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!



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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I knew about Aricka Lewis through our mutual volunteer work through AIGA, so I’m really glad we had a chance to talk so I could learn more about her!

Aricka is a senior UX designer at Ad Hoc, as well as an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, so our conversation began talking about the ins and outs of her work, as well as what it feels like teaching at her alma mater. We also spoke a bit about design communities in non-urban metropolitan areas and other designers who influence her, plus I learned about Aricka’s vocal stylings with the band The Honey Collective. According to Aricka, designers shouldn’t be afraid to put themselves out there, and I think this interview really drives that point home!

Full Transcript

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

Aricka Lewis: I am Aricka Lewis. I’m a senior UX designer at a company called Ad Hoc, it’s a government agency. And then I also am an adjunct professor for the School of Art at the University of Arkansas.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Talk to me a little bit about the work you do as a UX designer at Ad Hoc.

Aricka Lewis: Sure. So this is a new role for me. I’ve been there just a little over maybe a month and a half at this point, but my focus right now is on making sure veterans have access to all of the benefits that they can receive from the federal government. Right now, a lot of that information is spread across the internet and there are a lot of predatory companies that will charge veterans to learn about that access.

Aricka Lewis: And so it’s part of my job to understand what those avenues are, and consolidating them in one place, so that they are easy access, especially for those who might not have the ability, physically or mentally or emotionally, to take up the space to go out and look for it. So it’s really rewarding work. Definitely difficult at times. But I kind of like that it’s difficult, because it creates an empathy and awareness within me that I wasn’t fully aware of before I started.

Maurice Cherry: That’s not even something I consider when I think about UX roles as it relates to veterans. That’s an interesting thing. What’s kind of a regular day like for you?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, a regular day. It depends. So, let me think about that. I would say that it normally starts out with me researching and understanding veteran behaviors on the internet, because what we’re doing on va.gov is a lot of consolidation of a lot of other sites. It’s a lot of research on my part to go out and figure out what all is there.

Aricka Lewis: And it’s a lot of actually talking to veterans, which is a really, really cool thing for me, having come from an enterprise background previously, to actually be able to talk directly to the folks that are using the products. So a lot of researching, a lot of talking with them to understand how to put that stuff together. And then luckily, VA has a really extensive design system and it’s public. All of the VA repos on GitHub are public as well.

Aricka Lewis: So, just really cool stuff to learn about in that aspect of research, and then just putting it all together and testing. We work obviously, maybe not obviously, but we work in two week sprint cycles. So each sprint is a little bit different. But for the most part, there’s that research and validation with veterans or some format like that, each sprint.

Maurice Cherry: What does veteran behavior look like online? I’m curious, as much of that as you can sort of dive into. I’m curious about…

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s actually interesting and I don’t know if it’s because of the military training, but veterans are really, really efficient. They want to get in and out. So they will oftentimes find a lot of really strange workarounds or shortcuts on websites.

Aricka Lewis: And so a lot of my work is me understanding like, okay, this isn’t the flow that I would have assumed, but would be the way that you would do this thing. But they’re just very, very efficient in the way that they use the internet, no matter really what age they are, they will find what they’re looking for no matter how. So, that’s been really interesting, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: What would you say has kind of been the biggest challenge so far with this role? Because you’re fairly new there, right?

Aricka Lewis: Yes. So the biggest challenge for me, especially being new, is just understanding how to talk to people who have seen a lot more than I will probably have ever seen in my life. And it’s really tough sometimes, but really worthwhile.

Aricka Lewis: And so I wouldn’t say design specifically is challenging, but more so personally in line with the empathetic thinking that comes with design. It can be challenging, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: I remember this was a while ago, I met someone who, he had a podcast where he would interview basically, elderly people. He will interview people I think maybe 60 and up or 70 and up. It was called The Greatest Generation, I believe. And I remember he mentioned sort of a similar thing with talking with them, it’s like how do you ask questions to someone who has experienced so much in life, so you don’t come off sounding stupid or ill-informed or anything like that? Do you find that the veterans are pretty amicable though?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, absolutely. I think especially because I’m working on something that will honestly make their lives a lot easier, they’re more than willing to talk and be open and honest about it. So oftentimes, they’re thanking me for even talking with them about this thing that they didn’t really consider a human being behind.

Aricka Lewis: So that’s nice, and personally pretty rewarding.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Now, earlier this year you were at RevUnit, which I think that’s where I first heard about you. What was that experience like?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I was at RevUnit for maybe three and a half years or so. I think that’s right. And they focus primarily on enterprise applications and products. And so a lot of what I was doing was for large companies like Walmart, Zappos, H-E-B if you’re Texan, and some others. And so it was a lot of working with data, data visualization, and large numbers of people using really targeted and focused products.

