Tj Hughes

You may have been scolded as a kid for playing with your food, but with Tj Hughes’ new game Nour: Play With Your Food, that’s the primary objective! I had a chance to speak with Tj, the creative lead behind Nour, fresh off of the game’s release on PlayStation, Steam, and Epic Games.

We spoke a lot about the intersection of art and game development, and Tj shared how teaching himself and gaining knowledge working with a studio helped shape his perspective as a creative. Tj also talked about creating Nour’s unique gaming experience, the challenges and rewards of indie game development, experimentation, and what he wants to do next now that Nour’s been released. If you want to create something truly special, then be like Tj and think outside the box!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Tj Hughes:

Hi, I’m Tj Hughes, and I am the creative lead on Nour: Play With Your Food, which recently launched on PlayStation 5, PC, a few other platforms as well. Yeah, I just make 3D art and shaders and just colorful stuff on the computer. That’s it.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. And I definitely want to talk about the game; we’ll get into that in a minute. But first of all, congratulations on the launch of the game! I know that the game dev process is arduous. It is often not linear. So congratulations on publishing.

Tj Hughes:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It’s been a crazy and very long journey. It’s wild to see it just finished. Yeah, it’s hard to process and wrap my head around and also figure out next steps.

Maurice Cherry:

What’s the reception been like so far?

Tj Hughes:

Mixed, which I fully expected. Honestly, it’s a weird game. It’s a weird game and it’s a weird format for consoles, but I’m still confident in it because it works so well at events and stuff. Like, I’ve seen many people enjoying the game. I’ve seen when I was at PAX last this last month, it was super well received. Like, folks were really enjoying it and commenting on it. There was, like, sort of a crowd around it at the time at one point. The Panic booth was really cool and like really fun to be at.

Spaces like that, it really works. But the whole time I was making the game, I kind of feared, like, “oh, once it’s an at home experience that people can run on their consoles, folks might not get it” or they might not see the appeal, or they might have just, like, a different experience with it. Yeah, that kind of turned out to be the case.

We tried to do as much as we could to, design wise to, sort of curve that, but, yeah, it still kind of came across as just like, “oh, what is going on?” But then again, there were other folks…like, there were streamers that played it on stream to a Discord call or while having the chat open and they had a good time with it. And so it’s weird. It’s the kind of game where I feel like in a crowd of folks, it’s a really fun experience. It was an experiment, for sure. It got received like an experiment kind of would.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I feel like all games are kind of like that, right? Like you hope that the story and the gameplay and everything that you’ve envisioned as a developer and as part of the creative team, you hope that that’s going to be received on the other end by the player. Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s not.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, it’s such an exercise in communication of just, like, how well do the concepts in this game communicate? Does it resonate with people? Do they enjoy it? And so, yeah, it’s an interesting thing because games are just such a weird medium in that just two people’s experience can be so different just because of how much is possible in games. There’s just infinite permutations of your setup or what you can do in the game. And so, yeah, it’s just really interesting to see that see folks kind of rate that experience because one person will have the best time ever and then another person is just like, what’s going on?

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, that’s the way for a lot of games, I think. I watch streamers kind of play modern games versus retro games and things like that, and it’s funny how even I think the language in which people talk about games has changed a lot. I’m in my forties; I am a first generation gamer — I guess that’s kind of a good way to put it. And the way that we talked about video games, like when I was a teenager or in my twenties is totally different than how people talk about it now. People are obsessed about framerates and DPS — they’re spitting out all these terms and stuff and it’s like, “how about you just get immersed in the game and not try to technically pick it apart?”

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, and there’s a lot of focus these days on bugs, too, and how finished the game feels and all that, which I understand, to an extent. Folks are looking out for their value and making sure that folks aren’t trying to penny pinch and whatever. But, yeah, I feel like that has kind of gone overboard and led to folks really technically picking apart a game where that’s not what it originally ever was about.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I just finished playing and beating two other Kickstarter-backed games. They’re both RPGs. One is called Chained Echoes and the other one is called Sea of Stars. And maybe this is my fault — I went on Reddit to kind of see what the discourse was, which…I went on Reddit. But it’s so amazing, like the spectrum of how some people love the game or how some people are picking little things apart. And some people love the music. Some people hate the music. “Why is the plot like this? Why are the characters like that?” It’s like…just play the game. If you don’t like it, don’t play it. Just put it down. Play something that you like. Maybe I’m looking at it too simplistically. I don’t know.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, I feel that sometimes where it feels like the energy spent hating on certain games could be redirected to games that that person actually enjoys. Yeah, I don’t really know what that’s about. I think it kind of satisfies a lot of folks to kind of just, like, I don’t know, just heavily criticize stuff like that. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s something unique to the game space or not, but yeah, it surprises me too when it’s like an indie game that’s being picked apart where it’s just like, “hey, a dude made this in his free time. Maybe not fair to compare it to the game that’s made by a team of hundreds of people.”

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, like indie developer versus AAA studio. Of course there’s going to be a big disconnect in a lot of things just because of that, because of resources.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, just the medium of Reddit and Twitter kind of connects folks directly with the developer, which can be a double edged sword. I’ve received a lot of support and a little bit of hate as well, so that’s been interesting.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I think that’s like a media thing in general. Whether you’re a developer, if you’re a musician, if you have a television show, a movie, a podcast. I mean, in the early days when I did this, I would get so much hate on Twitter and it’s like…if the show is not for you, then don’t listen. People would call me a racist because I only have Black guests and I’m like, “what’s racist about that? It’s the focus of the show. Like, did you not know that’s what the show was about?” It’s crazy.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, that’s wild. It’s not like you weren’t warned.

Maurice Cherry:

Right? And also we’re not trashing anyone. I can understand it. Maybe if it was like a hate-filled kind of show or something like that, but that’s not the case.

People find fault in what they want to find fault in. I find — and the Internet and social media really particularly, I don’t want to put this all on just the Internet — but social media tends to just exacerbate that because it’s given people the illusion that their voice matters.

Well, let me walk that back. It doesn’t necessarily give them the illusion that their voice matters. It gives them the illusion that it’s sort of like “the customer is always right.”

Oh yeah, that’s not always the case. I don’t know who came up with that, but that’s not always the case. Just because you feel away about it and you express it doesn’t make it like law or anything.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly how I’d put it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, it’s a delicate thing. I mean, a lot of creatives I know have sort of even walked back from social media because of that. It’s like, yeah, it can be a great thing for telling people about your work, but then the feedback you get can be just so caustic.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, I’ve experienced that. And also, just, no folks who have experienced that firsthand, I completely understand it. It’s not for everyone. You do have to develop a thick skin about it. Just kind of learn how to not react to certain things.

Maurice Cherry:

We’ll get more into the game, but now that it’s out, do you have anything else that you want to try to accomplish before the year ends? I’m pretty sure a lot of this year might have been just all leading up to this launch date.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, pretty much all of this year. And I’ve been working on this full time. And that, first of all, is just really cool that I’ve been able to work on a passion project for this long because not everyone gets that opportunity [to] just sit down and just make what they want to make all day. And so that’s something about this project I’ve been super grateful about. It was able to be funded long enough for me to do that. It’s been awesome. But yeah, this year has been just leading up to just the launch of Nour and yeah, now that it’s out, I kind of told myself I was going to rest for a while and so that’s what I’m in the middle of kind of trying to do is just kind of take it easy. And of course we’re updating the game, like fixing bugs and stuff like that, but just in between that, I’m trying to just relax, take it easy as much as I can.

Also kind of let the next steps kind of naturally come to me because this project started out of just me messing around, having fun with a different kind of art medium. I think my best work kind of comes out that way, so I just want to kind of make sure I nurture that a bit.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, you earned a break. You definitely have earned a break. So if you get a chance to take some just R&R, please do that because you definitely have earned it.

Tj Hughes:

I appreciate that. I really appreciate that. Yeah, it’s hard in game dev to just tell yourself to take a break because it’s just like, oh, wait, but there’s so much I could be doing, could be updating the game, could be pushing out this and that. It’s easy to just kind of let it run your life. Yeah, I’m just trying to get away from that habit.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, let’s go more into the game. Like we mentioned, it just launched in September. We’ll put a link to the game website as well as the trailer in the notes. I’ve played the game. I have it on PS5. I love that it starts off with your face so people know it’s from you. It’s from a Black person. I love that. I love that when you start it up, you’ve got that little…it’s like a 3D model of you with the terrifying jellyfish.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, it’s photogrammetry.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. So much of the game reminds me of, like, Katamari Damacy from Keita Takahashi. It’s kind of this unfettered play. There’s some ambiguity to it. You kind of just have to figure it out as you go along. I mean, granted, the subtitle of the game is “play with your food.” So that’s the premise. You play with your food, and you have a number of different sort of food-related scenarios that you can work through.

What was the idea behind that? What was the idea behind the game in general?

Tj Hughes:

The game didn’t start off as a game idea, necessarily. It’s kind of interesting how it came about. It was a very just, like, nonlinear path towards making a game. So Nour kind of started out as an art test. I was basically figuring out how to make shaders for the first time ever and just, like, practicing being a tech artist. And I needed a subject for testing out these new art techniques and whatever. I looked at food immediately because I just recently had started branching out as far as food goes.

I was traveling. I went to my first GDC. I had discovered bubble tea, and I was like, “oh, this stuff is great. I love this.” And, yeah, it was just the perfect subject because it was colorful, it was playful, it had all these different elements that had a kind of physical component to it. I was just like, “oh, I can make this in 3D, like, using 3D models.” And in doing that, part of my inspiration was also anime food and how lovingly food is rendered in 2D by animators and how, say, with Ghibli movies, like, how the food looks so good, you want to eat it, you just want to eat it. Makes you hungry. And so, yeah, I was just hoping that video games as a medium could give the same kind of love to food.

