” Even as you mentioned Altered Carbon and kind of, I guess, notion of being able to sort of have yourself inside of the metaverse. I don’t know, it reminds me of this anime, and you’ve probably seen it called Serial Experiments Lain.

Brandon Groce:
Serial … No, but I’m writing it down.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if it’s streaming on anything, and I know if Cat Small is listening, this will make I think the second time I’ve mentioned it on the show. I don’t know if it’s available to stream, but it’s a 13-episode series about this girl named Lame and how she gets sucked into this online internet world. I think if you like Altered Carbon, you would like that show.

Brandon Groce:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes. So to bring it back to the real world for a minute, I can’t help but notice, of course, in your photo that people can see you for the cover art that you’re holding this neon, Adobe XD logo cue, which Adobe XD appears to be your kind of main tool of choice. Talk to me about that. How did you land on Adobe XD?

Brandon Groce:
And it’s not just the Adobe XD that’s part of it, but it’s more so about the Adobe brand in particular. I’ll explain that. So Adobe XD just because … and I can’t just say just because, because my main skill or my main trade is UI/UX design and being able to … there’s a couple of reasons, right? Have a company that offers not just the … it offers the suite of not just what I have done that produced my income, as a UI/UX designer, XD, but they also have Photoshop, Illustrator, they also have After Effects, Premiere, they have everything at really one cost. And so the larger picture I see is, I have to be careful what I say here, because it’s not necessarily true. We’re moving in a space where AR and VR is going to be what UI/UX designers are as of right now.

Brandon Groce:
When COVID came through and everything started to become remote, I saw a huge uptick in the need for UI/UX designers. Why? Because everybody’s at home. And the companies who have these streaming platforms and who have digital experiences, their revenue is skyrocketing because everybody’s on their some sort of screen. And the next version of that is yes, we have screens now, but you have companies like Snapchat, even though their glasses technology looks a little bit funky at the moment. Did you see that release this week?

Maurice Cherry:
Of the new like specs?

Brandon Groce:
Specs. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Brandon Groce:
Yes. So it looks a little funky, but that is version 0.01, that’s essentially a beta version of what I think the iPhone was when it first came out. It doesn’t look sexy, but the idea is there. Being able to wear a set of spectacles where your friend could decide, hey, I want to wear this pirate hat and I’m going to press this, anytime anybody has a certain type of technical optic and looks at me, they’re going to see my digital outfit. So that’s also the metaverse. So you could decide on your app or whatever, or you. You can be like, I want to wear X, Y, and Z. You put that in your phone and if I’m looking at you with these spectacles, I can see everything that you decided to wear in the digital space, while also in the real world. I just find that being a lot more attractive to me, just because the sky’s the limit on what you can do, you’re no longer limited to 1920 by 1080, you’re not limited to what are the 320 by whatever 568, someone’s going to be like, hey was the pixel off, right in the comments, guys.

Brandon Groce:
But yes, I think that’s the next step because the sky’s the limit, the only thing that you’re really limited by is the hardware, but for screen experience, when we can just create experiences on the things that we look at, man, that’s crazy.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes. And so tools like Adobe XD, or even like the Creative Suite really kind of play into that more.

Brandon Groce:
Yes, because you are able to use like … This is the thing. When you have things like, whether it be Figma, Sketch, whatever else is out there, you have specific tools for specific things. But when the market starts to become more complex, and you need to be able to adapt, what is their lifespan looking like? And I’m just like, that’s great. They’re a specialty tool. That has some market share. In the larger scheme of things where I think things are going, and also what I’m interested in, which is also a large factor, this is probably where my biases, because there’s still going to be screen experiences needed. There’s still people trying to get their mobile out here and their million dollar companies out here, trying to get their mobile app out.

Brandon Groce:
So yes. I just like to be on the cutting edge of things and being a part of technologies that allow flexibility and also the integration of where things are moving. So you have Adobe dimension is a 3D tool that allows designers, is also by Adobe, without really any 3D knowledge knowing how to make stuff you just need to know how to download models, change the color them and then use your brain to rearrange them in the way that you think looks best, export that, drop that in, whether that be Photoshop XD, it just makes … Adobe’s tagline really does hold up or it’s just like creative for all. They reduce the barrier to entry and reduce the complexity of what it takes to create something.