Aricka Lewis: For example, I worked on a note taking app for employees of Walmart, so they can basically do their work a little bit quicker and easier and it’s digitized versus having to write them in notepads, like they were doing before. And it impacted hundreds of thousands of people. So the scale of work was definitely quite large at RevUnit.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. Now, you’re in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We talked about that a little bit before we, started recording. Is that where you grew up too?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so I moved to Fayetteville when I was eight, I want to say seven or eight. My family is from lower Southeastern Arkansas, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. And my mom actually moved here to go to law school. So I’ve been here for almost 20 years.

Maurice Cherry: Wow. Was design and tech a big part of your world growing up? Were you exposed to it pretty early?

Aricka Lewis: No, not at all. So a lot of my family members are teachers. As I mentioned, my mom is an attorney, so a lot of academia, which I think I’m fortunate in that aspect. And because of that, I think my family members were really exploratory in the way that we were able to learn. So although we didn’t talk about design or maybe art as a career focus, there was a lot of creativity and problem solving in the way that we, I’m saying we, like me and my cousins, grew up when we were younger.

Maurice Cherry: I would imagine probably a lot of analysis too.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: How did you first kind of get into UX? Like how did you know this was something that you could turn into a career?

Aricka Lewis: It’s kind of a roundabout way, which I’m sure everybody says, since it’s such a new kind of industry. But I had a traditional, if you will, design job out of college for a couple months. And then I moved into e-commerce and when I was working in e-commerce I realized that I was, I didn’t know the term at the time, but iterating my designs based on the behavior. So click through rates and how much revenue was generated depending on which ad was being shown, and what banners were shown and things like that.

Aricka Lewis: And so pretty early on, I gained an interest in how people were reacting to the way in which I was designing. So I started working on the daily UI challenge. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of that or something very similar. And from there, I just decided, this is a field of design that I didn’t learn about in school. I want to take some more time and learn about it.

Aricka Lewis: So I took a junior UI job at RevUnit, the technology agency here in, it’s in Bentonville, Arkansas, but not too far from me. And it just went on from there. I was doing UI for a while and then realized, oh, user behavior is actually like a thing that I can focus on. So I moved into UX and user experience and understanding how people could navigate through the designs that I was creating.

Maurice Cherry: And you went to the University of Arkansas, is that right?

Aricka Lewis: Yup.

Maurice Cherry: What was their design program like?

Aricka Lewis: So the design program, when I was there, it was less than fantastic. I don’t want to put anybody on blast seeing as how I worked there. It’s changed a lot since I graduated. But when I was there, they didn’t have a graphic design program. It was like a, what is it? A bachelor of art in visual emphasis and visual design or something along those lines.

Aricka Lewis: And so really, it was a lot of art history classes and painting classes. And then I think I actually took four actual graphic design classes to graduate. I didn’t learn a whole lot by way of what I could do with design. But I did learn the principles of design, which I think have just still been foundational in my career.

Maurice Cherry: And now as you were there and you were going through the program, do you feel like they were really preparing you for the world out there as a designer in the job market?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, I do. I’m fortunate, because the instructors that I had, a lot of them had been working, I don’t want to say in the real world, but in the real world outside of academia before teaching. And so it was nice to have them give us real world experience. And then they did have a professional development class too, where we would go to different agencies in the area and talk with people and understand like, okay, I went to design school, but I’m actually like a marketing agent now. Or, I’m actually, I’m the creative director at a tech company now or whatever it might be.

Aricka Lewis: So they did expose us to different types of jobs within the creative industry.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. And just a few years after you graduated, you also teach there. You mentioned before that you’re an educator. What is that feeling like? I can only imagine like you were just there as a student and now you have students.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, it’s really bizarre, because I guess I can call him my colleague now, but he teaches the same class that I teach, but he was my instructor when I was there. So it’s definitely interesting to say the least. It also kind of keeps me on my toes because it forces me to be sharp in the things that have kind of become second nature. I think in order to teach, you really have to know what you’re talking about.

Aricka Lewis: I think sometimes it can be muscle memory to just execute work, but to teach people and to have them understand it, I think is a whole other beast that I’ve gained a great appreciation for educators, than I’ve ever had before.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And I would even say also, the other challenge that comes with that is that the stuff that you’re teaching is also sort of constantly changing and shifting. Can you talk about like some of the courses that you’re teaching?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. So I teach the UX course and it’s interesting, because like you mentioned, it does change quite often, just the field in general. And so moving into it, students are used to having this very well laid out design brief or syllabus of the products that they’re going to do from their professor.