Because food is usually a background prop in video games. It’s usually this low poly thing that an artist spends maybe a little bit of time on. It’s not the focus. I always thought that was really interesting. And also shout out to the low poly grapes in Final Fantasy XIV, I believe it is. But yeah, to the point of them even becoming a meme is just, like, low poly background food in video games. And so I just kind of wanted to do the opposite. I wanted to be like, okay, what if it was just, like, high fidelity, super detailed, foreground food where just, like, everything’s, like, way too many polygons and just, like, HD and so, yeah, that’s kind of how it started.

It was me just making 3D models with different effects on them, different shaders and stuff, and as detailed as possible, and then just taking a screenshot and putting it on Twitter. And folks were super into it. The response was immediately just like, “oh man, that makes me hungry. That looks so good. Wow, that’s great.” Yeah, just super positive responses about it. And eventually I got to a point where some local friends of mine wanted to show…they wanted to show the art at an event, at an event about just, like, interactive art. Just saying anything that’s like art plus tech.

And I was like, okay, it’s not interactive, so it probably wouldn’t work at this exhibit. Not exhibit, but like, event, but I’ll see what I can do. And so I just hooked it up to some controls. Pressing a button on a keyboard just makes a food appear and fall down from the top of the screen. And that’s it. That’s all it started out as. The response was great. Folks were super into it, they were having a lot of fun with it.

That was kind of my moment where I was just like, oh, this is something. I’m onto something. And my background was already making video games, but I kind of didn’t expect this to really be a game. I was just like making stuff because it was pretty and just putting it out there. The game itself kind of evolved from folks, like sharing feedback, just being like, “oh, it would be cool if this food was in it”, or “what if this button did this? This button made the food fly up”, or like, “hey, you should add a meat grinder”, or whatever different things folks would say about the game. And then I would just be like, “oh, that’s great”. And I would kind of like, add it and then see how folks reacted at the next event. I was doing a lot of events and so it was this kind of back and forth of just like, I could directly talk to the folks who were playing the game and get immediate feedback about what folks really wanted in it.

And so, yeah, it was just like a really fun process and yeah, just like a weird way to make a game because I didn’t really start off with a premise or like a concept. I just started just making it from scratch, like no game design document or anything, just directly from my brain into the game engine.

Maurice Cherry:

So there wasn’t really like a story that you were trying to tell. It was just an experience you wanted people to have, it sounds like.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, I had some visuals that I really wanted to make and I just wanted folks to kind of appreciate that without really needing a ton of context. Yeah, there wasn’t really much set up or anything like that. I was just kind of like, “hey, this is a really pretty food. Look at what games can kind of be and look like. You can use this medium to do a lot of crazy stuff. What if we just appreciated the visuals and textures of food?” So, yeah, it was just like an art exercise that was just really heavy on the visuals. That was really what I wanted to accomplish. It was just getting folks to kind of appreciate that side of things.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, is there an optimal way that you suggest people play the game? Because I played it on PS5 and I’ll admit that it felt like the controller was holding me back. I think there are certainly parts where if you, I think, pull a trigger, like a magnet will happen. Or if you press a button, it can change the color of the food or it can change the rate at which the food drops or something like that. It almost felt like, I don’t know if a controller is the right way to play this, and then I’ve seen videos of you playing it and you’re playing on this almost like 16 button, like MIDI controller almost. So I’m curious if there’s like an optimal way that you think people should play the game.

Tj Hughes:

The original version of the game played with a MIDI controller. The first first version was just like…keyboard, but then after that I started getting into MIDI controllers and just like music production and stuff like that. And I hooked up a MIDI controller to the game just for the fun of it. And it’s the Midi Fighter which is this board of 16 buttons and they’re like, arcade-like, fight stick buttons. So it was trying to be like kind of a reference to fighting games, but repurposed for music production. But then I’m kind of like taking it back into video games, which is sort of funny. That was originally how I presented it at museums and stuff. I would just bring out this controller and yeah, it was a really good way to play because it was just the satisfying nature of pressing a button and then seeing a really high-quality visual appear or being able to interact with it in some way.

It was a really satisfying thing. The initial release. We don’t have MIDI support in the current version of the game, but it’s something that we’ve been meaning to put back in because trying to support consoles and stuff, I couldn’t really have it, the MIDI tech back end, in there. But yeah, we’re trying to put it back in. It kind of just got broken along the way of making the game. Yeah, that’s something that we’re trying to get back to the roots of. It’s just like, okay, this game has been shown at a few exhibits with this controller. It would be great if folks could plug in kind of any controller of that sort and just play the game and just see what happens.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I like that experience, though, because it sort of reminds me of sort of like early gaming in the 90s, where I think developers were experimenting with a bunch of different types of input styles. I mean, of course, you had Nintendo with their standard controller. Sega had the same thing. But then Nintendo eventually also had R.O.B. the Robot, and there were like two games that you could use with the robot and then the Zapper. I think the Zapper came with when I got my Nintendo in ’85, I think it came with a Zapper. So it was like a combination [Super] Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, and so that’s an alternate way that you can play the game.

And then with Super Nintendo, you’ve got [the] Super Scope Six or whatever. And so there were all these sort of, like, alternate controllers for different games that you could play the games with. So I like that. This kind of harkened back to that for me because now everything is either Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, PC, like, it’s one of those four things and it doesn’t really give you a lot of variety onto how you play. It just the platform that you play it on.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, and the folks would call all that stuff, like, gimmicky back in the day. And I always thought it was pretty fun, like, Nintendo would always try to be the ones to use those really alternative controllers. Yeah, I miss it. I genuinely miss that kind of stuff.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, this game, to me, like I said, it really kind of harkens back to that and I think it opens up creativity for the gamer in a different way that’s not just — it’s pressing buttons, but it’s not in like a standard type of controller-esque format. It feels like to me, when you mentioned that sort of 16-button thing, that almost kind of feels like a good way to play it, especially because you were play testing this at exhibits. So you weren’t like play testing this in a play lab or something like that. You were out in open spaces and mixed spaces with people, so people could really interact with it any way they wanted to.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, and even though we were kind of just siloed off to controllers with the console release of this, we tried to do as much as we could with it as well. So with a DualSense controller, we’re just like, okay, even though you’re just controlling the game in a regular way, we still want to find alternative ways to interact with the game. So we use the microphone for that. And in the game, you can blow into your controller and that will blow all of your food away. Or if you make a slurp sound that’ll suck all the food towards you. And then if you whistle or in pitch with a song that’s currently playing in the game, all your food will kind of levitate. And so we just wanted to just whatever way you’re interacting with the game. We wanted to make it to where you just had options that were just kind of weird to kind of complement the MIDI controller back in the day. It was just like, okay, so at least with this controller, there’s something special that you can do that you couldn’t even do on the MIDI controller.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I could see certainly something like this doing well on VR or even something like I know you mentioned like, Nintendo with these different controller things. I mean, like the Switch controllers, you can kind of have each joy con in your hand or something like that. I could see definitely a future of don’t. Like, maybe I’m putting idea in your head, I don’t know, but I could see a future where you’re using that as the inputs as opposed to like button presses with some stuff. And that could be another way to unlock more gameplay for people, more appeal.

Tj Hughes:

Oh, yeah, VR is an idea I’ve had for a while. I would still love to do it.

Maurice Cherry:

Let’s talk more about sort of the team and the game dev process because I know that the process can be long. You raised money on this via Kickstarter and you had a team behind you as well as you also worked with Panic for kind of helping to distribute the game. Talk to me about that.

Tj Hughes:

So it’s a fairly small team that we’re working with. So there’s Me. There’s Joey. He does programming. There’s Maximilian. He helps with initially music, but now it’s kind of just everything that he helps out with. Just programming just so much. He’s come a huge contribution to the game as well as James.

Also, like, on the music, we had like a two man music team who just kind of became developers over time. We have Mark who is on sound design and sound effects. So any of the foley or just kind of ASMR sounds that you hear throughout the game, that’s him. And so, yeah, just like small team of five folks just kind of making this over discord, basically. I’m kind of like leading the pack on that. It’s a really interesting process. Yeah, just like especially on a weird game like this, it’s kind of like anything goes type thing where there’s been just weird ideas presented to me, where I’ve just been like, yeah, send it, let’s do it. That’s how multiple things got into the game.