Maurice Cherry:
I know for a while in the design industry, there was this big, I don’t know, I felt like there was this big push away from Adobe tools. I feel like it was right around the time Adobe Creative Cloud became a thing with their subscription. And lot of designers I know really pushed away from it trying to find some alternative, and they doubled down on Sketch, which is still Mac-only, or they used Figma, or they’re using other tools like that. But I mean, the way that Adobe has been innovating over the past few years since they’ve started Creative Cloud, probably because a lot of subscription money, I’m not going to lie, but the way that they have innovated over the past three years has been nothing short of remarkable. And, I mean, I hate to say there’s not really any other tools out there that can touch what Adobe is doing. This is not an Adobe sponsorship, by the way, although if you all are interested, let me know.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m just saying this because personally, I cut my teeth on Adobe. I learned Photoshop and Illustrator on my own. I just did an interview earlier today where I was talking about how I didn’t start out in design, I started out doing customer service stuff after I graduated from college. And I would go to Barnes and Noble and pick up .Net magazines, and those like UK computer magazines that would always come with a CD or something, or those Photoshop tips and tricks books. I go to Barnes and Noble, get those, look through them, take pictures, take them back home, I used my pirated copy of Photoshop to try to get my design chops up and stuff. Of course, now that I’m in a position where I can pay for it, I do pay for it. But I say that to say in terms of the amount of innovation.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, Photoshop is a verb for a reason. I mean, nobody’s out here saying they’re going to Figma their photos.

Brandon Groce:
No, I don’t even think you can Figma a photo, sadly.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, where I work at now, I asked them for an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription because I wanted to work on some design stuff. And they were like, “But, we have Figma”, and I’m like, “No, that’s okay. That’s all right. That’s fine.”

Brandon Groce:
I think there’s no right or wrong. I think there’s just certain … like I said, there’s a market for a reason, right?

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Brandon Groce:
There’s particular individuals that there needs really line up with Figma. They were free. They had all this stuff for free. You know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Brandon Groce:
What they had was, for a lot of people, they’re like, why not? But like you said, when you find yourself in a position, and you’re like, I have the resources now to allocate to a tool that allows me to do more of my best work. That’s kind of the mindset that, when you have that mindset, you have the resources to actually put it towards something that makes you do your best work. For me, that just happens to be Adobe, because the type of work that I do requires a lot of cross threading.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fair. Yes. And I mean, also with these Adobe tools, I mean, they’ve been industry standard for a reason. Every design job I’ve had, I’ve still had to use Dreamweaver or Photoshop or something. But I can see why these other types of tools have become more popular, because they have been brought up as the industry changes. There’s been a huge influx of UX/UI designers and product designers in the past, like seven years or so. And so there has to be tools then that can kind of work with that. I know, for a while, people are trying to use maybe Photoshop or Illustrator to do that, but needed something that was maybe a bit more, I don’t know, exact, I guess, because Illustrators are for vectors, Photoshop is for photo manipulation, and if you’re trying to do something that’s more product-based, you’d need a tool that, I guess, would allow you to simulate some of those things, which of course, is why Adobe XD comes along, but then also why you have a Sketch and a Figma, or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
The tools match what the industry is doing at the moment, so I can see that. Yes. Kind of switch gears here a little bit, I know you are located in Maryland, is that where you’re originally from?

Brandon Groce:
I think so. Guys, for those of you guys who are listening, Maurice asked me before the podcast, he’s like, “Brandon, where are you currently residing?” I was like, “First off reside is a too big word to even use in a sentence with me.” And then I was like, “I don’t even know my street address barely.” But yes, Maryland is I think where I’ve always been. I have been to Texas though. I’d lived there for a little bit. And I love the heat over there, man. Love that it doesn’t get cold. But yes, I’ve been in Maryland for the majority of my life span of 27 years.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What was it like?

Brandon Groce:
And this is also what is interesting because people ask me about life and I talk about the internet. I really didn’t go outside much.

Maurice Cherry:
So growing up you were the kid that was like always in the house on the computer.

Brandon Groce:
Oh, yes. Yes. Even if you look at my Facebook profile pictures and you look at the … There was one day where I was looking at some of my high school friends and their pictures versus mine. I was like, oh, hang out with people. And so the majority of my childhood was wrestling in Brazilian jujitsu, because I was a very active, like I said, I can’t really sit in the chair, I had a lot of energy. So the majority of my childhood starting at eight, up until whenever college started after high school was Brazilian jujitsu, and just teaching and training both kids and adults. I have a brown belt Brazilian jujitsu. I stopped after I moved to Texas and trained a little bit here and there on and off. Business is a lot like jujitsu, except you don’t get physical ailments from it. Unless, right now I have a pinched nerve for sitting in my chair, so I’m really lying.