Aricka Lewis: But in this instance, in this class, I had been talking with a developer in the area who had an idea for an app. I was like, well, I’ve got this class and we can kind of see what we come up with throughout the course of the semester, using the design product lifecycle as a guide for how we’re going to move.

Aricka Lewis: Students are definitely not used to that, and I think it’s put them in an uncomfortable position, but one of growth and not necessarily something that’s undesirable. So that’s been interesting to seem, for sure.

Maurice Cherry: What’s it been like being a young faculty member? Do you find that students take you seriously or is it the opposite?

Aricka Lewis: They’re really respectful and I don’t know if it’s just the generation of people, but they’re just really, really nice. I couldn’t ask for a better group of students to have. It’s weird, because I don’t consider myself that much older than them. I think my students were born in maybe 1999 or 2000. I was born 1993, but I feel like the generational gap is a little bit different between them.

Aricka Lewis: So sometimes I still feel old, but I know that I’m not old. I saw one of my students wearing Air Force 1s and I tried to make a reference about how I still had mine from like 2006, and she was just like, that’s weird. But for the most part, they’re really respectful and I really enjoy having them.

Maurice Cherry: Are there any challenges that you face from them? I mean, aside from I guess just the fact that you are in the same generation sort of, but what are you… I’m just curious to know about like what current design students are going through, because there’s so many different choices for them now, and there’s so much information out there for them to get, whether it’s in the classroom, out the classroom, et cetera.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, these students, so they have classes like human centered design now, which was something that, it was starting up when I was there, but it wasn’t as fleshed out as it is now. Obviously, they’re still really into illustration and type and things like that too. But it’s been really cool to see students have such an interest in research as a design practice and human behavior.

Aricka Lewis: And outside of that, they’re just really, really talented. They are coming for my wig. I’m surprised. There’s sophomores and juniors who are doing incredible, incredible work. I think they also have this just awareness of social responsibility and they take that into account into their work.

Aricka Lewis: For example, we were doing user surveys, and I think someone put gender as an option on the survey and they were questioning if it was relevant to the survey data, and was it going to be relevant in our research? It’s just those questions that I wouldn’t have even thought to ask when I was 19 or 20 or whatever age in college. But it’s really, really cool to see how they’re thinking about environmental and social impact of their work.

Maurice Cherry: Interesting. I just came back from the Black in Design Conference not too long ago, and that was one of the things that they were talking about as they spoke on spaces, about carving out sort of these spaces where you can use your design work in a way that can have a social impact in that way.

Maurice Cherry: Other than what you’ve mentioned, are there other things that your students teach you?

Aricka Lewis: They have definitely taught me patience and they’ve taught me how to be clear and direct. I think-

Aricka Lewis: … how to be clear and direct. I think, oftentimes, a lot of us, but I focus, or I suffer from imposter syndrome quite a bit, and so they’ve really taught me how to be confident in the work that I know that I know how to do and how to communicate directly and clearly so that someone who doesn’t understand those things can clearly understand them.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now you’re still pretty early in your career from what I’m picking up here. Have there been any resources or mentors or anyone that has really helped you out along the way, any organizations maybe that have helped you out along the way?

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so these are two separate things, but organization-wise, I joined AIGA when I was in college to go to one of their portfolio reviews, and this is before we had a chapter here in Northwest Arkansas, but I joined it, the Kansas City chapter because it’s close, about three hours away from me, to do a student portfolio review, and I just met a lot of just connections and people that had so many different backgrounds in design or in tech that gave me really valuable feedback or even just advice, and I still have a lot of those connections to this day. I think through AIGA, I’ve learned, or I’ve met a lot of different people over the years who’ve also become mentors.

Aricka Lewis: One person specifically, she’s not a member of AIGA, but her name is Lisa Baskett. She started at RevUnit a little bit after I did, but she’s like the most amazing designer/researcher I’ve ever met ever. She quickly became a mentor of mine when I was at RevUnit pretty early on in my career there. She helped mold where I wanted to grow and develop. I’ve kind of, for a while, I was mirroring how she was working, what she was doing so that I could kind of become as good as her. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I really looked up to her, and I still do, still talk to her all the time, but I think if she didn’t start there, I wouldn’t have known as much as I did early on about user research and user experience.

Maurice Cherry: What’s the design scene like in Fayetteville? I didn’t even know that Fayetteville would have had an active AIGA chapter or even AIGA group of people

Aricka Lewis: It’s interesting because there’s always been quite a few really good designers in the Northwest Arkansas area. There just was never a community to bring them all together. A group of I guess colleagues or friends of mine started the AIGA chapter here in Northwest Arkansas in the end of 2016, early 2017. I think that kind of encourage folks to start coming out and engaging as a group as a whole. There are a lot of little underground DIY scenes in the area, and so having kind of one meeting space for everyone to come together was a really, really great first step.

