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

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

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

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
How did you get started at frog?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

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

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

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Totally, totally Eurocentric.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

Maurice Cherry:
It wears on you.

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

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

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

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

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Oh, wow.

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

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

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Right.

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. If that, yeah.

Arielle Wiltz:
So…

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arielle Wiltz:
More.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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

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

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, look at that.

Arielle Wiltz:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Sponsors

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Dwight Battle

What does it take to work for a company like Amazon? Well if you’re Dwight Battle, it’s all about forging your own path. As a self-taught designer, Dwight has honed his design skills at agencies from Atlanta to Seattle, including product design at HBO.

Dwight started off talking about his work at both Amazon and HBO, and then we talked about his live growing up in Ohio and moving to Atlanta to start his career. We also had a pretty spirited discussion about the changing tech and design scene in Seattle, the need for representation for Black designers, and why saying yes until he could afford to say no has been instrumental to how he works. Dwight’s living proof that success in tech is within your reach as long as you allow yourself to find your own way!

Links

Transcript

Full Transcript

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

Dwight Battle: My name is Dwight Battle. I am a senior UX designer at Amazon working on the Kindle team.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. You just started at Amazon a few months ago, right?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, I started at the end of August. Yeah, it’s-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, wow.

Dwight Battle: Yeah, it’s been-

Maurice Cherry: What has-

Dwight Battle: It’s been a crazy time.

Maurice Cherry: I was going to ask, what’s the experience been like so far?

Dwight Battle: It’s very much… The phrase I use a lot the first couple of weeks there was drinking from the fire hose, and it’s very true. I think people go in with a preconceived notion about what Amazon is and what working at Amazon is like, and it’s fairly accurate. You do hit the ground running, and your head kind of has to be on a swivel. It feels like… I’ve been there six, seven weeks now, and it feels like six, seven months. I’ve done too much stuff in that time.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. You say you’re on the Kindle team, like as much as you can discuss, can you talk a little bit about just the kind of work you’re doing?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, I am on what we call the reader team. We manage the, as it sounds like, the reading experience across our various platforms and the e-reader. Specifically, I am the main designer for the core app experience team, so really, the overall IA of the product and how things look, work, and feel on a very high level before you dive into a specific book or piece of media.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. What is a just a typical day like meetings, things like that?

Dwight Battle: I’m still so new there, I don’t feel like I’ve really gotten to normal yet. We have our usual standup meetings and sprint planning things and things like that, but I’ve been really focused on one particular feature at the moment so I’ve been really heads down trying to solve what is turned out to be a fairly meaty challenge for most of this time. I don’t actually know what an average day at Amazon is like yet because it’s been a very… I feel like it’s been a very unique experience right now.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. I know beforehand Amazon, you were at HBO. That’s when we first-

Dwight Battle: Was. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: We met in 2016 at HOW Design Live here in Atlanta.

Dwight Battle: This was at HOW. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, and you are a senior product designer at HBO. Can you talk about what your time was like there?

Dwight Battle: My time at HBO was amazing. I was there for just under four years. We worked on the HBO Now and HBO GO streaming products here in the Seattle office, so that’s everything across phone, tablet, TV, desktop. I touched a lot of different things. What I really liked about that team, especially early, it was that it was a fairly small team so I got to do a lot of different things, and then as the design team started to grow, that focus became more and more narrow, but even then, it was narrow to a point where I could focus on things that I found interesting within the product and areas where I could affect change and make improvements to the product. They gave me a lot freedom to explore those things, so I got to do a lot of really cool things there.

Maurice Cherry: It sounds like you were there at the time when these big streaming services got off the ground. Of course, people knew about Netflix, but I mean, of course, HBO has HBO GO, HBO Now, like you mentioned. Amazon has its own Prime Video and things like that. How was it learning how to create those interfaces for TV because that’s so different from the web?

Dwight Battle: It was… When I made the pivot from print design into digital design, I made a focus on, or I focused on digital product experience in screens and TV screen to particular because I felt like that was a really interesting opportunity, and there wasn’t a lot of people doing that at the time. Coming into HBO and everything that that was, and yes, Netflix was around and Hulu was around and Prime Video was starting to kick up, and now everybody’s got some sort of a TV experience, there was a weird window of time where no one really had it figured out, and there was a lot of opportunity to say, “Hey, this is what navigating a screen with five buttons should look like and should feel.”

Dwight Battle: There’s so many interesting challenges there because you don’t have things like hover states or you don’t have long presses like you have on a phone or something like that. I think when Apple came out with their new swipe remote, that opened up a lot of possibilities with how you interact with a piece of content. It was a really fun and interesting time to be working in that space.

Maurice Cherry: I remember Android TV from around that time, and it was so clunky to use, not just because I think of the overall, at least back during that time Android was ugly, but aside from that, just the tools that you use to navigate, it wasn’t remote-friendly. I remember the Android TV I had, it was a keyboard. It was like a keyboard, and then on the right where there would be a number pad, instead there’s a track pad with a little, like buttons. It was a very odd experience, and it’s like-

Dwight Battle: That was a while ago. You’re, like-

Maurice Cherry: It’s like you can’t really lounge-

Dwight Battle: … Google TV, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: … on the couch. Yeah, you can’t really lounge on the couch with a keyboard and try to do certain things because of just ergonomics and such, so it has really come a long way.

Dwight Battle: I think a lot of times people tried to translate, especially in those early days, tried to translate the keyboard/mouse/monitor experience to a living room experience. I’ve always been really fascinated with media servers like Plex and Xbox Media Center and things like that, so I’ve been looking at that for a long time. That’s all it was, was taking that mouse/keyboard/monitor interface and throwing it on a big screen TV. That’s not how most people interact with a screen of that size. It’s much more of a lean-back experience, and you’re just kind of grazing the content, finding something to watch.

Maurice Cherry: I would say it’s also more of an audible experience, like you want to be able to hear those beeps as you go from menu to menu, from item to item where, like on my main computer, I don’t have speakers. I have headphones, but I may not always be wearing my headphones, but I can still navigate the web silently just viewing. It can kind of be hard to do that with television, especially if you’re not really looking at it. Sometimes you’ll be on the remote, you just point in the air and you hope that it did the right thing, but at least you hear that little audible cue that’s like, “Okay, it’s moving. It’s doing something.”