Like the jellyfish idea, just like having this character that comes and steals your food. When you say nonlinear, that describes everything about this game’s process from the funding to the idea, to its actual technical development. Yeah, it’s just completely nonlinear. But it’s been cool though. It’s been a really cool way to kind of make something because it truly felt like we’re just kind of playing around, really. And just like, any idea that sounds cool, we’re just like, yeah, let’s do it.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, we. Talked about this a little bit before recording. The game development process can be long, especially if you’re raising funds through a crowdfunding medium like Kickstarter. There’s been video games that I have helped to fund in the past that just took much longer, I think, than the developer originally might have thought of for it to come out. Like, we talked about Omori, for example. This was a game by an independent developer, Omocat. They got funding for it through Kickstarter in 2015. And I want to say it didn’t start coming out on consoles until like…I know it came out on the Switch in 2020. It might have been out on Steam in 2019, but it was years past when they initially said this is when the game is coming out. And Kickstarter, and you can probably attest to this, Kickstarter is a bit of a double-edged sword. Like, yes, you have people’s funding, but the people that fund it can be real assholes when it comes to, like, “where’s my game? Why don’t you have it now? You said it would be here by this date, I want my money back”, blah, blah, blah. Tell me about that, because I feel like the game dev process and then having to answer to backers kind of might have been a source of contention throughout this process.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, it’s always tough dealing with folks who just really want the product. I luckily feel like I found a really nice corner of the Internet who backed this game because folks have been, for the most part, just super patient with it. It’s actually crazy because, yeah, we’re talking about Omori, but I think we took even longer as far as when the Kickstarter started versus when the game actually came out. It’s such a long process and through so much of it, I felt bad. I was just like, “oh, dang, folks are looking for this.” And I’ve definitely had folks kind of reach out when things were more silent because we’re just really heads down on the game and trying to make it happen. So folks have been super nice and super patient for the most part, but there are definitely a few standout folks that reached out and just weren’t so nice. I definitely had just like a few folks get in the Twitter mentions and it wouldn’t be like a majority by any means. It’s maybe like five people, but we kind of, as humans, remember negative experiences way more than positive ones. And so it was just really stand out how someone called it vaporware or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh no…

Tj Hughes:

I was just like, “okay, you don’t even have the game yet, so that’s an early judgment.” Yeah, just certain folks, someone got really extreme with it, but luckily we have what’s called the block button, and so that is a fantastic tool to curb these kinds of responses. But yeah, I don’t know. I’m super grateful to have found just like a really supportive fan base and backer base. It’s a hard thing because you kind of can’t predict how development is going to go. Because straight up, I thought this game would be wrapped up by 2020, and then 2020 comes around, boom, hit with a pandemic, right? And I was just like, “oh, okay.” So this is kind of a great time for games in general, but terrible time for [the] mental health of tiny teams working on very ambitious projects. That was an interesting hurdle that no one was prepared for. But it’s hard to make such an ambitious project around such an unpredictable hurdle, right?

Maurice Cherry:

For people that are listening, Kickstarter is not a store. If you pledge something and you get your pledge rewards, that’s great. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and I’m not going to spend time on it on this podcast, but there are a lot of campaigns that I have helped crowdfund. Where the money? I’ll never see that money again. The developer or the creator, whomever, has just took off with the church’s money, as they would say, you don’t know where they’re at.

I think one campaign I did, the person…it was for tea, of all things, this guy had a tea company and he was trying to raise some money for new blends, and then he just never sold the tea. And then he used the money to come out with an LP because he was starting his music career. It was so stupid.

You have to kind of vet, of course, how this goes. I tend to vet more projects where I can see the people have had some track record of success. But it’s tricky. I mean, I think whenever you’re crowdfunding, it can be kind of tricky, but just realize there are real people behind this. There’s real people behind this. And that if stuff happens, stuff happens. But curb it a bit. Don’t get all in people’s faces about it.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, I think it’s very fair to be like, “hey, we’d like some communication about this” and all that. When it veers into the realm of harassment, of just, you don’t need to attack their character. I don’t know. You don’t need to send a death threat.

Maurice Cherry:

It was never that serious, especially for video games. It’s a video game! What are you getting that riled up about? It’s a game.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, it’s a game, not a therapy session. It’s interesting. Also, he made an LP with the money?

Maurice Cherry:

I’m not going to shout out the name of the company, but they were making tea blends. I had gotten some of their tea before. I’m a tea aficionado and I really like tea. And so I was like, “yeah, I’ve had some of their tea before”, sure. And I think they raised maybe like $8,000. And then we just never heard from the person again. And you know how on Kickstarter you can see the person’s profile is sometimes connected to a Facebook page or like their Facebook profile. And so basically people in the comments had clicked through and was like, “wait a minute, he’s making music now?” Like, wait a minute. What? So we’re just never going to see that tea again because now he thinks he’s a singer?

Tj Hughes:

Okay, for a second I thought they posted their own backer update and was just like, “Actually…”

Maurice Cherry:

Oh no, they never updated or anything! They just went completely radio silent.

Tj Hughes:

Oh, okay. And people just kind of put it together. Okay, for a second I was about to say, that is so bold, bro.

Maurice Cherry:

Let’s kind know switch up a little bit here. We’ve talked about the game and we’ve talked about development and stuff. Let’s talk more about you so people know more about just kind of your background and how you got to where you are now. You’re in St. Louis, Missouri now. Is that where you’re from originally?

Tj Hughes:

Yes. Yeah, I lived here my entire life, bro.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Did you sort of get exposed to a lot of creativity and design and stuff growing up? I’m guessing that you probably have.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah. So my mom is a traditional artist. She does like acrylic and whatever medium she can get her hands on, really. And my dad was a jazz musician. Kind of just naturally got exposed to art super early on because of that. It was interesting because no one was really trying to push me in the direction of art. It just kind of happened just like naturally. And my dad was also really into tech and would have just like random trinkets and synthesizers and circuit boards just strewn throughout the house and yeah, I just kind of had this subconscious interest in tech that I never really noticed as being weird or different until later on when I just kind of said it all at once.

I was like, “oh yeah, I was kind of exposed to this stuff from way back in the day.”

Maurice Cherry:

That’s awesome.

Tj Hughes:

I grew up just like drawing comic books and stuff. Not to expose my brother and I, but we had our own Sonic characters and stuff. That’s how we started out. We just draw our own Sonic characters and that was huge for us. We would just make these comic books. That was kind of just the early influence. And then, I don’t know, just as the Internet was a thing, we started playing more video games. I was just interested in both those things at the same time.

And as a kid I would just always be like, “oh, I want to be a game designer when I grow up.” I said that without any kind of confidence at all. It was just kind of like a kid’s dream sort of thing. And I remember the moment where I kind of really questioned it, where I was just like, “oh snap, I’m not good at Math. How am I ever going to make video games? This is going to be so difficult.”

But then fast forward to when I was 13. I discovered Unity while procrastinating some homework. One day, I was like, “oh, what is this? It’s an engine that anyone can download. That’s crazy. Let me go and do that.” And, yeah, I just started going through these PDF tutorials on how to make an FPS game. I made this really crappy little first person shooter project, but I was learning the engine, and it was before I was even realizing it, I was just like, “yo, wait, I’m actually doing this. It kind of makes sense. It’s just like, logic.” Yeah, that’s when I kind of realized, like, “oh, snap. I have a really self-learning oriented brain” because I wasn’t particularly good at school. I wasn’t really good at Math, but just figuring things out and putting things together and disassembling them, I was just like, “wow, I’m great at this.” And so, yeah, it just kind of really worked for me. Just, like, teaching myself the video games and how to make them and how to make my own art really.

Yeah, that kind of just worked out.

Maurice Cherry:

First of all, I have to say that’s excellent that you were picking that up so young and that it was available for you and you were in an environment where I’m guessing it didn’t sound like your parents at all were trying to hold you back from doing that.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, that’s something I’ve always realized I’m super lucky about was like, they’ve always pushed me in this kind of direction or just been supportive when they learned what I was making. Yeah, they’re just like, “wow, that’s really cool.” They’ve always been okay with me going into art because they did it themselves. And anytime I would show them something, they’d be like, “wow, that’s really cool.” Even if my mom didn’t really understand it, to this day she’s like, “what do you do? You do, like, the computer thingy?” But she’s still really supportive. She set the donut from my game that’s her wallpaper on her phone. I’m just like, “okay, that’s really cute.” I feel really honestly supported.

The only hard part was when I decided to not go to college for any of this. That was something that was very controversial for a lot of the adults in my life. They were just like, “no, you need to go to college. You got to get a degree. You had to have a fallback, and you had to get the proper education”, blah, blah, blah. But it was also just like, “yo, we can’t afford that. Student loans and all that. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to have debt. I just want to make money and also create cool stuff.”

That was really hard. Part of it was just, like, convincing folks that, hey, I know how it looks, but I have a plan. Yeah, I think I can say that it’s worked out and that school wasn’t exactly necessary for this kind of work, but I know it is helpful for a lot of people to have a curriculum and go through that path. And so, yeah, I’m not knocking it by any means. Just with my set of circumstances, I don’t think it would have been the best move.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, that’s something that the prior generation, I think, is always going to try to impress upon the younger generation. Not necessarily so much the value of education because you were teaching yourself, so you were getting your own education. You were learning about this at a young age prior to college, you were creating projects. I mean, a lot of that is honestly stuff that you would do in college anyway, just with a price tag attached to it. But I think specifically for game development, that’s such a different type of field than say, being a doctor or an engineer or something like that. I mean, game development as we know it is still a very young field and so the ways that you get into it are not necessarily through a four-year institution.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah. Another part of it is that things change so fast that by the time you get through your curriculum, it’s just like, boom, everything’s different. There’s a new tool that everyone uses. Everyone stops using this engine because of the weird PR or whatever. There’s so much that can change so rapidly. I think it really lends itself to self teaching because then you can just find all the latest, most up to date stuff and yeah, people make tutorials out. People make plenty of tutorials nowadays. Even when I got started, there was a lot of stuff, but I can’t even imagine having access to the amount of content there’s out there now. Yeah, I feel like you can kind of make anything nowadays.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, everything you mentioned is 100% like it was in the days of the early web. I’m talking like maybe 98 to from 1998 to 2008 was such a huge jump in web development because the browser went from being this tool of presentation to now a tool for development. And so you started having people developing tools in the browser, using the browser not just as a viewport, but also as your development environment and everything. And there were no programs back then to really teach web design. Like, I went to school and majored in computer science initially because my dumb ass was like, oh, if I’m a computer science major, that means I can be a web designer. Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Everything I learned about web design has been self taught because back then there were no courses unless you went to like an art institute or something like that.