Aricka Lewis: Additionally, there’s a lot of companies here like Walmart and Tyson and J. B. Hunt that employ a lot of UX designers as they move into that ecommerce or whatever-you-want-to-call-it field, and they’re starting to kind of become tech companies internally within the organizations, and so a lot of their designers started coming to our events as well. The design community has really grown here, and our membership base grew wildly thanks to a lot of the companies here that provide jobs for them.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. I’ve always just been curious about that with small towns because we hear so much from Silicon Valley, San Francisco, LA, and New York about all the great design things there, but there’s tons of cities and communities between those extremes that you really just don’t hear about what’s going on in smaller towns. I relayed this story before we started recording about going to Raleigh-Durham a few years ago and noticing what a vibrant scene they had there, which I honestly would not have known unless I had went there. I didn’t know that the need and the drive was so strong in Fayetteville to start your own chapter and really start putting things together.

Aricka Lewis: There’s surprisingly… maybe not surprising. Not surprisingly to me, but maybe to others. There are a lot of small design agencies here as well. Some do work for the larger companies and some don’t, but there’s a really, really big design scene here, and I say big obviously per square mile maybe, I don’t know, but for it to be a small area, it really is growing, and more and more agencies are popping up, which is really, really great to see.

Maurice Cherry: Nice. Nice. Now what… Tell me some more about the work you’re doing with the AIGA. You mentioned this chapter, but you’re also doing something else with the task force, D&I task force.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, so my role has kind of evolved over time. I started out as a programming director and am now a VP of inclusion and initiatives for the chapter. Recently, within the last couple of years, we had the AIGI D&I, the national D&I task force had a meeting here in Arkansas where we invited all of the members of the task force plus all of the D&I representatives from each of the chapters nationally to come to Northwest Arkansas where we just talked about the initiative as a whole and how chapters locally can impact their community and how we can diversify AIGA’s membership because it’s well-known that aid is not very diverse, and so how can we help facilitate the work to make space for those who are not represented in our membership.

Aricka Lewis: It was really, really cool to see. I was happy to have everyone come see Arkansas and make their own opinion instead of just reading what you learn in the news or whatever it might be. It was great to have them come and actually witness Arkansas for themselves.

Maurice Cherry: What do you think is the single most important skill that a designer needs these days? It can be a technical skill. It can be a soft skill. What do you think in your experience?

Aricka Lewis: The single most important skill that a designer should have. I think… Hmm. That’s a good question. I’m trying to figure out how to word it. I might stumble for a second. The ability to analyze problems, and I know that seems super vague and buzzwordy, but I say that because I think oftentimes designers like to jump to a solution or something they think they like or something that they’ve used before, and they want to apply it to the same situation, but I think the ability to really dive into a problem, understand who’s being impacted by it, what the impact is, and why it matters, why it’s important is highly valuable and I think even more important than just designing a solution because if you just go out and throw something out there, it could just… it couldn’t be the right thing or it could, but I think being able to understand either if it’s a user or if it’s just a blanket problem that might affect a lot of different people, those are important things to know.

Maurice Cherry: And I would say there’s so many UX designers out there now, which is really why I ask this question, whether it’s through a formal program like what you’re teaching or through something like general assembly or even self-taught courses, I feel like the number of UX designers over the years has steadily just been increasing. I think the part that you mentioned there about really being able to analyze problems, that’s something that is super important for any designer to know, whether it’s putting it together your portfolio, it’s not just enough to have a bunch of pretty images. You should have something which explains the choices behind why you designed it this way. That is, I think, will help set you apart from a lot of other people.

Aricka Lewis: I think being able to talk about your work is also valuable, so not only being able to show that you do good work, but talk about how you got there and your process. That’s something that I’m trying to get my students to do right now.

Maurice Cherry: When did you realize that you kind of had to put yourself out there in this way in order to kind of start making things happen?

Aricka Lewis: This is kind of sad, but I had a really, really tough client meeting when I was first starting out doing some UI work, and I couldn’t articulate why I had made the decisions that I had made. I started crying, and it was so embarrassing because I just couldn’t, I don’t know, I couldn’t talk about my work. I think it was because I was paralyzing myself and I was afraid of failure and I was afraid to put myself out there and just say, “This is why I did this, and I think it’s the right thing,” so instead I just didn’t say anything.

Aricka Lewis: I didn’t want to put myself in that position again, and so I learned from that. The next time I had a client meeting where I had to present my work, I was more confident in talking about my process and the method in which I got there and why I did what I did. It may not have been the right solution, but I was applauded for, I keep saying it, putting myself out there, but I was applauded for just being open to hearing feedback and for including people in that process. It really does impact more people than just yourself if you are the face of that confidence and that opportunity.