Dwight Battle: Yeah. I think that feedback is so critical, so when you hear the bloop, bloop. It’s funny, when I’m watching TV with my wife and where commercial hits, she’ll do the bloop, bloop, bloop, which is the TiVo sound, and that’s the sound for me that, “Hey, you should fast forward through these commercials.” That’s something… We haven’t had a TiVo for 10 years, but that has become such a known paradigm. That audible indication that something is happening is so much more important on a TV space.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, like the rise of audio branding as streaming services have grown has been really interesting. I think TiVo and Netflix really come to mind with that. When you hear the Netflix, like… you know, “Okay, this is Netflix, the show is starting, the episode is starting,” whatever. That’s the cue for you, the non-visual cue to say, “I need to pay attention.” I don’t know if any of the other services really have that. I don’t recall if Amazon or Hulu have it.

Dwight Battle: I don’t, I-

Maurice Cherry: I think Showtime might have something. Something, they have like-

Dwight Battle: Showtime’s got their little chime, but it’s tied in with their programming. It’s funny, everyone knows the Netflix, but what I grew up with, and honestly when I took the job at HBO, I posted this video, but back in the ’80s when it was the Saturday night movie premiere, the night, and they had that pan through the city, and then the HBO theme would play and the-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, yeah.

Dwight Battle: … HBO logo would come spinning, that was the sign that was like, “Oh, yeah,”-

Maurice Cherry: I remember that. Oh, my god.

Dwight Battle: …. “it’s about to go down,” it’s Saturday night, and that has always chimed. That’s always been a trigger in my head. When I took the job at HBO, I posted that video to say, “This is where I’m going next because that was so iconic to me.” When I see things like Netflix’s chime or Showtime’s chime, those are the things that I think about.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I think the broadcast channels have all picked up on that. Of course, NBC has the xylophone… and CW has like a little, I don’t know, like a soft rock riff or something, but all the networks have their little visual thing… or not visual… audio thing where you hear it, and it’s like, “Okay, this is something from that network or from that [inaudible 00:08:49].” It’s a really interesting kind of a branding thing.

Dwight Battle: It’s-

Maurice Cherry: I find that really interesting. You’re currently a Seattle, but you grew up in Columbus, Ohio, right?

Dwight Battle: Yes. Columbus, Ohio, home of the Buckeyes.

Maurice Cherry: Home of the Buckeyes. What was it like there?

Dwight Battle: I loved Columbus, Ohio. I have so many memories of what it was like growing up in Columbus. It seems kind of crazy to say that it was a small town, but at the time, to me, it was my world. I don’t know. I just remember… I don’t have a good answer for that question actually.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. When you think about that time, was design and art, was that a big part of your world growing up?

Dwight Battle: Yes, absolutely. That was one… I used to draw a lot. I think I always knew I wanted to be in some kind of a creative role, even if I didn’t know what that meant. I was always drawing. I was never really big into sports as a kid, which is crazy to people who know me now, but the thing that I used to always get excited for was a Super Bowl, not because of the game, but because of the commercials. I have distinct memories of being excited to watch the Bud Bowl and Spuds MacKenzie and things like that. I was always drawn to that, those type of experiences. I remember having a drawing of the old Camel mascot, which-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, Camel.

Dwight Battle: … the Camel cigarettes, met Joe Camel, and which probably isn’t great for an eight-year-old to be drawing, but I always knew I wanted to do this and something in that realm. I remember doing a shadowing experience. I followed, I shadowed a photographer for the day, and I went to his studio. I’ll never forget, he had this beautiful brick building, and he had this huge studio. He was showing me how to work the cameras and such. I was… and the thing that stood out to me was he was wearing jeans to work. I wanted to do that because he wore jeans to work because I saw my mom going off to work in her suit and sneakers and I saw my dad going off to work in his business attire. I was like, “I know… That guy is wearing jeans. Whatever he’s doing, I want to do that.” I’m always in this space, so.

Maurice Cherry: So you knew from an early age, this is exactly what you wanted to do?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, I didn’t know how it was going to manifest itself. I was really into comic books as a kid. I tried to draw. I’m a terrible drawer, but I tried to draw. I was really in a lettering, so I was trying to do something with that. It wasn’t really until, I think, high school when we moved to Minnesota that I even learned what graphic design was and started looking at that as a potential opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: Was your family supportive of you going in that route?

Dwight Battle: Oh, yeah. My parents have always been very supportive of this, of me doing this. I don’t know if they always understood what it meant, but I remember them putting me into art programs when I was young, like the summer school like at CCAD, Columbus College of Art & Design. I did a couple of summer camp things there, so they’ve always been really supportive of this.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. You’re in high school in Minnesota, right?

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: You graduated high school, and then after that, you went back to Ohio.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: University of Dayton, right?

Dwight Battle: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: Tell me about that.

Dwight Battle: Wanted to go to Ohio state, and I didn’t get into Ohio State, and so I thought, “Well, I’ve got family in Ohio. University is the next best thing.” They had a really good design program. I remember going out to visit the campus and being really impressed. For being a Catholic school, one, the number of black faces I saw around. It wasn’t a ton, but it was more than I was expecting, and the design program was really, really, the art and design program was really very good.

Dwight Battle: I took a year off after high school because I wanted to work, I wanted to save up some money for school, so I actually took a year off before I went off to University of Dayton. I started there, and honestly, when I look at it now, I was there for a year. I probably enjoyed the partying a little too much. I enjoyed the social aspects of college more than I enjoyed the class aspects of college.

Dwight Battle: But in hindsight, I think I was making decisions about my future from a very, very poor perspective. It was, “Hey, this is your… You’re 18 years old. You’re supposed to go to college. Go to college. This is what you’re going to do.” I knew I wanted to do something in design, but the idea of alternative pass for that never crossed my mind and the idea of I could’ve moved down to Atlanta early and done something. I wasn’t coming at it from the right space, and I don’t think, honestly, it was the right time for me to go because I went into it, and I kind of blew the opportunity. I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that was in front of me.

Dwight Battle: It was kind of a sobering experience when I got the… At the end of the year, I looked at this next looming bill for the next year, and I was like, “I can’t afford this. I can’t afford to take out another loan for this, so I need to go figure it out something else.” I moved to Atlanta, moved in with my parents, which started a nice long period of moving in and out of my parents’ place for a number of years until I figure things out.

Maurice Cherry: It’s so interesting, the first year of college because… and I don’t know if it’s like this at other colleges, but it feels to me… and maybe it’s just a combination of freedom from the parents and being in a new environment, but it feels like the college throws everything they can at you to make you not go to class and to make you not want to study or do anything. It’s like there’s so many extra curricular activities, there’s football games, there’s parties.

Maurice Cherry: When I went to Morehouse, they had charter buses. The clubs would send charter buses, pick us up, take us to the club, and drop us right back off on campus. It’s like you don’t even have to worry about transportation to get to and from places. I don’t know. Maybe it’s different at other colleges, I don’t know, but it felt like, I mean, I had that experience freshman year. I think I’ve talked about this on the show where my freshman year Morehouse was rough.