And even then, as you mentioned, the technology changes so fast that the curriculum is out to date. It’s out of date as you’re learning it. So it sounds very similar to the early days of the web, is what you’re mentioning with game development. So it seems like you certainly went in the right. I mean, look, you have a video game that’s out now on PlayStation Steam. You’re doing something right. So I think the way that you went certainly is what’s worked for you, which is all you can ask for, really.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah. Super grateful it’s worked out this way so far. It was also great just being like, “oh, hey, this is a possible route. You don’t have to fork over just like a bunch of debt just to get into this field and make stuff that you care about.”

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Now, you did start your early career at a studio. You were at Happy Badger Studio. How did you get started there? How did you find out about them?

Tj Hughes:

Once again, through Twitter. Weirdly. Everything in my career has happened through Twitter. Both getting this game out there, getting hired there. Yeah, it was a similar sort of thing. I discovered Unity when I was 13 and kind of just throughout the rest of high school, I’ve just been just making little experiments and learning. Every now and then, I would do a game jam. I would do the Ludum Dare 48 hour game jam a few times. I would just make things to show my friends and I would take screenshots of what I’m making and put it on Twitter. I had a bunch of projects that were way too big that I was never going to complete, if I’m being completely honest. But I was just like a kid in middle and high school, so I didn’t know what I was doing. But it was still really fun stuff to make and it was still really pretty — the different kinds of projects I was making just from those screenshots and stuff.

I would show off this company, Happy Badger Studio, they saw my work on Twitter and they hit me up. They’re just like, “hey, who are you? Want to come by our studio and just hang out because your stuff is crazy.” And so, yeah, we did that. And they offered me a contractor position and me being fresh out of high school, this was right after I graduated, I was like, “this is really cool. This is a dream job.” Like, exactly the kind of stuff I want to be doing. Yeah, absolutely. And so, yeah, I worked with them for a bit and then became a full-time employee there after a few years. It was just really fun. I got to do the exact part of game dev that I wanted to do, which is technical art. I really just like the art pipeline, the art side of things.

And so, yeah, that was just like a really good situation. And there we made SmuggleCraft, which is a hovercraft racing game with procedurally generated tracks and customizable ships. And yeah, it was a super fun project to work on and [it] really got me started with tech art. And I got to really control the art in the game, which was super fun. Like, all the colors and particle effects, that was all my domain. And so, yeah, that was just, like, super fun and a really good experience. I feel like that was honestly my college course.

Maurice Cherry:

I’d say that was your college course, your first real job…I mean, that kind of work right out of high school? I mean, that’s the dream. That’s the dream. Like, if you’ve been doing it, especially as a kid and you’re able to go right into working, I mean, that’s the best kind of education. Especially like, as you said, you learn by doing, so that’s perfect. That’s perfect for you.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, it was a really good situation. That’s actually where I met Joey, who’s on my team as well. And he taught me so much of what I know about programming because we just have sessions of C# just sitting down and he just tells me that he’s a wizard programmer. He knows so much. I know just enough to get by and actually make a game, but he’s who I go to when I’m just like, “okay, I need to do this very specific thing. How?

Maurice Cherry:

What’s in the future for Terrifying Jellyfish? I mean, we’ve talked about the game coming out. We’ve talked about sort of how you’ve gotten here and everything. And now that the game is out and it’s getting that reception and you’re in this sort of rest period, I should say, what do you want to do in the future? What’s next?

Tj Hughes:

I’ve been thinking about this. It’s hard to say. I don’t really know. I definitely have ideas for projects, but I definitely need to take some time to think about how I would make them happen. Like what the ideal setup is, whether I have a publisher yeah, just what the setup would be. But right now I’m focusing on just kind of resting up and just taking a break and letting what happens next come naturally. I don’t really want to force a project. I want to make something that folks are actually genuinely interested in.

I think I’ll do a lot of what I did for Nour. I think I’m going to just kind of mess around a bit for fun and try to fund that as much as possible, but just mess around with a few different art projects, put it out there, show folks, see what they like the most, and then just see it evolve from there. I think that’s kind of my formula now, is not just taking bets on what I, as my ego thinking, is the best idea possible. I want to actually get feedback in real time of just like, “oh, folks other than me actually like this. I’m going to pursue this idea now.” I think that’s kind of going to be my approach. So, yeah, my plan is just mess around a bit, throw a bunch of stuff at the wall, see what sticks.

Maurice Cherry:

Basically that’s a good strategy. I like that. I mean, it’s certainly different from what you would see maybe, like, a bigger studio might do, where they might make — and I don’t necessarily mean a game studio, but like, say a television studio — might make a bunch of pilots and then they will do testing on them and then they’ll sort of go and see, “okay, this is the first one” where instead maybe they could put all the pilots out on YouTube and let people sort of see which one they respond to instead of going with what the studio might think. So I think that’s a good tactic.

Tj Hughes:

I like that, yeah, thanks. Also, like something I’ve been talking about because I want to put the seed out there. I feel like if I talk about it, that’s an easier chance of kind of manifesting it. I want to do more museum games because Nour started out as a museum game, just being installed somewhere with a controller and then folks can walk up and interact with it at an event or something like that. I really love that format of game. I kind of feel like I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about the tech of it all. I don’t have to worry about performance and optimization.

I’m just like, “okay, it runs on the computer and it’s interesting and it’s wacky and attention grabbing” and that’s all I had to worry about. I love making stuff like and also I got to travel to a lot of really cool places with this project as well. I got to go to South Korea, Amsterdam, like South Africa, just bringing this game to different exhibits and stuff. And so yeah, I would just love to do more of that. I don’t know how much of that it’s going on post pandemic, but yeah, any events like that I would love to be a part of again and they would just kind of find me as well. I have no idea how these opportunities were kind of come to me, but definitely want to do more stuff like that.

Maurice Cherry:

I think that’s awesome. I mean, I can certainly see this kind of thing being done in design museums. Like Atlanta has a museum of design. Atlanta. I think they just had a gaming exhibit earlier this year where they I think it was called Pixels and Code. I don’t recall it, but I could think like design museums, that would work. Conferences could work. There is a conference and it doesn’t go on anymore; maybe it will in the future, but there’s this conference in Portland called XOXO….

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, Nour was actually there one year. I think it was like 2018 or 2019.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh wow, okay. I was there in 2018. My team was there in 2019. The startup I was working at at the time, we did an event in 2018. We did like this art and code event, but they had this game expo that’s where I played, like, Hair Naw and a couple of other games. I assume they probably had it the next year, so if it was 2019, I wasn’t there, but members of my team were there. That’s cool. I could see it being done in something like that where people can really interact with it in an open space.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, it was a really cool setting for it because the screen that they got, I guess it was a projector, it was gigantic. They really knew how to present the game. And so I thought that was great, seeing just this HD food up on this big, giant screen. And so, yeah, just more things like that. I just loved how just wacky and just different that convention was.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Tj Hughes:

I just hope more things like that exist, like post pandemic.

Maurice Cherry:

So for people that are hearing your story, they’re listening to you, how you came up in terms of learning about game dev, and now you have your own game out there. What would you recommend to them? If they’re looking to create their own game, what kind of advice would you give them?

Tj Hughes:

I would say just use what resources you have and go for it. It’s completely okay to just google everything. That’s basically what I did. I just googled my way into a career. I have no formal education about any of this. And so use your confidence and ask people as well. Ask people who’ve done it before. There are so many folks that are more than willing to share expertise.

Mentorship is kind of how I really got through most of this. Just folks from Happy Badger Studio just being like, “oh, here’s how you do this. Here’s how you start an LLC and get your business organized. You want to start your own bank account as, like, that’s separate from your personal funds.” There’s just, like, a lot of little pieces of knowledge that aren’t actually hard to execute, but once you know them, it just sets you up. Yeah, I don’t know. Just like tax organization. Don’t ignore that stuff.

Like, taxes. This is if you’re making it commercially, like, if you’re actually trying to make money from it, I would say the biggest thing is start small and ramp up incrementally. Think of it, I guess, like. working out. [That] sort of thing. You don’t go right to 300 pounds on your first deadlift or whatever. You want to work your way up there because you don’t want to tear a muscle. You don’t want to burn out. You want to do what you’re capable of. That was something that I really had to just learn.

It had to just be nailed in me because, yeah, starting out, I wanted to make the biggest FPS project ever. I wanted it to be multiplayer and have, I don’t know, like, be an MMO at the same time. Just a ton of players on the same server, zombies everywhere. It was just like I was in way over my head. I was never going to do that. But still fun to start out and mess around with.

Then I scaled it back and my first game, Feesh, that’s when I made that. I made that during a Ludum Dare game jam, like in 48 hours. That was the tiniest possible little arcade game. I released it on Steam for like 99 cents and with no marketing; folks bought it. That was a great experience. And so I think there really is something to keeping it simple, scaling it back and cutting things. If you have an idea for a feature, just imagine the game without it. I can’t stress that you can never cut too much from a game.

Just actually done is so much better than having it be perfect.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice. Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you, about your work, about Nour, about the game? Where can they find that information online?

Tj Hughes:

Terrifyingjellyfish.com is the main spot, but social media-wise, Instagram is the most active — @terrifyingjellyfish on there. I post anything I’m working on to there. I’m on Twitter, X, or whatever the heck you want to call it, at terrify– @jellyoccult or at @_Teejay5 online, everywhere. Food.game, if you just want to look up Nour and buy that game. Yeah, everything’s linked. So if you just look up “terrifying jellyfish”, you’ll kind of find everything all right.