Maurice Cherry: Absolutely. What do you wish you really would have known about, I guess, the design world when you first started?

Aricka Lewis: If I’m being honest, I wish I would’ve known how not diverse it is. That was a really hard thing to go through when I first started. I’m in a sorority, and I was just used to seeing a sea of different faces in college, and so when I went into the workforce, it was jarring, and I was not expecting that. I definitely wish that I was… I don’t know how you become more prepared for that, but it would’ve just been nice to know. I was kind of blinded by it, and I want to say it’s because I didn’t have any professors of color when it came to my art career.

Maurice Cherry: Interesting. Now here you are as a professor of color, I mean, not teaching art, but teaching UX, so at least your students kind of have that to look up to as a possibility model.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the reason that I agreed to do it because I was a little like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe they’re me. I feel like I don’t have enough experience under my belt,” but in reality, this experience that I have I think is just as valuable as someone who’s been in the field for 20 years who might not experience the same type of workforce that I do. I was willing to put myself out there so that that visibility is there for students who were like me and wanted to get into design but maybe didn’t see someone else who looked like them.

Maurice Cherry: Who are some of your influences? What drives you to continue with this work?

Aricka Lewis: I would say… so someone else asked me this question recently, and funny enough, I said you.

Maurice Cherry: Me? Oh.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. I think that… so surprised, this is The Maurice Show now. No, I’m just kidding. I said you were one of my influences because you have put yourself out there in so many different avenues and have started a lot of different projects that, big or small, impacted a lot of people, and I think that’s important work, so definitely you, and then my professor who sparked something in me as far as social impact and social, I guess, justice go, Marty Maxwell Lane. She’s a big influence of mine. She does a lot of community work in the area, and now she is on the National Board of Directors for AIGA.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Aricka Lewis: Again, just people who are not afraid to just get out there and do stuff, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

Maurice Cherry: It’s interesting… I mean, first of all, I’m very flattered for you to say that. I’m a little taken back by that, but it’s interesting because, I mean, the one good thing that I will say about technology that has really helped with making projects like these is that it’s helped to democratize ideas, so anyone can have an idea, that’s great, but it’s just about what you’re able to do with it. Oh, my god, who did I speak to recently? I believe I was speaking to Ari Melenciano recently, and she said something that really clicked with me about how at first when she was trying to learn how to code, it was very difficult for her, but then once she got past the learning curve, she realized that you were just like putting pieces together.

Maurice Cherry: I think for me, when it’s come to making projects, I’ll know what it is I want to make, and it helps me to break it down into those components to know like, “Oh, these are the pieces that I need in order to do the thing.” For example, the recent anthology that I just published with the InVision, RECOGNIZE, that was something where, well, one, we received the grant from InVision, which was great, and I was like, “Okay, this is cool,” but then it came down to, “Well, how do I put all this together? Like yes, I want a submission process, so I got to put a website together.”

Maurice Cherry: I used a service called Persona, which is from the folks at Cargo Collective. It’s really great, really great for making little really small but artfully-designed websites so I don’t have to do a lot of code. It’s almost like Squarespace in a way, but it’s a little bit cooler, I think. But I knew I had to put together this website so I put it together, and then I knew I had to have these are the rules and things like that. I would say everything for RECOGNIZE came together in about three or four hours. That was really just a sense of like putting the pieces together because I knew that one part of the project I wouldn’t be able to do until I was able to get the website up because once I have the website up, then I can mark it, “Okay, we’re going to start taking submissions,” set up a really quick Google form, boom, submissions done. Submissions come in, then I know, “Okay, I have to work with an editor.” I work with the editor with InVision. We’re going back and forth on choosing the pieces. It’s done.

Maurice Cherry: I mean, even the people of InVision will tell you this. I had everything regimented out in like two-week blocks from March 1st to September 30th where I was like, “This is how it’s going to go. We’re going to publish by this date. It’s ample time. We can do this,” and it got done. It was great. Now, when I think next year, like, “Oh, I want to do this again,” it’s even easier to start from because I’ve already kind of put those little blocks together, and the learning curve is much simpler. Now it’s just, “Okay, when do I start and what is the theme going to be?” and then I can just put it out there in that way.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve set that foundation. It’s easier to keep going from there.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Aricka Lewis: Absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: We have a question here. This is from a mutual friend of ours, Regine, who has also been a guest on the show. She brings up the fact that you’re a musician.

Aricka Lewis: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: She wants me to ask you if the music that you make or create has an impact on your designs.