Maurice Cherry: It was rough. I mean, I got kicked out of my dorm. I had to get into another dorm, and it wasn’t even so much because of the partying and everything, but it’s just there’s so many other things to do that have nothing to do with class, and you have complete total unfettered freedom to do those things, and there’s nobody to snap you back in line or tell you, “This is what you need to do.” You have to go in with this level of self-discipline that I don’t think a lot of 18-year-olds have.

Dwight Battle: It’s kind of crazy that we sit 18 year olds down to say, “Here, you need to decide what you’re going to do for the rest of your life over these next four years. You’re going to take out hundreds of thousand dollars in loans to do this, and we’re going to give you zero support. You’re an adult now. Figure it out.” It’s crazy to me that we do that because that was how it felt. It was like, “I’m an adult. I can do whatever I want to now,” and the switch never clicked that was like, “Oh, I also have to do these things because it’s going to move me forward and to the path that I think that I want,” but again, what I wanted at 18 years old is dramatically different than what I wanted in my mid-20s or even mid-30s.

Maurice Cherry: Right, and I mean, oh, my god, that’s so true. I racked up credit card debt. I just did dumb shit. I had a job. I did get a job. You remember College Club? Do you remember-

Dwight Battle: That sounds familiar.

Maurice Cherry: … their website?

Dwight Battle: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: It was a precursor kind of to Facebook, but College Club had this interface where they gave you a number, and you could call the number, and it would read your email back to you. They had all these little campus sites, so whatever school you went to, there was a site just for your school, and you could meet people at your school or at other schools. I ended up working there as a like a campus representative from Morehouse for College Club. Then I was hustling on doing that because I was getting paid to do that. The way that they had the pay structure set up was you got paid like… and this is wild now for people that are listening that are hearing this. We got paid $3 per picture and like $5 per new account.

Dwight Battle: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: Every time you took pictures, like you went around and you took pictures of campus life and uploaded them, I’m just counting in my head, “3, 6, 9, 12,” boom, boom, boom, boom. Same with accounts, 5, 10, 15, 20. I was in the computer science department at the time because I had majored in computer science, computer engineering that first semester, and I remember talking with a friend of mine… Actually, the same friend I told you about who teaches at Ohio State.

Maurice Cherry: We put together this macro program that we could basically just take pictures, and we would upload all the pictures to a folder, and then run the macro, and the macro would upload everything, and it would give us a total of what it would be at the end because the digital cameras we had… This is 1999. The digital cameras we had took a, like one of those hard floppy disks.

Dwight Battle: Oh. Wow.

Maurice Cherry: It was a Sony Mavica, and I remember it having like a box of disks in my backpack just like slotting them out, taking pictures and stuff, and the macro, we made another macro that would just make random accounts. We were getting money like hand over fist like every month, $4,000. What am I going to do at 18-

Dwight Battle: With [crosstalk 00:18:37]-

Maurice Cherry: … with… you think that I’m about going to class, and I’m making this much money now? I almost flunked out the first year. I was so just not even focused on it. The other reason also was because I wanted to do web design, and my advisor was like, “If you want to do that, you need to change your major because you’re not going to be able to do that here.” He’s like, “The web is a fad. There’s no way that people are going to be doing stuff on the internet in five years. What are we going to do on the internet? Play solitaire?” So yeah. So yes, so after-

Dwight Battle: Well, that person was right.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. After Dayton, you said you moved to Atlanta?

Dwight Battle: Yeah. Yeah. I was living with my parents. I got a job, bounced around, was working retail, just really trying to figure out what my next step was. I knew I still kind of wanted to go back to school, but I didn’t know what that path was. I think it was… I did that for a couple of years, and I think it was, ’99, 2000-ish that I found the Art Institute of Atlanta.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, wow.

Dwight Battle: I went and checked it out. At the time, with a couple years of post-Dayton, I said, “Let me make sure that this is the right place for me,” and did my due diligence. It seemed okay. Then I got in there and realized what we all know now about the Art Institutes, but I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I remember, and I only remember this because this is what kind of kick-started my career was I had a class, and the teacher… They made such a big show about the teachers are working professionals, and so they’re going to their jobs and then they’re going to come teach these classes in the evening.

Dwight Battle: Well, the professor was never there. This woman basically wound up teaching us. It was a Photoshop class. This woman who was a classmate there basically just started teaching the class. She told me about this company that she worked for that was a small… It was a publishing company. They made apartment magazines. She asked if I was interested in a production job, and I said, “Well, sure. I need a job while I’m going to school, so this is perfect.” I started working for the apartment guide, which is such a quaint idea now, but they were little books-

Maurice Cherry: I remember those.

Dwight Battle: … that you can pick up at the grocery store, and you would have listings of apartments, and you would pick out your apartment. That was how you found where you wanted to live. I started out as a production artist there. By this point, I realized I was giving the Art Institutes a lot of money. I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I think there was one class I only showed up for three times and still got an A, so I said, “This is not the right thing.”

Dwight Battle: So I left there, and that was the start of my career. I started out as a production artist pumping out those books, and did that for three years. I was starting to think about what the next step was going to be. I started having conversations with what they called art directors, what was the next step after being this production artist, what could I do next? They said some of the cities were large enough to justify having their own in-house artists who basically ran the, quote-unquote, “art department” for these apartment guides. Originally, he was going to send me that Vegas, and thank god he didn’t. That sounded amazing at the time. Thank god I did not wind up there, but-

Dwight Battle: It didn’t. That sounded amazing at the time. Thank God, I did not wind up there. But he said, “We need an artist for the Puget Sound book,” and I had no idea what that was because I don’t know what the Puget Sound is.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And he said, “It’s Seattle.” I said, “I don’t know what Seattle is.” And so in 2003, I moved out here to Seattle. I knew exactly one person. I knew a girl I went to college with who was living here, so she was the only person I knew here. And I moved here in 2003 and did that for a couple more years.

Dwight Battle: Realized fairly quickly that print work in the Seattle market was drying up quickly, and I was trying to make this move into advertising because that was what I knew I had always wanted to do. And I talked to a friend/colleague at it, at an ad agency here, and I took him my sad, pathetic little apartment guidebook and poor portfolio and said, “What could I do here?” And he looked at my book, and he said, “Did you do these ads on a Mac or a PC?”

Maurice Cherry: Hmm.

Dwight Battle: And I said, “Oh. I did them on a Mac,” and he said, “So, it’s not completely worthless.”

Maurice Cherry: Oh, wow.

Dwight Battle: “I can work with you here.” He was like, “You need to get out of that job because this job is not going to get you where you need to be.” And I think it was shortly after that that I gave like two weeks’ notice or two months’ notice, and I said, “I’m going to go find something else. I’m going to go find something that is closer to what I want to be doing.”