Maurice Cherry:
So you’re like street fighter, basically.

Brandon Groce:
I mean, you can say that, but I’m definitely the first one to run. If you were with me, I have … Maurice, let me tell you this real quick. Back to my anxiety and paranoia. I’m not sure if it runs in my family, but I am the first one. We’re about to go to the storm, it’s an actual phrase. Let me grab my pepper spray. I don’t know what it is. I was talking to somebody about this the other day. I like to be overly prepared, because I don’t know what’s going to go down. And I’m not saying I live in a bad area, and I think that’s also from jujitsu to where is a mindset kind of came where it’s the paranoid survive. And that’s kind of how I operate. Some people think that’s very, a chaotic way to live, but for me, it’s like hey, that’s the way that I operate. I try to be always overly prepared. You never know what’s going to happen and you try your best to optimize what based on the situations that you’re in, which is also probably why I don’t leave the house a lot. There’s a lot of stimuli out. I can control everything that’s artificial, which is in the computer. [crosstalk 00:32:40].

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. But, I mean, even like, still to that point, I guess you were still, I’m assuming, exposed to a lot of design and tech growing up perhaps.

Brandon Groce:
A lot of art, or a lot of books. A lot of books, a lot of puzzles. Yes, that’s all I did, man. Man, I was a hustler. I would resell things that I found at school back to kids, I would sell like art lessons in elementary school and make money so that I really use this money to, or the quarters my parents left in the couch, to purchase puzzles that I would put together, or my grandmother would always buy me these things called Zoids. Do you remember those?

Maurice Cherry:
Zoids?

Brandon Groce:
They’re essentially like Gundams, but they’re like cats, or different animals.

Maurice Cherry:
Hadn’t heard of those.

Brandon Groce:
I don’t remember what year they were, but they were like my thing. I would put them together without the instructions. And these things were like hundreds of pieces. And I would just figure it out. And honestly, my main superpower that I think is like, I’m just like, oh, that was the wrong hole, we got to figure the other hole out. I’m very good at putting things together. And that’s why I always loved art and expressing things, but I also loved creating something that worked, which is why I really struggled at the end of high school and even moving into college where it was just, what is technology plus art? And I didn’t have an internet, around the time I was 18, I was like, oh, we’re just going to be a tattoo artists somehow without getting any tattoos. That wasn’t going to fly because who’s going to hire a tattoo artist without any tattoos? I know I wouldn’t.

Maurice Cherry:
You got to start somewhere.

Brandon Groce:
Well, this is true. But I just was not … I was like, I know I mess up paper. So if somebody comes to me and was like, can I have an owl, and I just mess up one feather and somebody is not going to be happy. So like I said, I really like control and something that you can constantly tinker with. I dabbled in internships at NIH with medical illustration. I thought that was really weird. This is when I learned I really didn’t like work because, and it was probably around 18, 19 at the time. And I would go there and I would want to learn so much, because these people would show me interesting things and I would spend time trying to learn how to do it. And then they would go out on three hour lunch breaks and I would always go in and ask the question, they’re kicked back in their chair, and I’m like, what’s going on? Nobody does any work here. And I’m not saying this is what the general workforce does, but I was just very turned off by the lack of … and it wasn’t even that the other interns were like that as well, I was very turned off in that environment, that the fact that there are so many interesting things around us and nobody’s asking any questions.

Brandon Groce:
Yes, so I’m a tinkerer man. Even though I call myself a designer, I’m probably more so an inventor mindset than anything else. I really like to learn how things work, we will be in Giant man. And I’ll be like, I wonder how they package those raisins. I ask questions all the time and I really like to find how certain things are made, especially when things are in alignment with what I do.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m going to jump ahead a little bit here, because I feel like just based on what you’re telling me, I really get the sense that you’ve had to work a lot to build up your confidence in order to really, one, I think showcase work that you can do and of course, to partner with Adobe and other companies and such like that. How do you build that confidence? What advice would you give out there to somebody that’s listening that wants to build up that confidence to be like you?

Brandon Groce:
Well, I wouldn’t say try to be like me. Let’s pause right there. But I think I have a pretty good … I didn’t have this story when we first talked about this in the beginning of the podcast, but it’s one thing that I hold indefinitely in my head that changed things for me. So in school, school was very hard for me. The way that I was, and that I talked about NIH, was not who I was in early school at all. To be honest with everybody, I don’t even know how I passed elementary school, middle school, or any. I never did any work. I have no idea. They wanted me out of the classrooms. But I never paid attention in class and mainly because I struggled with the way … now thinking back, it’s a little bit clear, I didn’t understand the instructions that whomever was giving me and how to do certain things. And I was like, why is it this way and not this way? And because I didn’t understand the way that they were telling me, a lot of the times, I was basically the laughingstock. There was so many times where if I even just dare raise my hand in class, the class will just blow up in laughter, and that really hurt a lot.