Maurice Cherry:

Sounds good. Tj Hughes, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you, one, for just…I mean, you’re such a creative force. I mean, I feel like I’ve learned a lot just from hearing your story and hearing you talk about game development and your process. I think what you embody is kind of the core thing that I try to put forth with Revision Path is to let people know that there’s more than one way to get to what your definition of success is. And I love that for you. You’re really creating what you want to see in the world. It’s coming from this really pure place and I’m really going to be excited to see what you do in the future.

But yeah, definitely take your rest now, but in the future I’m going to be so excited to see what you accomplish. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Tj Hughes:

Yeah, thanks for having me on here. Yeah, it’s been really fun talking about games and through the whole process.

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Vasheena Brisbane

Vasheena Brisbane’s star is on the rise! New Yorkers are no doubt familiar with her work as the associate director of visual design and communications at one of the city’s most prominent places of worship — Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. And now, Vasheena’s just been honored with a coveted spot on GDUSA Magazine‘s “People to Watch” list for 2023. I had to reach out and have her on the podcast so I could learn more about her story!

Our conversation began with a glimpse into the intricacies of Vasheena’s work, and she spoke about the fulfillment she’s gained because of the variety of designs she gets to touch. We also talked about the obstacles of gaining legitimacy for doing faith-based work while also shining a light on the importance of visibility and representation as Black designers.

Vasheena’s story is both inspiring and thought-provoking, reminding us all of the power of design to connect communities and create meaningful impact!

Interview Transcript

Maurice Cherry:

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

Vasheena Brisbane:

My name is Vasheena Brisbane. I am currently the associate director of visual design and communications at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. That means I do all things visual and design for the church. People usually ask me, “well, how much could there be for a church?” And typically, a typical church, there’s not as much, I think, as there is for this specific church. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church is like the cathedral church of Presbyterianism. So like, St. Patrick’s is for Catholicism. So it’s a big historical church in midtown Manhattan, and we do church like everyone else — Sunday services. But we also have a large outreach ministry and we do a lot of work within the community.

Maurice Cherry:

Nice.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And so, yeah, the church basically runs in seasons, right? So this is our off season. Summer is the off season and fall is homecoming. That’s when our senior pastor returns and we start a sermon series and there’s a magazine and there’s the season of Advent, which is from just after Thanksgiving until just after Christmas. And then there’s sort of a quiet season and then there’s Lent up until Easter, and then there’s a season of Pentecost. So we run in like a season, so it’s like a loop every year.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, nice. I think for people that are, you know, for folks that are listening that even have some experience with Christianity — or just, I would say, Judeo-Christian religions, there is that kind of cyclical nature to the year that sort of revolves around that, right?

Vasheena Brisbane:

Those specific events, sure. And we advertise for every single one of them. And so we advertise…I mean, advertise feels crass for religion, I think, but we do get the word out there, right? And so we do for the fall season, it’s a sermon series and it’s just like the topic that the preacher is preaching on for the season. And he’ll pick a subject and we’ll provide visuals for it. And so we do banners. We do a spread in the magazine that comes up for the fall, which has the fall events. Any happenings. We have a robust music program that has five or six concerts throughout the year — some free, some paid — so that needs advertising and visuals. We do banners on the facade of the church on Fifth Avenue. We do posters to talk about any programming that we have going on throughout the year. And to advertise the season, we also do brochures. And then there’s just all the regular stuff. Like every Sunday, we print a bulletin. That’s some of the more day to day stuff.

Maurice Cherry:

So there’s a lot, I mean, there’s a lot that goes into, I think especially of a church of that size. It’s not just regular Sunday service. There’s a lot of media, there’s prints. I mean, there’s a lot.

Vasheena Brisbane:

There’s a lot. And we have an arts in our faith group. They do gallery exhibits — big ones — probably twice a year, maybe three times a year. We sometimes partner with artists and sometimes it’s something that the committee comes up with. The committee is made up of congregation members and they come up with it. And sometimes, it’s a collaboration. Sometimes I’m brought in to sort of make the vision that they’re thinking of come to life. And sometimes we collaborate on a vision. So it really just depends on the season and what people are thinking and what ideas they have. And sometimes they don’t have any ideas! And so we know we have a little small gallery that we do our exhibits in. Sometimes they have to do with the sermon; like this past season, we did…our senior pastor did a series called Tattoo, and so it was about the words of Christianity that are tattooed on your heart. And so we did an exhibit based on that where I made some temporary tattoos, tattooed them on the staff on various body parts, and photographed them, and we made that into an exhibit. And so it really just depends. So when people say, what is there to do? And I’m like…you have no idea. There’s a lot of things you can do in a church, especially a church of this size, I think.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I think it’s fascinating that…it sounds like there’s probably, even with the regular cyclical nature, like you said, of different holidays and different things in the church, there’s just so much to do. And I would imagine you’re kind of, in a way, working, I guess, against stereotype, I think, because you want the messaging, of course, to appeal to the congregation. But you also want it to appeal to other members or even nonmembers. But there’s probably a way that you have to do it so it doesn’t seem so…I don’t know what’s a good way to sort of describe this. I want to say cheesy, for lack of a better word. I feel like sometimes Christian marketing can be really wholesome, like, very white bread and 1% milk, kind of. Like, you know what I mean?

Vasheena Brisbane:

Right. You do struggle with that a lot as a designer. I struggle with that because you want to be seen as, like, a legitimate designer, right? I went to school for this. I didn’t stumble into it, right? I might have stumbled into this specific job, but I didn’t stumble into the career of design. So I’ve attended conferences, like I’m sure you have. We could be having an amazing design conversation. And then when they’re like, “oh, so where do you work?” And then I’m like, “oh, I work at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.” And then the conversation sort of just dies. Like, “ohhh…okay.” It’s not seen as valid to maybe designers that are working in a design firm or maybe in-house, a big in- house shop. So that’s something that I’ve struggled with, I think. And I think what I’ve learned is that I can’t focus on what you think about what I’m doing. I have to focus on why I do what I do and then just let my work speak for itself. That’s all I can do. And so when those things happen, I don’t take it personal so much. I just move on to the next.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I can see that. I mean, we talked about this a little bit before I started recording, but when I first started out as a designer, and I think probably as others have as well, you’re trying to find clients. And sometimes some of those first clients that you end up finding are churches because they don’t necessarily have design talent in-house or something. But someone’s got to design the regular Sunday service programs or they need to design funeral announcements or things like that. And often what I’ve heard, and even have experienced to some degree, is that they’ve largely kind of been negative experiences because the church doesn’t want to pay. And then when the church doesn’t want to pay, they try to make it seem like you should just be doing it out of the good of your heart for God. And it’s like, “well, I can’t pay my bills with that.” There’s this sort of negative stigma around it.

Vasheena Brisbane:

It’s like a stigma. Yeah. So I have not had that experience at this church, but I have heard that from other designers. And so for smaller churches, there is no budget for design, which I get. Everyone doesn’t have a budget for design. And so if you’re going to do those jobs, I think what you’re doing it for is the love of the work and the practice of it, right? Because these are not easy pieces to design. Like a Sunday bulletin is like a master class in hierarchy. So if you’re going to do this, you have to come to it, especially if you’re going to do it and be underpaid or not paid at all, you have to come to it thinking that you’re going to get something else in pay, right? So your pay is your practice. Your pay is the refinement of your type skills. Because if you want to learn type skills, do a Sunday bulletin every week and make it readable and make it pleasant and make it great, right? And so one of the things that was my first project, really to do with the church, I was hired freelance, and I was just looking for a bridge job, sort of between…I had finished up an internship at a design firm, and then I was like, “well, what am I going to do?” And I was like, “okay, well, I’ll go on this interview as a church,” and I was just like everyone else. Like, it’s a church. It’ll just be something until I get a real job. And so I found this church and they came in. It was a good positive vibe. And they were like, “okay, you’re going to do Sunday bulletins.” I was like, “all right, fine, I’ll do that.” And so that’s how my work with them started. It started on a freelance basis. I was only doing bulletins. Then the person that hired me ended up leaving, and they hired a new director of communications, and he asked me to do something else. He was like, “oh, can you do this brochure?” And I said, “sure.” And then that worked out. And so it sort of just grew into something. It was not something that I had intended on. I didn’t intend on staying, to be honest.

Maurice Cherry:

And now you’ve been there now for almost a little over 13 years now.

Vasheena Brisbane:

I feel like…yeah, I think I started in 2012, to be honest. I have to check the dates, but it’s been a long time and it’s been a progression, right? So I started off freelance, project-based, 1099. Then I worked really well with the director of communications. Actually, he just retired. And so we worked really well together. And as each project came up, we just worked well together and the projects kept getting better and they were more interesting. And so I was like, “okay, well, I’ll do this project.” And then it was like, “we do this newsletter.” It was a newsletter — like an eight page, eight and a half by eleven [inches] newsletter. That wasn’t my favorite thing to do. But then we decided, “okay, let’s own it. We’re going to change it.” We turned it into a magazine. We turned it into a small eight and a half by five and a half [inches] pocket sort of magazine. Sort of like JET size. I mean, I think JET might be a little bit bigger, like that’s JET’s size, I think. Yeah. If any of your listeners know JET Magazine….

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, they know. They know what JET is.