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And that took a while. I did some exhibit design. I worked for a company that did all of Microsoft’s conferences and trade shows. So, it was their CES exhibits and their E3 things and things like that. I freelanced for a while doing a lot of logo branding work, websites, and things like that. And then it was about 2010 where I kind of saw the horizon of what was coming down, and it was the iPad. And I was so intrigued by the potential of that device and that screen and what it meant and what it could be that I immediately went out and bought one and changed my focus and said, “This is what I want to do,” and started focusing on that and made that pivot.

Maurice Cherry: So, I want to go back because you just covered a lot of time. The early part where you’re talking about you’re working in an apartment guide. I’m just curious. What was that time like for you? That’s three years. That’s a long time to be at a place for design, especially back then because there wasn’t really a lot of variance in what you could do for digital design like there is now. You can be product or UX or what, you know?

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Interaction and what have you. What was your mind frame like during that time when you’re working at the apartment guide just doing these print ads?

Dwight Battle: Honestly, it was a time where I said, “This is the time that I’m going to put my head down and grind.” It wasn’t design work. It was very purely print production work.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: So, it was throw headphones on and grind through these ads and grind through making these copy changes or whatever they were.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And so, I knew that that was a means to an end. I knew I didn’t want to do that forever.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: But I knew that I needed to pay my dues, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know because again, I was coming from basically two years of college separated by five years. So, I knew I needed to learn a lot. And so, I’d work on stuff during the day. And then, I would go home, and I would read books on design. I’d mock up my own ads, and I would do as much learning as I could on my own even with the limited resources that were online at the time. And just trying to read and soak up and inhale as much as I could so that the next time I was doing these print production things, I could do it a little bit more efficiently so that I could get through more things so I could go home and do more of this other thing.

Dwight Battle: And so, when the opportunity to … And I started having conversations with the people who would be my bosses about becoming an art director for a book about a year before it actually happened. I went to them and said, “What do I need to do to get here? Because this is what I want my next step to be.” And so, doing that was a big help because they basically provided the roadmap for me, and when the time came to interview for those roles, I had done everything they were looking for anyway. And I had shown that I was capable of doing all that work anyway. So, it really became more of a, not formality, but I had shown I was able to do the work. So, getting the job was easy.

Maurice Cherry: So, it sounds like that was your education.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: That was your college basically.

Dwight Battle: Basically, yeah. That’s kind of how I’ve started referring to it, yeah. My career started in earnest in 2003, and it was such a dramatic shift from what I was working on because I went from working in a production office pumping out things to having to support salespeople and having to work with people who had completely different priorities than I did and having to work with people who thought about things completely different than I did.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And so, it was a very strong fundamental shift in how I thought about design work because I was so used to just like, “Hey. I can design all these things in a vacuum, and it doesn’t really matter what happens outside of this.” And I moved here, and it became very much, “No. These things have a purpose.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: “We need to … There are numbers that I need to hit, so I need to make sure that this content matches that.”

Maurice Cherry: What was Seattle like during that time, during those early 2000s?

Dwight Battle: It was crazy. I knew Seattle because of Microsoft and Amazon and Starbucks and Nintendo. I lived … My first apartment was right across from the Microsoft campus, and it was like driving onto the Microsoft campus was I remember being shocked that it was literally a campus. I just, I guess for some reason in my head I always thought of a building, a big, tall building downtown that had Microsoft on the top, and that was Microsoft. And to see how much, how ingrained in the community it was was kind of mind blowing for me.

Dwight Battle: But I never really thought about Seattle as a tech city. It was just a city that had some tech companies in it. I stayed largely away from it because I didn’t want to work in tech. I wanted to work in advertising, and I wanted to work in design. So, I stayed away from all of that. I remember turning down interviews at Amazon, so it’s like, “I don’t want to work. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to work for Amazon.”

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And so, it’s crazy to me when people say that Seattle’s always been a tech town because it didn’t really feel like a tech town to me really until about 2010, 2011 when it was like, “Okay. Now, Facebook is here, and Google is here. And companies are starting to move here to take advantage of all the engineering talent.” And so all of a sudden, you would look around, and Uber’s over here, and Lyft’s over there. And Facebook’s down the street, and Google’s taken up like several city blocks over in Kirkland. And you looked up one day, and you’re like, “Oh, wait a minute. Yeah. This is now a major tech city.”

Dwight Battle: In 2003, it felt much smaller. It felt much more of a community. I loved my early days here. I felt like I knew a lot of people. I made it a conscious effort to get out and meet people because I didn’t know anybody here. And so, I had distinct friend groups of my design friends and my friends that I would go out to nightclubs with and my friends that I would play sports with. It just felt a lot smaller than it does now.

Maurice Cherry: Mm, interesting. I knew about Seattle from The Real World.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And now, I remember that because that was the year we first got cable, and I had heard about this stuff because we had magazines. I grew up in the deep South in Selma, and so anything that I knew about pop culture and everything came in the mail. We had magazines, and that was pretty much it. And I think when we first got cable in like ’97, ’98, and I think Real World Seattle? Was Seattle?

Dwight Battle: Yep.

Maurice Cherry: So, yeah. Seattle. Yeah. That was the one with where Stephen slapped Irene, yeah.

Dwight Battle: Yep.

Maurice Cherry: That was the first one I saw, and then I went to Seattle. It was 2002. I had got an opportunity to do an internship interview at Microsoft. Actually, that’s the only time I’ve been to Seattle now that I think about it. It was my first time there, and I was like, “I got to see The Real World house.” Never found it, but I got to see Pike Place Markets on the Space Needle. And I saw the Microsoft campus that you were talking about, and I just remember going there and seeing all the Segways and thinking, “This is like the future.”

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Like, “Oh, my God. People are driving around on Segways? I’ve only read about Segways. What?” Didn’t get the internship, but it was a really interesting experience. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since, so hopefully 2020 can make that happen.

Dwight Battle: Come in the summer.

Maurice Cherry: But, yeah.

Dwight Battle: Come in the summer. This is my-

Maurice Cherry: Come in the summer?

Dwight Battle: Yeah. This is the part that I think people who know me would be remiss if I didn’t say it. Don’t come in the winter. The weather here is terrible. I hate it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: I would have said that summers are beautiful, but it’s about to start raining for the next eight months.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Dwight Battle: So, just fair warning.

Maurice Cherry: So, now that Seattle is kind of, I guess, changing into a tech city sort of like you’re saying, how has the culture changed? Have you felt that shift as well?