Brandon Groce:
And so a lot of elementary school and in middle school, I just thought … we were talking a little bit earlier where the kids in the special help class programs. That was me. I think I started reading out loud, even in high school, man. Honestly, that mess sucked. But what really changed was, I would probably always get … I’m not even sure you can get D’s in elementary school.

Maurice Cherry:
You can.

Brandon Groce:
I probably got them. Yes. And I just remember my mom telling me, as supportive as she could, she was like, you’re different. You have ADHD. Just please try to pass. And I remember like, yes, it’s not just one time, but just looking at myself in the mirror, not understanding why didn’t get things. Thinking back about it, don’t make me feel good. But there was just one day where I was just like, for whatever reason, I just decided on the dumbest thing ever to Maurice. It was a spelling test. So I was like, I’m going to just try and spell probably like because and I spell it because. I don’t remember what it was, but I decided to stay up really late and just study 10 words probably what it was. And I got an A. I remember running home from the bus with the paper in hand to tell my mom. Damn, I can’t even tell this story. Shit hurts.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, I didn’t mean to-

Brandon Groce:
No, you’re good because it’s a really good story, man. And then I opened the door and I said, “Mom, I got an A.” And she hugged me and I remember I went upstairs after that and I was so pissed, Maurice, that I listened, for I don’t know how many years, to people telling me that I was slow. Regardless of the tears dropping, it was like in that moment that I realized that I had let people tell me things about me that I accepted. I got so pissed in that moment. I was like, I will never, ever, ever allow somebody to tell me what I can and cannot do. And I probably threw a castle around in my building or in my room, something like that.

Brandon Groce:
But yes, it was a spelling test. Yes, it was something minimal. But it was like that big lesson that how, me, other people, what stories that we hold in our heads and that we apply to ourselves, and that weigh us down in terms of what we actually think is possible. And I’m not religious or anything. I found recently in the Bible, Exodus 3:14. And don’t forget who asks, but they essentially ask God, what his name is, what he’s called, and he says, I am.

Brandon Groce:
I was thinking about this school period or this anger, or whatever this experience that I had that made me feel less than, and I was like, why? Why would he say I am? And I was like, he’s probably so woke, that he understands and doesn’t even give the ability to somebody else to even label whatever he is. He just is, or whatever it is. And I was like, wow. Regardless of who said that shit, that’s some powerful stuff. I am. That’s something that really sticks with me because I live … this is a little bit going into talking about the imposter thing. I just understand that I’m an entity that becomes whatever I decide I would like to become. I come with a biological technology that allows me to pick up and put down whatever it is that I desire within my capabilities of operation.

Brandon Groce:
So long story, how can somebody become more so of themselves rather than like me? It takes time. I happened to find it studying 10 fucking words for a spelling bee and realizing that I was holding people’s stories of me and I never crafted my own. So every day, I hold myself accountable to what story, what I like to tell the world about me. That’s what’s highly important. And I changed from day-to-day.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow, that’s really powerful.

Brandon Groce:
I hope so. I hope it was worth the tears. It dropped in my tea.

Maurice Cherry:
No.

Brandon Groce:
I can’t drink that any longer.

Maurice Cherry:
I want to keep on that same vein, not trying to make you continue to cry, but-

Brandon Groce:
Two tears, we’re done. [inaudible 00:42:45]

Maurice Cherry:
As you have said, you’ve managed to kind of instill this confidence now within yourself where you don’t take in other people’s thoughts or stories about who you are. And to that end, you have this very unique personal brand, which you’ve taken time to craft, like I said, I’ve watched your videos, I’ve seen your photos, looked at your Instagram, etc. How can someone out there listening start to create their own personal brand? Is it more of the same process that you talked about?

Brandon Groce:
Yes, it’s really getting in tune with what it is that you produce and that you want to produce. I think it’s really important we produce things on autopilot. Like you by yourself, or me by myself, I’m more likely than not, I’m probably talking to myself, regardless of where I am, which probably makes what I do very natural. And that’s why the acting thing probably seems natural, because I do … Man, I talk to myself in the shower. My partner’s like, “Who the hell are you talking to?” And I’m like talking to Sarah, Jamil, and I’m like, “They’re in my head. They’re talking.” We have yet to be tested for schizophrenia, but there’s probably a little dose of that in there.