Aricka Lewis: That’s funny, so shameless plug: I’m in a band called The Honey Collective. It’s a jazz, kind of indie jazz band. It’s really good.

Maurice Cherry: Nice.

Aricka Lewis: I would say that… So growing up, jazz has always had an influence on me just because I grew up singing jazz and musical theater, and I think show posters were always something that I was exposed to, and so my default, and even when I started doing UI, my default was just to make it look like a show poster or like a gig poster in some way.

Maurice Cherry: Oh, interesting.

Aricka Lewis: Even in school, if I think back on my work, I’m like, “Oh, that does look a lot like… ” like I think of Paula Scher’s work that she did for… My mind, I’m blanking. What’s the theater? Anyway-

Maurice Cherry: Lincoln Theatre?

Aricka Lewis: I think… In New York.

Maurice Cherry: The Jazz Theater.

Aricka Lewis: Anyhoo.

Maurice Cherry: The Kennedy Center.

Aricka Lewis: Yes.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Aricka Lewis: They’re just like jazz poster/music influence work, so that’s interesting. I don’t know if the music that I make inspires my work now, but freelance-wise, if I’m doing something just for fun or if there’s like a local exhibition or something, I think it definitely has an influence on my print work.

Maurice Cherry: That’s so interesting that it’s like gig posters and stuff. I think I saw this at an interview or I read this somewhere something about how older designers… Well, I won’t say older. We’ll say designers that have gotten their start maybe in the 2000s, like early to mid 2000s, a lot of the things that they were pulling from for inspiration were things like CD covers and album covers and gig posters and things like that because they were trying to replicate something on the web that they saw in Prince, whereas now, “Oh, you know what? I heard this on a podcast now that I’m thinking about it. Duh.” “I heard it on the Wireframe Podcast from Gimlet and Adobe,” but modern designers… we’ll say product designers from the 2010s to now, for-

Maurice Cherry: … designers, we’ll say like product designers from the 2010s to now for example, they are inspired by other websites. And so what ends up happening is that a lot of websites look the same in terms of structure because the inspiration is another website that pulled from that structure. So like, you know how you’ll go to a lot of websites and you see what hero image, a big headline, three column, then a big parallax slider or something like that. It all tends to end up looking the same. You can just sort of slot the content in and out and there’s nothing that’s really super, super unique about it. That really got me to thinking, because when I started designing, certainly, and this was back in ye olden days of table based web design, a lot of that was built off print design.

Maurice Cherry: We would design something in Dream… No, we would design something in Photoshop and then we would slice, we would make slices, because Photoshop could export an image that you’ve sliced, it can export it with the HTML. Photoshop in a way could make websites by itself. This is, I mean Dreamweaver was around, but I think this was like a, I don’t know, way to do conceptual sort of stuff. You had a lot of people that would make these really splashy looking print design things, but then it’s all chopped up into tables and cells and stuff like that. So when you go to the page, it all loads in a weird way.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And then you’ve got one little section in the middle that maybe has text in there, but when I think about what the design looked like of things during that time, it was a lot more innovative and out there because the web was like this open canvas that you could really do what you wanted to do with it. I mean, now it’s the same way, but I find a lot of sites tend to end up looking very much the same.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, and that’s interesting because I feel like people before, there were these standard looking websites, the way that people used websites was a lot different too. I think that because design started looking similar, the behavior and reaction to that is similar as well. So we talk about standard user behavior, but I wonder if that would be different if we drew inspiration from other things than just websites that looked the same. You know?

Maurice Cherry: I think so. I really think so. Yeah, wow. So grew up with Jazz and everything, I grew up with Jazz too. I played in a Jazz band in high school. I played in my, well, it was the local community college had a Jazz band and I had started out… God, this was in another interview. Was this in the… This might’ve been in the same interview I mentioned before with Adi, where I had mentioned that I learned how to play music from video games.

Aricka Lewis: Oh, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I was really inspired by, we had gotten a Super Nintendo and I was inspired by the game Final Fantasy II.

Aricka Lewis: Oh, the music is beautiful from that game.

Maurice Cherry: Final Fantasy II. Yeah, oh my God. [inaudible 00:39:08] but yeah, Final Fantasy II in the US, Final Fantasy IV in Japan, but I mean, I loved the characters and got into the story, but the music was just so good and I was like, what is this music and why is it making me feel things? I had a little like, I don’t know, I got this little tape recorder thing I got from Family Dollar or something, and I would hold it up to the TV while it’s recording and then take the song and go to my little Casio 32 key keyboard and try to write out the music for it, and that’s how I learned how to play music.

Aricka Lewis: That’s amazing.