Dwight Battle: Yeah. I remember a couple of years ago. I remember reading an article about things that were happening with long-term residents of Silicon Valley and fighting against the … There are long-term residents of San Francisco fighting against Silicon Valley and stopping buses in the street and doing all these things to disrupt what was happening to their city. I remember, I think it was three or four years ago, the same thing happened here in Seattle, and Microsoft, I think, was using street bus stops or something like that. And somebody literally held up a sign and was stopping one of those Microsoft transit buses because you were like, “You’re destroying this neighborhood.” And so I’ve felt that. I’ve noticed that.

Dwight Battle: I remember, I mean my starting day, my first day at Amazon, and I think I was in a room with 300 other people. And that was their day one along with me, and I think it was 300 people. And they told me it was the smallest one they had had this month.

Maurice Cherry: Mm. Okay.

Dwight Battle: So, Amazon is bringing in a ton of people. Google brings in a ton of people. Facebook, obviously, is bringing in … I think Facebook’s second biggest campus is here. So, yeah. It definitely has had an impact on the community both in terms of obvious things like the cost of living and housing, but also in the way I feel like when I moved here there was care for, this is going to sound really out there, but it felt like there was care for other people. You didn’t hear a lot of talk about people as “they”, or at least I never did, you know?

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And I’m sure there was NIMBYism floating around back then, but it’s been very apparent here. We need to do something about the homeless problem, but we don’t want it over here. Do it somewhere else.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I think that’s come from a lot of that, a lot of people coming from Silicon Valley up here, people coming in from other places because this is a more affordable place to be compared to some places in California. And so, there’s been a … And in the weather here is pretty moderate most of the time. And so, it’s become a destination, and so it’s become a destination, but there’s nowhere for anybody to live. And there’s people who have been living here for 30, 40 years that are fighting against all of that. So, yeah. I definitely feel it. I’ve definitely noticed it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I’ve heard that from … There’s this video channel on YouTube that I really like that’s based out of Seattle called Cut, and they often will show, well, they feature Seattle people because they’re in Seattle. But every now and then, they’ll have something which sort of talks about the city, or they’re interviewing people in the city. And they’ll talk about how things have really changed with sort of the encroaching of tech upon, I guess, the Seattle culture and everything.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: So, that’s really interesting because I think about that with Atlanta, also. I mean Atlanta is a city that has been changing a lot over these past 10 years, mostly because of entertainment.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: Because a lot of film and TV that is done here, and that has certainly not just, I think, changed the culture, but also it’s changed the cost of living, et cetera. It’s not as expensive as a New York or a San Francisco or L.A., but it’s affordable enough where people are starting to move here, and that influx of people is changing the culture. I’ll admit I’m not super involved in the local sort of design scene for many reasons, but I’m wondering. Now that you’re at the position where you’re at, especially having done so much in the field, do you feel like there’s really a design community there in Seattle, or is it just all tech?

Dwight Battle: I don’t. I’ll say that with an asterisk. I’ve become an old man living in the suburbs. So, I go to work, and I come home. And I play with my dog, and I watch TV. So, I’m sure there are things happening that I just don’t know about. But I know when I was younger, I struggled a lot with going to trying to go to design events here, not feeling very welcomed, and getting frustrated and leaving.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And so, that happens enough times, and you give it another shot. And it happens again, and you give it another shot. And it happens again. Eventually, you just stop going.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And so, part of that’s on me. Part of that’s on the design community here. I feel like the things that I go to now have been more tech-focused, but I think that’s also because my career has been more tech focused.

Maurice Cherry: Mm.

Dwight Battle: I haven’t been to a design-focused event in a while here, and I feel like when I go to other cities … I was in Minneapolis for the IGA conference, and I went to a bunch of different design events and felt immediately welcomed in, and it was a great time. And then, I tried to come back to that same one here after that event. It just wasn’t very welcoming, so I’ve just stopped trying to go, and I do acknowledge that I need to be better about that because I also grumble about the fact that I don’t have any peers that I can talk to. So.

Maurice Cherry: I remember that from when we met in Atlanta. You were sort of telling me that. Do you think part of that is just the infamous Seattle Freeze?

Dwight Battle: You’re going to get me in trouble, Maurice, because I have very strong feelings about that. I think the Seattle Freeze, I’ve actually come around on a little bit on that idea a little bit. I think people here are you have to work to make relationships here. I don’t think that’s ever been in question. The way I always describe it, it’s a hard nut with the super soft center. And so, you’re going to take a lot of work to get through that nut, but once you get into the middle of it, it’s this very welcoming, great place.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: But you got to do the work. And if you come from somewhere like an Atlanta or Minneapolis or places where it’s very outwardly, like you walk past people on the street and then the next thing you know, you’re over at their house for Sunday dinner. That can be a hard transition to make.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: I fight against it myself. I don’t want to become that person. I don’t want to become that person that I have complained about for 15 years now. So, when people reach out to me, I do my best to try and follow up to them because I can’t complain about the Seattle Freeze and then freeze people out myself.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: So, I think my perspective on that has changed a little bit as I’ve been here for some while. I think Seattle might get a little bit too much of a bad rep for that. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible to meet people here.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I read a recent article from, I don’t know if you know this guy, Timothy Bardlavens. Does that name sound familiar?

Dwight Battle: Yes. I know the article that you’re speaking of.

Maurice Cherry: You know what one I’m talking about?

Dwight Battle: Uh-huh (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. It’s-

Dwight Battle: I have not met him.

Maurice Cherry: Oh. I haven’t met him either, but, yeah. He’s been on this show before, actually for an article he wrote back in 2016, also about AIGA.

Dwight Battle: Hmm.

Maurice Cherry: Back then he was talking about why he quit AIGA, and this recent article that he wrote was about how AIGA upholds white supremacy, which I mean, whoo.

Dwight Battle: That’s, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Right out the gate. Right out the gate. I was like, “Oh, shit. Let me sit up.”

Dwight Battle: Coming out swinging, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: Now, I sat up in my chair when I saw that headline. Like, “Oh, okay.”

Maurice Cherry: And it’s interesting because when you talk about sort of design community and when I think about design community, AIGA invariably does come to mind because it’s the professional organization for designers, and there are chapters in every city. And I know that there certainly are some cities that are more welcoming and open than others, but then it seems like as a whole, the organization just sort of has this issue with diversity. And design events tend to be tied to AIGA in a way where it’s like unless it’s coming from that chapter, you really kind of don’t see it in a way.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: I think Atlanta is unique in the respect that we’ve always had a really strong arts community here. It may not specifically be digital design, but you can meet people who write, paint, sculpt, what have you, and it’s not within the confines of a sanctioned professional organization, that sort of thing. Have you found that kind of community in Seattle? Just the creative community not necessarily digital design.