Brandon Groce:
But I think it’s really important to know what you enjoy and what you do naturally, that is, the way you don’t have to try too hard, but understand where your natural abilities and occurrences lie. It’s not just that because you have to also understand what people enjoy about that. But you have to find what people like and value. For example, you could be funny to yourself, but are you funny to other people? So for example, when I was young as in high school, I was picked on a lot. And it wasn’t until I started saying the dumb shit that was in my head right back at the person where other people started dying, laughing about what I said. I was like, “Oh, that’s funny.” And so this is when I started … when I realized I was like, “Oh, I do this naturally. Are there other people that are funny that I can study that could help me enhance what I do naturally?”

Brandon Groce:
So I’ve watched so much Katt Williams, man. I watch a lot of comedy to help me enhance what I’m naturally capable of and find people other … but I sound crazy, but I was about to say other avatars, other people who are built with almost somewhat of the same things that I see in me and just take what they’re doing and try to evolve my skill set from what they’re doing. I try to find who I would be in the future based on what I know about myself, and what I see in them and try to take what they have already done and apply it to what I’m doing today. I study … yes, I said Katt Williams, but I try to read as much as possible bibliographies because there’s frameworks, these people who have lived like hundreds, thousands, I don’t know how long the earth has been here. But there has been a repetition of your DNA and capabilities somewhere in the universe. Imagine if you were able to find throughout a couple of books, who you want to be or who you think you’ll be sprinkled throughout books, and just in a couple paragraphs, you can take those learnings and apply them to the frameworks that you walk about life with. The reason I read is to build the character that I’d like to see.

Brandon Groce:
I think of myself as a computer, essentially. I download software through books, or through watching people, or through whatever type of input, but it’s really important that I understand who I would like to become and find frameworks through multiple ways to craft said character. And I know that with the words that I’m using, some people will be like, that doesn’t sound good. This goes back to that first story, I told, would you rather be told who you are, or create who you want to become, or who you are, rather? And that’s just how I go about building my character?

Maurice Cherry:
What do you appreciate the most about your life right now?

Brandon Groce:
Honestly, probably my time with my partner and the freedom, that’s first. And then the freedom to just think about what I want to put out into the world and have time to do that and have a community and people around me who also are trying to strive for the same things and working together and building that idea. So my relationships, my free time, and my ability to, with that free time, think about what I want to put into the world and produce and what impact that has.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of that, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? When you look at yourself, say in the next five years or so, what’s the sort of work that you want to be doing?

Brandon Groce:
The impact is just possibility, man. Through this design, I’ll be able to have people understand that you can learn all day. You can be on YouTube and just learn, but just through doing and having fun, and just be tinker, just tinker and build what you want. That’s what makes you learn. And to facilitate that, just how Dean Kaymer has, that’s something I’d like to do in addition to some, not entirely sure even what to call it, but because we are going to be getting into the metaverse and being able to produce quality 3D movies almost, but just because of our virtual setup. I would also like to do some storytelling as well. We’ll see. The combination of both.

Maurice Cherry:
I can see storytelling. You got the voice for it.

Brandon Groce:
I appreciate it.

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

Brandon Groce:
For sure, you guys can find me … If you just type my name into Google, you’ll find me. Brandon Groce, G-R-O-C-E. If you guys want to participate in DesignOff, you guys can go to designoff.live. The majority of my stuff, you guys can find me on Instagram, that’s probably where I’m most active, or you guys can join our amazing discord community with over 1,000 other creatives from all over the world and not just UI/UX designers and we have illustrators, 3D artists, we literally have, I think there’s more people from other countries than where I’m at. So it’s really nice to have people who are not just in one vertical, but can help each other build on top of something. So short answer, Instagram at Brandon Groce, YouTube, same thing, but if you find me on Instagram, you’ll find me everywhere else.

Maurice Cherry:
All right, sounds good. Well, Brandon Groce, I definitely want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I honestly want to sharing your story and being as open and candid as you were to share it. I think it’s important for people to see the path that people take to get to where they are. It’s not always this straightforward, you went to this school, then this school, and then worked at this place. People come into this industry in so many different ways and I think it’s really important to be able to see how you’ve been able to make your own place in this industry, how it’s helped you build your confidence, how you’ve not only helped to build a community, but also help to empower so many others out there to see the possibilities for themselves that they didn’t see. So, thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I appreciate it.

Brandon Groce:
Likewise, Maurice, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

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