Vasheena Brisbane:

JET is dating me a little bit! Yeah. And so we sort of just evolved the communications of the church to the point where people call and ask us, like, “where do you get your Sunday bulletin done?” And I’m like, “well, it’s in-house. We do it all in-house.” So I think all the way back to the beginning of the question, which is, have I had that experience? The answer is yes. But if you come to the table from a place of, “I’m going to get this experience and I’m going to better my craft through it,” then you don’t lose. Yes. You have to find other things to pay the bills. But if you can perfect something while also getting some experience, even if the experience doesn’t come with pay, I think you still win.

Maurice Cherry:

Right, I get that.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah. I don’t think you have to stay there forever. But if you prove yourself and you’ve perfected it and they still don’t want to pay you, then you can politely decline.

Maurice Cherry:

Makes sense. Yeah. And look, being somewhere for as long as you have, like I said, a little over 13 years, that is impressive for any designer to be somewhere, especially in this modern age of design. If you’re somewhere for, like, five years, that’s great. But 13 years, that is amazing. Which to me is no surprise because you were named one of GDUSA’s 2023 People to Watch.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Thank you. That was surprising to me, so I’m still shocked that it happened. So to be honest, I’ve kind of just been, like, putting my head down, feet to the pavement, moving from project to project, trying to do my best work. In, I think, 2016, 2017, we got this magazine, and my boss, my old boss, he said he was pointing out all these different winners in the GDUSA magazine. And he was like…he said “you should enter this.” He said “you could win these.” And I was like, “yeah.” I was like, “okay.” And so he was like, “let’s just do it.” And so we entered some pieces, and I ended up, the first year I think it was 2017, I ended up winning three awards. And so I was like, oh, I think that after about five years of you sort of just head down doing good work, in my opinion, not getting it judged anywhere, but I’m proud of what I’ve done here. And so it’s just like, it’s been like, five years of that. And then to see someone say, “hey, this is exceptional,” that was really heartening. And I feel like that’s when I said, “okay, this is like a career.” I don’t think in the beginning of people’s career, at least not for me, you don’t feel like, “oh, this is it. This is my career.” Some people are polished right out of college. That was not me. And so I didn’t feel as if I had a career. I feel like until that happened, I knew I was working. I knew that I could get a job somewhere. I knew I could design, but I didn’t feel like I had a career, I don’t think, until that happened. And I don’t think it was the acknowledgment. I just think not that was the wrong thing to say. I don’t think it was the fact that I won something, but it was the fact that people agreed that I was doing good work.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, I mean, that kind of validation is incredibly important. I mean, honestly, it’s one of the core tenets behind why I do Revision Path is to validate the fact that there are Black designers out there doing great work and that people actually want to talk with them about it and about their career. And it’s not in the context of a job interview. It’s like, no, we see you. We see the work that you’re doing, and we think that other people should see it too. Just getting that kind of validation is — and this is going to sound corny — but I learned that from Oprah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

I don’t think anything Oprah says is corny!

Maurice Cherry:

But like, as I asked you before the interview — and people who have been on the show know this too — like, I always ask something that I call my “Oprah question,” and I got that from her, because she has said before, the thing that has made people want to sort of come to her show and come to the mic and everything is the fact that she validates wherever they’re at right now. Oprah doesn’t really do…well maybe now, since she doesn’t have the show…but Oprah’s not really doing shock journalism, you know what mean? Like, she’s not bringing people on to necessarily expose them. She’s like, just giving you the mic and giving you a platform to it. That’s it, you know?

Vasheena Brisbane:

And just be you. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

But that kind of validation in your professional career is super important, especially when, you know, you’ve put in the work to know that other people see that too, and they see you, and they see the fact that you’re putting out this kind of great work? I think that’s what we all want, especially as creative people.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah. And I don’t think I even knew how important it was until it happened. Yeah, and sometimes you don’t, because sometimes you’ve just got your head down. You’re just working, right? You’re just getting up every day, going to work, working, going home. It becomes a real practice. And sometimes in that practice, you can get real, just…yeah, you do. Because once you do something, it’s so repetitive. I mean, the work changes, but the process is still the same, right? You get up, you do it, you do your best, you go to bed, and so you can become numb. And so when you step outside that and then for me, especially to be like…it’s hard for me to say, “hey, I think this is great work to people.” You know what I mean? It’s hard for me to pat myself on my back. For some people, it comes easy. Like for my daughter, it comes easy for her. She thinks she’s great at everything, and I love that about her. We just don’t come from the same…we’re not cut from the same cloth. To even do that felt weird. And so I would encourage people to one, enter a contest just so that you can get a little bit of validation, because you don’t have to win to get validation. But I just think the simple process of editing your work and figuring out what you love and telling people, I did this and I love it, is a great practice for people.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, what’s been the reception for you since the list came out and people have seen you on that?

Vasheena Brisbane:

The reception has been good. Like, the congregation? They congratulate me. They’re some of my biggest supporters, which I really appreciate. I’ve gotten, you know, friends and family. I thanked GDUSA online and on their social via social media. And so I’ve gotten a lot of follows, mainly, I think, on LinkedIn for that, and that’s about it. I don’t think anything major has come about because of it, but you never know. Your email came from it! I never would have thought that here I am listening to great designers on Revision Path, and Maurice Cherry is emailing me. Like, I never would have thought that that would happen. That was…it was so wild when it happened. I couldn’t even believe it. I was just like, “what? This has got to be a joke.” I could not believe it. It was shocking. I even sent it to my boss. I was like, “is this real?” He was like, “I think it is.” I said, “are you sure?” I was like, “are you sure?” I could not believe it. So the biggest thing to happen to me since then is you. You’re at the top of the list.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh! Well, I’m pretty sure that there are going to be bigger and better things after that. I think, one, winning awards, but then two, also being on lists like this, it just puts you in the view of other people to see the work that you’ve done.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Right. And, you know, it’s important to be in the view. But how do you get there? I feel like we go to school to learn our craft and to do our thing, but we don’t learn how to navigate a career. And that’s different. That’s different than just doing good work. You have to really know, like you said, who to get in front of and how do you get there. And I think that a lot of, like you were saying, what Revision Path does is put you in front of the people that need to see, I think. And I think that’s what’s amazing about this platform is that you can get some visibility and whereas you might not be able to be on the other design podcasts. Yeah, because usually it’s like real rock stars. Not that people on here are not rock stars. Please don’t think that. But there is a specific lane that is hard to get in as a Black designer.

Maurice Cherry:

Look, I can tell you from ten years of doing this show…. One, I’ve had a lot of people on who they’ve said, “yeah, this is the first time anyone has ever talked to me about my work outside of maybe like a job interview.” Their family doesn’t even ask them about what they do and how they get inspired. So I’m glad to be able to have the platform for that. And this is not to put down any other show in particular, but even when I was starting out doing the show and trying to network in the sort of, I guess you could say, “design podcast community” — I don’t know if it really existed like ten years ago — but there were other design podcasts out there. And even with me networking with them to let them know about the show and maybe give some ideas for guests, I was met either with complete silence or absolute hatred.

There was only one platform, one podcast that really was like, at that time that was like, “oh, we like what you’re doing. We’d love to have you on our show.” And that was this show called On The Grid. That was with this podcast network called 5by5. And there were three guys that did the show — it was Dan Auer, Matt McInerney, and Andy Mangold. And I was on their show twice. It was like a panel kind of interview thing. And that ended up sort of getting me into the view of other people because they were like, “oh, we didn’t know that Black people did design, let alone talked about it.” Like we haven’t already been in this industry for decades doing this work. But even just that one sort of opportunity to do that put me in the vein where I could be seen by all these other people. But even now, honestly, ten years out, and there’s of course other podcasts out there, and there’s even other Black design podcasts out there, it’s still kind of rare even from some of the larger shows to really hear or see from Black creative voices. And I’m saying this for design media, but Black media does that too. Black media is not really big on showcasing design outside of fashion. I would say, like, you may hear about a fine artist every now and then, but it often has to be in conjunction with something larger. Like, for example, Luna Iris Viktor. I think I’m getting her name right. I think it’s either Luna Iris Viktor or Luna Viktor Iris. But she did a lot of great work in conjunction with Marvel for the first Black Panther movie. But she had been an artist of her own acclaim well before then. It didn’t really start to get out into the community, the Black community, at least until that movie happened. So it’s something where, even now, Black media doesn’t necessarily look at us and the work that we do and sort of give any sort of celebration in that respect. So I think Revision Path kind of occupies an interesting sort of Venn diagram intersection between design media and Black media in that way to at least showcase, like, hey, this is work that we’re doing. Here are our stories in our own words. Here you go. This is what we have to go through. This is what we deal with. And I try to get a good cross section from like across the world.

Vasheena Brisbane:

You’ve done a great job doing that.

Maurice Cherry:

Thank you.

Vasheena Brisbane:

It’s amazing the amount of artists I feel like, like you said, are people looking? You have to look, and you have to talk to people. And it’s like when your head’s down and your pounding on the ground and you’re getting your work done, it’s like you look up and you’re like, “where are all my people?” It’s like, well, I don’t even know where to start.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And you’ve given us an amazing, valid place to start. So if you’re looking, look no further. Or look no further and then look further. Right? Because then at least you can tap into it.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, I like that.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah. You can tap into it. Because even attending…because I’m constantly trying and failing to expand my network, because, one, I’m not a good networker. I don’t have the gift of gab. My husband has that, though. He definitely has the gift of gab, can make friends anywhere. And I am more reserved in that I’m not a wallflower because I can engage in any event, right? But also, I’m a little bit of an extroverted introvert, I think is what they call me. Okay. It’s like I am extroverted when called upon, but I do need that introverted time to recharge and become an extrovert. And so it’s been challenging to expand my network, especially going to conferences. And in the conferences, it’s often a sea of white — which is fine — but I also want to connect with other people, and it’s often hard to find. Or when you find them — I don’t know how to say this diplomatically; I’m going to try to say this as diplomatically as possible — but usually people are concerned with their status in that circle, and that status is often tokenism.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Which is not…I get it. Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I just am resolved not to subscribe. And so, you know, a lot of times, people feel like we can’t talk because you might become the one, but they don’t know that. I don’t even want to be the one.