Dwight Battle: No, and I would love one. I really would. I wish, and if someone’s listening to this and knows about one, find me on my website. Please tell me because I would love to have a community to talk about just general design stuff and period. That article in particular I think encapsulated a lot of the frustrations that I had with AIGA both local, and, man, I don’t want to say nationally because I don’t have a lot of experience with nationally, but definitely locally. I just, I never really ever felt welcomed there except when they were trying to like, “Here’s our diversity event.”

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: “You should come to this.” But if I went to just a regular event, I just, it never felt right. And I have this group of friends that I’ve met through actually through the HOW Conference, and they all have a diverse set of backgrounds. There’s photographers. There’s artists. There’s entrepreneurs. We don’t have anything in common other than the fact that we met at the HOW Conference, and those are the relationships that I value the most because we come from such different backgrounds and because we have such different specialties that I value those relationships. We get together once a year, and it’s great. But I would love something like that locally.

Maurice Cherry: Well, if any folks in Seattle are listening, make sure to hit up Dwight about that. Absolutely.

Dwight Battle: Please do.

Maurice Cherry: There’s a post that I saw that you wrote on LinkedIn a few years ago. It’s called, Where’s My Ari Gold? Ari Gold for folks who might not know is from Entourage, right?

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, from Entourage. That’s a good show, right? In this post, you were asking about like, “Where are the agents that are representing designers?” You’re saying that like, “Musicians have agents. Authors, et cetera, but when it comes to designers, there’s often no one that’s advocating for the designer for better work and things like this.” I really want to get into that because, well, one, I’d love to get an agent.

Dwight Battle: Dude.

Maurice Cherry: I would love to have someone that could advocate for me about that, but why do you think that exists? Why do you think there’s that dearth of, I guess, representation for designers like that?

Dwight Battle: Well, let me start by talking about why I wrote that.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: At the time, I was in that transitional phase when I was looking for trying to get into the digital space. And so, I was working with a lot of recruiting agencies, and that’s a very frustrating experience.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I remember having a conversation with a friend who is an illustrator, and she’s written a couple of books. And she was telling me about her agent and so on and so forth, and then I was having a separate conversation with another recruiter who flat out told me, “I don’t work for you. I work for the company that’s trying to hire you.” And that really changed my perspective of how I engaged with recruiters because they don’t really have our best interest in mind. They need to fill a role, and they’re looking for the best person to fill that role. But if I where I wasn’t at that time in my life, I’m looking to make the next step in my career, and I make looking to make a pivot in my career, I have no one that can advocate for me.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I don’t have anybody that can say, “This is what this person is.” I’ve got my website, but I don’t have a person that can say, “Here’s why you should consider Dwight for this role.”

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And that was where it came from was I would happily pay somebody to go out and advocate for me and to help me negotiate salary, which is something I think all designers struggle with. I think underrepresented designers probably struggle with that as much if not more because we’re always making on the low end of the scale.

Maurice Cherry: People aren’t checking for us anyway.

Dwight Battle: Right, yeah. I don’t have somebody that can say, “Hey, on Twitter, hey, come work for me. Here’s a bunch of money.” That doesn’t happen. I just read this. It’s on as a tangent. I just read this article about the Game of Thrones guys.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, God, yeah.

Dwight Battle: How they basically were like, “We don’t know anything about this, but here. Here’s a bunch of money to go make this this fantasy show for 10 years.”

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And that’s not something that happens to designers in particular and underrepresented designers in general. So, that was where that came from was I’m trying to make this pivot into a space, and I want someone that can advocate for me. Not just advocate for me but help me get to that stage where I can advocate for myself.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And I had to do all that. I had to, again, find all that information and work through that stuff on my own, and I finally got it all figured out about six months ago when I was having these conversations with Amazon. So, that was where that came from. As to why we don’t have them, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because there’s a lot of people out there who want to be designers and are willing to call themselves designers and-

Dwight Battle: … who want to be designers and are willing to call themselves designers and will take anything that’s given to them salary wise, job wise that there just doesn’t seem to be a market for that. I don’t know, but I know that there’s a lot of talented designers in this world that aren’t being found because they aren’t in the right circles, they don’t know the right people. And that seems to be a hole that could be fixed.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And you hear all the time, “Well, if we could find talented black designers, we would have talented black designers”.

Dwight Battle: And my response to them is always, “Well, you’re not looking”. You can’t ask your employees to go find talented employees and be surprised when they all come back looking like the people that you already have working there.

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And still wish I had an Ari Gold.

Maurice Cherry: I feel that one. It must be it for real because it’s one of those things where, I think the general thing that I get from you is there’s a lot of figuring out, and oftentimes as designers, and especially digital designers in this field, there’s already so many other things we have to figure out in terms of the right tools, and the techniques, and working with the clients and all this other kind of stuff. You want to be able to, I guess, offload some of that in a way, to an agent. I think that would be a good thing and I hope for people that are listening, they don’t think that this is coming from some kind of elitist state.

Maurice Cherry: I think anyone, once you get to a certain level in your career, you don’t want to have to keep fighting for the same things that you did when you started out. You shouldn’t have to go tooth and nail with someone on salary or on certain benefits or things of that nature. Maybe that’s just sort of the nature of whatever market that you happen to be in, if you’re in a big city, if you’re in a small city, et cetera.

Maurice Cherry: I know illustrators often have agents, so they are a part of an agency and that’s who tends to get them gigs. I don’t know if there needs to be something like that for designers, or if there’s just not … I don’t know. I would love to know what that is because I’ve certainly had folks on the show who are, what’s the best way to put it? They’re creative consultants or something. They work with designers, almost in like a collective sort of sense.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m thinking of one person, off the top of my head, Ian Davies, who I think I interviewed him back in 2017, 2018 something like that. And he has a collective of people that he works with and helps them out with gigs and stuff. But it’s very much a closed door sort of thing. You have to know someone who knows someone. I know of different creative collectives. Laci Jordan, whom I’ve had on the show, I know she’s part of the [inaudible 00:46:44] collective, which is made up of designers and writers and artists. So it’s a number of different types of creative people. I don’t know if maybe that’s the model that needs to happen, like a bunch of us just need to get together and be super friends. I don’t know what that would look like.

Dwight Battle: The Avengers.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. No seriously, because I’ve had designers of all stripes that have been here on the show and that’s a common thing. They want to be able to have people that are going to help push them to whatever the next thing is in their career. And that’s not necessarily a mentorship kind of thing. I won’t even say coaching or sponsoring, but it is sort of an agent thing because this is something like you mentioned in the post, you’re willing to pay for that.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: You would pay for someone to help you do this, whether that’s a percentage of the salary or what have you. And I think headhunters kind of do that, but even that’s tricky because the headhunters are not really for you, they’re for the company that they work for because they’re probably getting paid on commission or whatever.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Oh man, it’s real tricky. I hope there are folks that are out here listening who are in the creative field, that might know someone who does this. Please reach out to the show or something like that because I feel like that’s a really big need, especially for underrepresented designers, because what’ll end up happening is someone puts out a call on Twitter or something.