Maurice Cherry: My mom saw that and was like, “Oh, you should… You know, have you learn an instrument or something.” She wanted me to play, I think she wanted me to learn how to play piano, but I just never got the coordination for it. The instrument I ended up settling on, well not settling, but the instrument I ended up learning was the trombone and I played that all through middle school, all through high school, all through college. Played it out of college in a couple of pick up bands and stuff around the city.

Maurice Cherry: I haven’t picked up a trombone in years. I know it’s like riding a bike, it’s sort of like you don’t forget it, but it’s amazing how much music has been an impact on my design, because one thing that I would do a lot when I was just trying to learn how to do Photoshop is try to recreate album covers and CD covers, and try to make this weird effect or anything like that. I don’t know, music, I empathize a lot with any musician that is also a designer. So props to that.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: Do you have a dream project or anything that you’d really love to work on one day?

Aricka Lewis: Oh, a dream project. Yes. So, for a while I was really into researching welfare and the actual demographic for welfare and who receives federal funding and why. I’ve always been interested in getting some kind of grant to do a big exhibition, like a bunch of posters on it’s not who you think it is. That’s all I have right now, but I’ve just had this idea of festering in my head, so maybe I’ll report back in a couple of years and something will come of it. But that’s definitely a dream of mine, is to inform the general public on actual government regulation and behavior versus what we think we know. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What are you most excited about at the moment? Anything in particular?

Aricka Lewis: I am most excited about, like work-related or just anything?

Maurice Cherry: Just anything.

Aricka Lewis: Anything in general?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah.

Aricka Lewis: Okay. Well, this is not related to design, but we just started a new D&D campaign with my group of friends.

Maurice Cherry: Okay.

Aricka Lewis: And it’s really good, so I’m excited to keep playing it. I’m also, I’m actually really excited about the work that I’m doing with Ad Hoc. I am super new, so I’m just excited to settle in and kind of figure out my niche, my niche, and where I as a person will fit into the whole picture. I’m still finding my way. So that’s something to look forward to.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Now, we’re coming up on not just the end of the year, but also the end of the decade. I mean, we’ll be in 2020 very, very soon. When you look at the next five years, what’s in store for you? What do you want to be doing?

Aricka Lewis: In the next five years, I hope that I’ll still be doing some sort of impactful work and creative problem solving. Maybe it’s not UX, maybe it is, but I want to make sure that I can use my design process and design thinking mindset in a way that will have real impact on real people. I know that’s vague, but maybe it’s in policy creation or policy change, or whatever it might be, but I’m definitely interested in maintaining my work with just helping people for the sake of helping them.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, I don’t think that’s a vague thing. I mentioned earlier before about coming back from the Black in Design Conference. That’s a lot of what that whole conference is about, like I know when I first went to it in 2015 I was trying to get people to go and they were like, “Oh, but they’re not going to be talking about Photoshop, or they’re not going to be talking about Sketch.” And I’m like, “It’s Black in Design. When is this ever going to happen again? Let’s just go and just see what it’s like.” Over the three times that I’ve went, because they have it every other year, I am consistently inspired and blown away by just how people are taking their design knowledge and applying it in so many different ways.

Maurice Cherry: Now granted, the Harvard Graduate School mostly deals with architecture, landscape design, stuff like that. More concrete, I would say, applications of design than UX or something like that. But when you see how people are just extrapolating, some of the very same skills that you’re using, interviewing, researching, making decisions and stuff like that for much larger scale projects, it is, it’s fascinating. There’s this woman, she gave the closing keynote, Deanna Van Buren, and she’s talking about how she used her design knowledge or how she uses her design knowledge to help out basically to stop the cycle of recidivism for incarceration.

Aricka Lewis: Wow.

Maurice Cherry: So I mean, it manifests itself in a number of different ways, like making modular housing for people that are inside of the prisons or for halfway houses or things like that. Even seeing how they can repurpose structures in the community that once had, like an old jail or something like that, and repurposing it into a welding school or a peacemaking center. So then something which in the community was maybe this blight is now a source of restorative justice in a way. It is so… And the good thing about it is they, well one, they stream all the things, but you can also go online and watch past sessions. So I’m able to go back and re-watch stuff and follow the work.