Maurice Cherry:

Right?

Vasheena Brisbane:

I just want to talk to you and learn. Yeah. That’s where I come from. I am a lover of knowledge and a sharer of knowledge. Ask me anything you want. I will tell you exactly what my experience is. That’s all I can give. This is my experience, and this is where I come from.

Maurice Cherry:

Look, in the early days of doing this show, when I tell you it was like pulling teeth to get guests, because when we first started, it was just an online magazine. I would interview people. I wasn’t recording anything. And I started recording in June of 2013 when Raquel Rodriguez, who was episode one, when she was visiting from Chicago and was like, “yeah, I want to be on the show.” And I was like, “what show? It’s just a magazine.” She’s like, “oh, no, we could record it.” And I didn’t have any recording equipment. All I had was my phone, which is what we recorded it on. And it wasn’t until, like, almost a full year later in March of 2014, when I then sort of took the few recorded interviews I had done and said, “oh, let me just make this a podcast,” because it was just easier to sort of get out week by week. But there were a lot of people in those early days that were like “absolutely not. I don’t want to be on this. Why do you want to talk to me? This is like BET,” which kind of felt a bit like a slap in the face. Like, I understood what they were saying, but it was in such a derogatory way where it’s like, well, I’m not denigrating anyone by having you come on and talk. Why do you think it’s a bad thing that me as a Black media outlet wants to talk to you as a Black person? I think part of that might also just be behind some other Black media outlets that don’t make us look great. I’m not naming any names in particular.

Vasheena Brisbane:

But some of them kind of peddle in…

Maurice Cherry:

They pedal in some, you know…mess, and that unfortunately, gets unfairly sort of branded for the rest of us that aren’t doing that kind of stuff. And yeah, in those early days, it was like a lot of people have said no, which have then come back later and been like, “oh, can I come on the show?” And I’m like, “absolutely not. No.”

Vasheena Brisbane:

No, really? Did you not let them wanna…

Maurice Cherry:

No, I reserve the right to not have you on the show. If you felt like for some reason this was negative against you, then, yeah, we’re not going to do it. There’s one…I’m not going to name this person. But there was one designer in particular. Let’s just say that when I reached out to them, this was a mixed race designer. When I reached out to them, they very much were like, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t really consider myself, like, culturally Black. I don’t want to do it.” And I was like, “okay, fine.”

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:

Fast forward to, I want to say, like, the summer of 2020.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Oh, wow.

Maurice Cherry:

When, you know…murder of George Floyd, protests around this stuff…this same designer was very much like pro-Black Lives Matter. And I’m like…look, I’m not saying that events can’t happen in people’s lives that change them. I get that. I just thought it was really weird that this particular designer was very much like, “yeah, I’m not really Black.” And I’m like, you have a very Black name, and you present phenotypically as a Black person. But now that this sort of thing has happened, that sort of, I guess, shifted you into your own sense of Blackness.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Right. It was very odd.

Maurice Cherry:

And then they asked to come on the show, and I said no. I was like, “no, I don’t think that’s going to be a good look for me at this point. It’s not you, I don’t think, for the show, this is going to work.”

Vasheena Brisbane:

Our props to them.

Maurice Cherry:

But it was very weird.

Vasheena Brisbane:

I would think it would feel less than genuine.

Maurice Cherry:

Oh, yeah, it absolutely did.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah, I get it. I agree. And I get that stigma. Right? It’s like, okay, is this a Black thing? Am I only going to be able to do Black things? The people that say that are not realizing that, okay, that may happen. I doubt it. It may happen. But also, are you not pigeonholing yourself into something else that is not genuine?

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And if you are going to be stereotyped, shouldn’t it be as Black? I just feel like it’s a hard road we walk sometimes with trying to balance being legit with being culturally legit.

Maurice Cherry:

It’s complicated. I will 100%.

Vasheena Brisbane:

It’s complicated. And so sometimes when people feel complicated, they just go to what’s easiest. Let me just go with the flow. Right?

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

We are not afforded sometimes a lot of times, the opportunity to just go with the flow.

Maurice Cherry:

No, that’s true. That’s very true. I want to bring it back to your work at the church because there’s just some things that I’m really interested in. So you mentioned that a lot of the work is pretty much all the work done that you do with the church in house, or do you work with an agency or with freelance? Because you said you started out freelance.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah, no, it’s all in-house. It’s all in-house. It’s just me and my direct report, which is the director of communications. He does the writing and editing and sort of like this tells the story and I’m involved with the visuals.

Maurice Cherry:

Wow.

Vasheena Brisbane:

So I’m producing everything, I’m sending everything to print. I’m sort of crafting the visual of everything. And so that’s sort of how we work. We are the communications department and we’re a two person team, and I handle all design and production and he handles all story editing, press and stuff like that. And we come together when it’s time to like, okay, we have this story we need to tell and we need visuals for it, we need materials for it, we need digital stuff for it, digital assets. And so we do work with web developers that we contract with, but that’s really the extent of our outside work and print houses. But there’s no I am the designer, it’s just me. It’s a one woman show and we try to make it work.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, I mean, you’re definitely making it work again, you’ve been there for as long as you have, and just the breadth of work that you described earlier I think definitely speaks to your prowess as a designer to be able to navigate between the different types of design that you have to kind of work on.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah, and so a lot of our work is for the senior pastor and he’s shaping the vision of the church. And so a lot of the stuff we do is specifically from him. And sometimes he comes with like, okay, I saw this. One of my favorite projects is he saw this illuminated manuscript letter and was like, “yeah, I’m thinking of the sermon series and I saw this.” It’s like an O. It was like a golden O with like a lot of flowery elements around it. And he was like, “what can you do with it?” That turned into a brochure and banners and posters and we actually won an award for that. And so sometimes he comes with something little, sometimes it’s nothing. Like, this is the theme. We come back, workshop it, and then come back to him and present him with a draft. And it’s a yay or nay. Usually it’s a nay. I mean, usually it’s a yay! Once in a blue, it’s a nay. That’s sort of how we work. We are the team. It’s just us too.

Some of the projects are self-driven. We’ve done history exhibits because we have a pretty robust archive from the church. And so we’ve done a history exhibit where we’ve done a timeline of the church from 1808 up until the present. And so that was more something that I drove because I was interested in it. We have an archivist, and so it seemed ashamed that this stuff wasn’t accessible or visible to the church. I was like, we should do a history exhibit. So we did one, and currently we’re working on doing transforming a larger space in the church into sort of a permanent historical exhibit. So we’re visiting other churches that have archives as well and seeing what they’re doing to exhibit their historical stuff and if they’re doing anything. So I’m not sure if that answered your question.

Maurice Cherry:

No, you did. And we’ll link to your website in the show notes because I really want people to see the breadth of the work that you’ve done and the references, even, that you’re bringing into it. Like, I’m looking at this one campaign not a campaign, but it’s for a sermon series called This Is War, and you’re like, you’re pulling details from, like, Picasso to put all this together so it’s not just put a cross here, put a dove there, and it’s done. It’s real design work going into it.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah. And so our pastor, he loves fine art, and so a lot of times he comes to us with pieces and he’s like,”oh, I just love this piece.” And he just gives him me a JPEG and he’s like, “okay, well, I love this piece.” And I’m like, “okay, well, how can we make this interesting? How can we make this a thing?” All he really wanted was a postcard. And I was like, “no, we need to do”…it’s such a beautiful piece, and it’s very long. And I was like, “I can’t pick one section of this to do one little postcard.” I was like, “we have to do three postcards with different parts of the image on each,” and so that’s what we did. And each postcard had a different part of the image with a different color, with the words This is War. I guess you’re looking at it right now. And on the back, I think the messages were slightly different.

I feel like working in a church is — and working specifically in this environment — is like there are a lot of restrictions, right? You have budgetary restrictions. We don’t have a lot of money to spend on this because this is not a firm, right? We’re not spending all the money on design, right? So we have to make whatever we do impactful. But it also has to be cheap because we’re spending our money outreaching to the community. That’s what we’re doing. We’re spending our money furthering the word of the church and of Presbyterianism and of God. So, yes, the design has to be good, right? But it also has to make sense to the congregation. You can’t come in with this shiny new thing that costs so much money, so many dollars, because people are donating this money. This is money that people have said we’re going to give to you to further the Kingdom of God, right? Not to make shiny things.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And so doing it in that way when we did this sermon, because this sermon series, I think it was only three weeks, if I’m not mistaken. And so it’s like he wanted something to be impactful, but also, how do we do it on a budget? And also we have our Lent season coming up right after this, where we do spend a little bit more money. And so those usually are the more fun project, the smaller projects. Like, how can we make this small thing impactful and exciting and interesting and make people that are walking on the streets because it’s a tourist church, too. Like, people are in the city visiting. Across the street is The Peninsula and The St. Regis. You know, major hotels. And so if people are here on a Sunday, you want to make it impactful for them to maybe want to come to service, maybe they want to stop in. So those are the things I think that they’re most exciting to do. Yeah, the small little one off things in addition to the regularly scheduled seasonal stuff.