Maurice Cherry: I feel like that’s how I see a lot of these sorts of opportunities crop up. “I’m looking for such and such”, and then someone starts a Twitter thread with 50 people in it or something. And I don’t know if someone’s going to look at all 50 of those people or whatever, but it’s like a sort of lazy man’s way of aggregating that kind of information. But man, I would love to have an agent. Really just someone that could help out in that respect because as you get to a certain point in your career, the recruiters are just trying to hit quota. They don’t really care whether or not … I still get recruiters that will contact me for like, “Oh, we have a six month content writer position”. I’m not looking for six month contract gigs. Get out of here.

Dwight Battle: Yep.

Maurice Cherry: First of all, I’m employed full time and secondly, I’m not going to do contract work at this stage, especially for like … No, no, absolutely not.

Dwight Battle: I actually put that on my LinkedIn. That says, “I would rather not be contacted by third party recruiters”. And it doesn’t stop them.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. It doesn’t stop them.

Dwight Battle: But yeah, it’s just that. And I respect it. Listen, you have your roles to fill, you’ve got your numbers to hit. I get it. But I’m at a stage in my career where I would rather honestly take that energy that I’m spending trying to find my next job, and put it towards helping someone that is where I was 15 years ago and help them get their career started.

Maurice Cherry: Right.

Dwight Battle: And so when I spend all this energy trying to find a job, I can’t also do that. I get lots of emails through my website all the time, asking, “How do I do this? How do I get into this career?” And I try to respond to every one that I can. But that takes time, it takes energy, that takes your spirit. You’ve got to get into a mindset to do that.

Dwight Battle: I love that idea of collective. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I think one of the things I’ve always done in my career, and this has probably been because I spent so much time contracting was, I’m always looking at what the next step is. I took Amazon for very specific reasons. So once my time in Amazon is done, what’s the next thing?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea of having some sort of collective where a bunch of designers can be in one space. It can be a very creative space, you can run your own thing, you can come together. But then also provide opportunities for young designers who don’t have those contacts and who don’t have blue check marks next to their names, and who don’t have this huge network of people that are willing to just throw opportunities out into the Aether. I feel that strongly. I want to do that. I want to be in a position where I can do that because I didn’t have those resources when I was starting my career.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So just to shift gears just a little bit here. We’re talking certainly about the energy that it takes to put all this together, and certainly what I’ve gained from listening to your story is that you’ve had to really, and I’ve said this on the show before, but you’ve had to make the road by walking. You had to forge your own path through all of this to get to where you are right now. What do you think helps fuel that ambition?

Dwight Battle: I’m always looking forward and it sounds kind of silly to say that I’m never happy, but I’m never happy. I have this vision in my head for myself and so I keep moving towards that thing. So I take steps that I think will help me get there. I just started doing some motion design work because it’s something that I’ve always found interesting, I thought it’s something that could help me and somewhere down the line in my career, so hey, let’s start doing some motion design work.

Dwight Battle: And I think that may have come from the fact that the way I started out my career, I didn’t have the tailwinds of coming out of school with a degree and an internship and all these different resources and references and things like that. I had to do that individually, step-by-step and trying to find help where I can. And to be clear, I did not do this by myself. I couldn’t have done any of this without lots of support from various different people.

Dwight Battle: But I think that drive, always thinking about what my next thing is and thinking about, okay, once my time here at Amazon is done, I’m going to be however old I am and starting to think about the next step in terms of retirement. So what is the next thing that going to get me to that point? And what do I want to do? Do I want to be driving through Seattle traffic to go into an office at 55 years old? So if I don’t want to do that, what do we need to be doing now to get to that point?

Maurice Cherry: Can you afford to take a break?

Dwight Battle: No.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: I couldn’t take an extended break. I took a month off between HBO and Amazon, and got a lot of things done and did a lot of different things. I don’t know that I’m built to take a super long sabbatical. I don’t know what I would do, I think I would go crazy. I know I drive my wife crazy.

Dwight Battle: I don’t think I could and I don’t know that I would want to, unless I was doing something very specific like traveling. I’ve never been overseas so that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. But, no.

Maurice Cherry: The reason I asked that, I wasn’t like trying to like poke a hole in what you were saying, but I do feel like, particularly for underrepresented designers, especially when you get to a certain age, like late thirties, early forties it’s like, what’s next? Do I still want to be doing this 10 or 15 years down the line? Because if the industry has changed … Well, the industry will change. That’s just inevitable. What is my place in it?

Maurice Cherry: Much like you, I was self taught. I was doing all this design stuff as a hobby and lucked into my first design job in ’05 and have managed to build on skills and opportunities to get where I am now. And that’s great, but I don’t have a formal education in design, I’ve got my experiences in my projects which have helped me out. And it’s interesting even to have that.

Maurice Cherry: If I try to look at what the next thing is, then it’s like, does this transfer? Can I use this? Do I have to go back to school? What is the next thing? And part of me is like, well maybe I should just like take a break. And it’s not something that I think underrepresented designers, when we get to this stage in our career, really even this age in life, is not something we can really afford to do. We have to keep going and it sucks.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: It sucks. I would love to have just three months. I would get so much stuff done. If I could have just three months to not have to worry about what the next thing is I have to do, what the next step is. Like what’s the next project? Oh, yeah.

Dwight Battle: If you said, “Dwight, you have to take three months off”, I would spend most of that three months figuring out what I was going to do on day 91. And maybe that’s coming back to design, maybe it’s not.

Dwight Battle: I’m big into these home improvement shows, and so I was watching this show last night and the designers said something that really resonated with me, and I’ve always tried to put it into words. She said, “Always say yes until you can afford to say no”.

Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dwight Battle: And I feel like I’m starting to get there. Over the course of trying to get to this job, I said no to other jobs. But when I think of that, holistically about my career, is there a point where I don’t want to be a designer anymore? She went from a fashion design career to being an interior designer.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: Is that a shift that I can make? And what does that shift look like? So I think if I took three months off, I would do basically that. Figuring out what that 91st day looks like.

Maurice Cherry: Always say yes until you can afford to say no. Wow.

Dwight Battle: I might get that tattooed on me.

Maurice Cherry: I feel like I’m starting to get to the know part, but even when I give the nos, it’s sort of like a, maybe. It’s a soft no. I haven’t gotten to that point yet.