Maurice Cherry: If you ever get a chance to go, the next one’s going to be in 2021, which already sounds super far away, but it is such an inspiring conference just to see how people are using their work, using their design skills in many varied ways. And then just the networking, because there is all kinds of people that are there. There’s students, there’s educators, there’s just a whole bunch of people there. It’s a really great time. I recommend to everyone who I have on the show to go, because it’s just, to me, I feel like it’s one of the few events that I feel affirmed as both a designer and a black person, and they make sure that your blackness is centered first. It’s called Black in Design, it’s not like the Design Black Conference or whatever.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: And there’s been other events that have popped up that are similar to that. Afrotectopia is one of them. Data for Black Lives, which also takes place in Cambridge where Black in Design does. There’s Blacks in AI, there’s Bitcon, which I think takes place in Minneapolis. Of course there’s Afro Tech, which a lot of people know about. So it’s amazing that there’s all these kind of events and spaces now that are not just about I think the practical applications, which is good, but also it’s for inspiration and for fellowship. I like that those spaces are now being carved out for us to fellowship.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

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

Aricka Lewis: Well, I have Instagram and Twitter. My handle is the same everywhere. It’s ArickaCL, A-R-I-C-K-A, C-L. I also have a Instagram where I practice the ukulele if you care to watch me practice music pretty poorly. It’s called Practice Today. And I have a website which is ArickaCL.com.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Aricka Lewis, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Aricka Lewis: Thank you for having me.

Maurice Cherry: Well, yeah, and I just, I mean I try to have people that come on at all different levels of their career.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.

Maurice Cherry: I’ve certainly had people before who I’ve asked on and they’re like, “No, I’m not…” Oh, this is so funny. I was at Black in Design and there was this guy I’ve been trying to get on the show for years and he’s like, “I’m not ready.” I’m like, “You are teaching work at MIT Media Lab.” He was like, “Yeah, but you know, we in trouble right now.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I get it.” But I try to have people at all levels just to, one, show that there’s people out there that are doing this just like you, but also I think it’s really good to be able to go back, you know, like when you’re in the future, go back and listen to who was that person back then and what was I working on, and do I still have those same hopes and dreams and wishes for what I want to do?

Maurice Cherry: So hopefully I think people will really connect with this. I mean, you know, by all means please share it with your students, but yeah, I think this was a really great episode and it was really great getting a chance to talk with you. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Aricka Lewis: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.

This episode is brought to you by Abstract: design workflow management for modern design teams.

Spend less time searching for design files and tracking down feedback, and spend more time focusing on innovation and collaboration.

Like Glitch, but for designers, Abstract is your team’s version-controlled source of truth for design work. With Abstract, you can version design files, present work, request reviews, collect feedback, and give developers direct access to all specs—all from one place.

Sign your team up for a free, 30-day trial today by heading over to www.abstract.com.

Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown. 

As designers, we are uniquely equipped with the skills to tackle any number of problems. Randy Ellis knows this, and our conversation really reflects just how much of his career and creative energy goes towards this very goal.

We talked about his work through his consultancy, 5ivehat UX Agency, and then went into a spirited discussion on diversity in the design community. We also touched on design education and the for-profit university model, teaching at General Assembly, and even cryptocurrency! It’s a great big world out there, and it’s clear that Randy has what it takes to make an impact!

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit facebook.design.

This episode is brought to you by Abstract: design workflow management for modern design teams.

Spend less time searching for design files and tracking down feedback, and spend more time focusing on innovation and collaboration.

Like Glitch, but for designers, Abstract is your team’s version-controlled source of truth for design work. With Abstract, you can version design files, present work, request reviews, collect feedback, and give developers direct access to all specs—all from one place.

Sign your team up for a free, 30-day trial today by heading over to www.abstract.com.

Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown. 

One of the best things about Revision Path is that it allows our audience the opportunity to learn about so many great designers and their work, and Randall Wilson is a prime example of that. Randall is the UX design lead for the digital messaging team at Capital One, but he’s also making major strides in the design community as one of the co-founders of the HUE Design Summit, a multi-day un-conference created for designers and developers of color.

In our conversation, we spent time talking about Randall’s work, growing up in Atlanta and attending Georgia Tech, and the founding of the HUE Collective — the nine-person team behind the HUE Design Summit. Randall also gave a review of this year’s summit, gave his thoughts on design events, and shared his dream project…becoming a Lego Master Builder! Keep an eye out for Randall; he’s out here making major moves!

Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown. 

➡ Glitch is hiring a design director! Apply today!

We’re kicking off August with an inspirational conversation with Jeremi Dudu. By day, Jeremi works at Salesforce as a UX designer on Philanthropy Cloud, a platform that turns employees into citizen philanthropists by empowering them to give back and make change. Outside of work, Jeremi’s keeps that same charitable energy going, paying it forward to his community through mentoring and tutoring in his community.

I started by asking Jeremi what drew him to Salesforce, and from there we talked about his past work experiences at Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes, growing up in South Los Angeles, and how DJing became a gateway into working on the Web. According to Jeremi, “it’s the journey that made it fun”, and I think after you hear his inspiring words, you’ll feel that way as well. Enjoy!

Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Maurice Cherry and edited by Brittani Brown.