Dwight Battle: I feel like it’s hard, especially for us. It’s hard to say no because you don’t know if you’re going to have an opportunity to say yes again.

Maurice Cherry: Exactly. Oh my God. Yeah.

Dwight Battle: So you feel like I have to take this thing, even though it might not be the best thing for me or for my career. I have to take this because I don’t know if there’s going to be another opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I’ll give you a prime example. So, two years ago I publicly was like, “I’m not speaking at conferences anymore”. The last one I think I spoke at was after How. I forget what it was. Whatever the conference was, but it was a pain in the ass to deal with the conference organizer, and travel, and accommodation.

Dwight Battle: I remember you telling me about this. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I was like, it’s not worth it to go through all of this to do 45 minutes on stage, for what? And at this point in time, I also was kind of thinking to myself, where’s my agent? Who’s advocating for me so I don’t have to put up with all this bullshit?

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: And I was on a podcast called Working File with Andy Mangold and and Matt McInerney. It was the two of us. It was Cap Watkins who was VP of design of Buzzfeed at the time and myself, and I was like, “I’m done. I am capital D done with speaking at conferences”. Have yet to get a conference invite since then. But I don’t know if it’s because I said no or if they’ve just stopped coming.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And recently, I spoke at Bowling Green State University and that was really my first time giving a fairly big talk, I’d say there was maybe about 150 people there. It was students. And I’ve done little things around town, here in Atlanta, but it’s like 50 people at a morning coffee thing or 75 people at a … Actually, I wasn’t even speaking about design, I was speaking about podcasting. I wasn’t even talking about my design work. This was the first time I really got back on a stage and talked about design stuff in like two years, and I was like, “This is good”.

Maurice Cherry: And I told myself then that I would like to speak at more colleges or universities because I just feel like I would rather impart this knowledge on students, so they can take it into the future, than on working jaded professionals right now, who are just here on a professional development budget.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I’m thinking of like what’s the impact of what I’m putting out there? As opposed to just being on the stage, so I can add a credit to my CV or whatever. I don’t care about that. But yeah. Oh man, always say yes until you can afford to say no. That one hit me deep. Oh man.

Dwight Battle: Yeah. I had to pause it and had to think about that for a minute because it hit me the same way it hit you. Man, that puts it all into words.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Dwight Battle: And the bulk of my journey this past year was that. Was okay, can I say no to this? Is it the right thing for me? And if I say no, is there going to be another thing? Because if I had just taken the next thing, I wouldn’t be sitting here, working at Amazon. I’d be doing something less interesting.

Maurice Cherry: Right. All the could have, would have, should haves.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Take a look back at your career, if you could put up a billboard, or a manifesto, or something to say anything to anybody in your field, what would that say? What would you want to put out there that you want everyone to know?

Dwight Battle: That path isn’t a straight line. Or I would say, the path that people think that you need to be on isn’t always your path. And it’s okay to take a left turn, even though the GPS says to go straight, and see what happens when you do that. You may wind up where you were originally intending to go. You might wind up in a better place. So feel free to get lost, I guess.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Feel free to get lost. I like that. When you look at other work from your peers or anything like that, is there any projects that you’ve seen lately that have really inspired you? That made you wish that you had done that?

Dwight Battle: I don’t know if it’s lately, but a couple of years ago there was an ad campaign. I think it was the Old Spice guy. The guy with the towel around his waist and was riding a horse with the diamonds or whatever. And this was when I was super trying to get into advertising. They had just rolled out this character and I think the guy went on Twitter in character and just started answering questions in character, and making commercials and putting them on YouTube in real time in this character. And I just thought that was so brilliant and such a good use of all of those mediums, instead of going forth then and building up this big, expensive ad campaign, something that’s going to air a handful of times for three months. Reacting to people in real time.

Dwight Battle: And that has always stuck with me, and I try to think about what are the things that I can leverage that are happening right now? Whether that’s, Tik Tok would be the thing now, but it would have been Snapchat last year. But, can I be ready to jump on a thing that people aren’t even thinking about, to communicate things to people? If I were to take this to the extreme in my role at Kindle, how could I leverage Tik Tok to get people reading more books? That’s always stuck with me. And that campaign was a while ago, but that’s always stuck with me.

Maurice Cherry: So one thing that I really have been trying to focus on for 2020 is how can we use the talents that we have to really, I guess, build the future. There has been campaigns and art installations I’ve seen about, there are black people in the future. Have you seen these before?

Dwight Battle: Mm-mm (negative).

Maurice Cherry: It’s like a billboard. I think there’s one in Detroit, or maybe it originated in Detroit, where a woman has a billboard and it says, “There are black people in the future”. Because when you see science fiction, we’re normally not there. It’s like, Uhura and Worf and Geordi, and whatever to do was on Deep Space Nine, that was the Vulcan.

Dwight Battle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Deep space nine. I’m showing my Star Trek nerdery here. But, when you look at the future, the next five years or so, what kind of work do you want to be doing?

Dwight Battle: If I look five years into the future, I think I want to be helping the next generation of designers get work and get paid. Those are the two things that I see in the future for me, as my career gets to wherever it’s going to be. I feel like I almost have that responsibility to bring people along and again, because I didn’t have those resources of opportunities. I hope I’m in a space where, whether it’s at Amazon or elsewhere, that I can be in somewhat of a position of power to bring people into the room because I think that’s also important.

Maurice Cherry: So you’ll have the Battle agency? Is that what it’ll be? Something like that?

Dwight Battle: I have such a fortunate last name that I really should leverage it more than I do and in a more creative way that I do. But yes, something around the Battle agency.

Maurice Cherry: I need to see how much it is to trademark though, because I come up with all kinds of stuff from my last name all the time. Some of it I see makes it out into the world, some of it doesn’t. I need to get on that.

Dwight Battle: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: Well just to kind of wrap things up here, Dwight, and this has been a great conversation by the way, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Dwight Battle: You can find my work at dwightbattle.com. You can find me all over various social medias at Dwight the mayor, and that’s Twitter, Instagram, Dribble, LinkedIn. All those links are on my website too.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Dwight Battle, I want to thank you just so much for coming on the show. Like I said, when we met back in 2016 and I heard about your story, and even hearing it again now, I think it’s really important for folks to know, as you said before, that any of the success and things that you see in the design field, in tech, none of it is unattainable. You don’t have to follow a specific path of this school to this company, to get what you have to go. I think you’ve been a prime example of someone that has really worked their way up through the ranks, paid your dues, learned as you went, made the road by walking to get to the success that you have today. And I hope that that becomes an inspiration for people that are listening.

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

Dwight Battle: Thank you for having me. I had a great time.

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