Maurice Cherry:

I mean, I would imagine, even with what you just mentioned around financial considerations, because people are donating to the church to keep it as a community institution, right? But I’m sure there’s other considerations that you have to keep in mind, like, of course, theological and cultural sensitivity, inclusivity, tone and voice. There are a lot of things that you have to put into the design that a designer, say, maybe for a software company or an advertising agency, don’t have to consider.

Vasheena Brisbane:

That’s true. And I’m always thinking, like, “how can I make this a Pepsi thing but keep it church?” Right? I’m always trying to figure out, like, okay, yes, this is church, but how can we make it exciting? So that, one, it’s interesting for me to do. Like, I want to make my work exciting. And two, it gives people pause. Like, oh, I might walk in there because I see this that’s a cool this, or that’s a cool that. My goal is always to generate interest in church by making church things not so churchy, so that it appeals to the audience that we have, but also people that might be walking by that are not necessarily religious or not looking to attend on Sunday, but because maybe because they saw this poster or these banners, maybe they will. Maybe because they saw this magazine, they will.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, it draws you in. And I think with designers being problem solvers, this is such a really unique problem to try to solve. Like, with every design that you have to do, it has to appeal to the congregation. But then also, how do you make it, quote unquote, design, right?

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yes. Because you can’t just appeal to the congregation. Also it won’t grow right. You have to appeal to people outside to bring them inside. Sometimes that’s a hard sort of walk, a hard tightrope to walk because you don’t want to go too far where you get to where it’s not respectful of the institution. But also you want to make it so bland that no one is interested. So you have to sort of walk that tightrope. But I like to err on the side of go wild and then let them rein me back in.

Maurice Cherry:

Right.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And so we can sort of pick and choose elements that are exciting and figure out how to strike the right balance.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah. Now, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about your work, and I want to kind of pivot this conversation to learn more about you as a person. You’re originally from New York. You grew up in New York City. Tell me about, like, were you exposed to a lot of art and design growing up?

Vasheena Brisbane:

Not particularly. I’m from Staten Island, New York. I grew up in the neighborhood of Mariners Harbor on Staten Island. And my mom, she worked for the department. — she works, still works, for the Department of Transportation — and she was a single mom. And we went to school. We came home. I didn’t have any emphasis on the arts. I just was always interested in it. I was always interested in architecture and fashion as well. And when I had planned to be an architect, to be honest.

So I started my time at the City University of New York, CUNY I started my time in the architecture program. And that year was transformative for me because I figured out that when I had to take a photography class as part of you have to take electives. And so I said, all right, I’m doing all this technical work. Let me do something that’s less technical. And so I’ll take a photography class as one of my electives. And I took it, and I just fell in love with it. I was just like, I need to be doing design. And so I switched my major. My mom was not happy I did it. And honestly, I was failing physics anyway. I was not a good physics student. And so I switched to design, and I never looked back. That’s it. I was born in San Diego. My mom was in the Navy, and so was my dad. And so they were in San Diego when I was born. And then eventually they split, and then my mom came back to New York because she’s from originally Staten Island as well. So, yeah, I’ve been here my whole life.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, while you were at City College in New York, you had started something there called the Electronic Design and Media Club.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Electronic Design and Multimedia Club.

Maurice Cherry:

Multimedia Club. Did that come about, sort of after you switched over from architecture?

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah, so after I switched from architecture, I believe it was Ina Saltz or Annette Winetraub, which I’m not sure if you know those names or not, but they’re pretty big in design. They asked me to start the club, and I did. And we ran it while I was there. And it was just, you know, we’d meet, we talk about, you know, critique our work. And it was just a way for us to network. Because when you go to a…because CUNY is like a commuter school, no one lives there. So it’s hard to generate community because you’re not sort of forced in a space together all the time. You sort of come, you do your classes, and then you go home. And so it was a way for us to foster community there, and I enjoyed it.

Maurice Cherry:

So it sounds like even with just that little — I mean, not that little — but even starting that club, that kind of was your budding interest in sort of design and how that could possibly be something more than just like a hobby.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yeah, for sure. When I started doing it, I was just like the first year, I loved the idea of design, but I had no idea I wasn’t one of these kids who went to school for I didn’t apply to be a designer, right? Or I didn’t submit a portfolio or anything like that. And so I sort of transferred over into it. So I had to learn the basics in college, whereas some of these kids knew they wanted to do it from the beginning.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And so that was hard for me because I’d never been like, an average student. I’d always been an above average student. So for me, it was struggling with not having a formula to be good. So I just had to really learn the ropes and just be like, okay, I’m just going to have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Maurice Cherry:

Got you.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And it was…it was uncomfortable for a while. And then I began to…I don’t want to say I got good because I don’t think I was good when I was in college, but I did some internships. I interned with InStyle Magazine, which was huge for me. I interned at Smart Money magazine when that was a thing. It was years ago. That was a big deal. And it also helped me decide how I wanted to work in design, because once I worked at InStyle Magazine, I was like, “I don’t want to do magazines.” Because the experience was just so micro. Everyone has their small little part to play in the magazine. It felt like in order to have any creative sort of agency, you would have to rise so far and be so far in your career. I just couldn’t understand how you could be happy until you got to be the design director and you could do the main spreads of the layout. Interesting, because that’s the only person that was doing those.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

That helped me understand, like, okay, magazine is probably not going to be your way. Then. I worked at Smart Money magazine, and it was a lot smaller, and they let me dig into their files, redo some of their layouts. It was just a different experience. So those two opposite experiences helped me decide to go small. I never wanted to go big after that because I was like, big is too restricting.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And you don’t get a lot of freedom once things are established. And I think that’s what’s exciting about doing nonprofit work in general and church work, is that you’re sort of writing the rules as you go. Like, yes, there are some guidelines. Obviously, you have to work within some things, but whatever it turns out to be is up to you. And so I didn’t know that then. Looking back now, I can say that, but I knew I didn’t want to go big when I was younger. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it couldn’t be big or else I wouldn’t be satisfied.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, one of your early career experiences, after you graduated, you worked for the Anthology of Recorded Music. Tell me about that.

Vasheena Brisbane:

New World Records. It’s a non-profit record company. Oh, my gosh, so many years ago. Yeah. And so I got that job, I think, right out of college. And what I did was, if I’m remembering correctly, I scanned album covers, helped make little press releases for their work, and there was newer records where they would showcase sort of electronic and I’m having a hard time describing the music because it’s not your typical recordings. But they also had a nonprofit branch that they distributed this music to music schools, music programs across the country, like at colleges.

Maurice Cherry:

Okay.

Vasheena Brisbane:

And that was called DRAM. And…please don’t ask me what DRAM stands for now, because I can’t remember, but I sort of made the look and feel for that website and for their website and just, like, getting all their content up and online. And so that was like, my first job outside of college. It was very production heavy. There was not a ton of design there’s. A little bit, a little bit of design, but mostly production. And so that’s what I did there.

And so that…I think I don’t remember when I left that, but after I left there, I freelanced for a while, and then I did an internship with a design firm. I don’t remember the name of the firm. Now that I think about it, that was my early career. It was my first job, and I learned how to work in an office in that job, which they don’t teach you that in school, you know how to design. But how do you design in an office when you have all this other stuff to do all day and so that was my first experience of designing for work and learning that you’re not going to be doing design all day long. You have many other things that you have to do in addition to your design, especially when you’re the only one. And I feel like in every single job that I’ve had, it’s been just me, right? The lone sort of designer or production artist or I think my title was officially production artist at that job. And so it was eye opening and it was nonprofit and it was small. And I enjoyed parts of it, the parts that had to do with design and sort of production and figuring out the back end of websites, because websites were not new, but they weren’t as advanced as they are now. Right. But there was still a lot to learn, especially right out of school. So I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that process.

Maurice Cherry:

So you were working for this nonprofit, then later you ended up working for the church. I’m curious prior to that, and I think we might have touched on this a little bit earlier, but did you have any skepticism about doing work for a church?

Vasheena Brisbane:

Yes. So this specific job came up on, believe it or not, monster.com. I had a resume on monster.com, which I don’t even know if that still exists — have no idea. But yeah, they just called me off…the current director of communications called me and was like, “hey, we’d like you to come in for an interview.” I went in with the idea like, “oh, this is great. I’ll have something to do. I’ll be able to make some money until I get a real job.” That was my exact words. And so I went in, the interview was fine. They said, “okay, well, we’re going to contract you on a freelance basis.” And I said, “great.” I was doing bulletins. My work was do the weekly bulletin, and that was it at first.

So I would go on site one day a week, I think maybe we’d sort the bulletin out, get it done, I’d send it in, and that’d be it. And then probably two or three months after I started, the director of communications left. So they had an interim and they needed help doing the magazine. So I said, well, magazine, they needed help doing the newsletter. It was an eight and a half by eleven, eight pager, I think, so two sheets. We started doing that. It looked awful, but I was just there to maintain until the new director of communications.

So they hired the new director of communications, Tim Palmer. He just recently retired. My favorite boss ever, I’ll say. And he asked me, “oh, the senior pastor wants to do this brochure. He said, ‘do a brochure for his fall sermon series.'” I said, “sure, I’ll try i”t. So we did that. He loved it. And then it was like, “okay, well, do you want to work on the newsletter?” I said, “all right, let’s do the newsletter.”

And so it sort of just snowballed from there. Went from just doing the bulletins to bulletins and brochures, then the newsletter. Then the newsletter turned into a magazine. The first one we did was a 32-pager written by him, designed by me. And then we moved from there and projects just sort of kept coming up. And so I was skeptical, like, “okay, I’m only going to be here for a little while.” But things just kept happening and the project was like, “oh, I’ll take that project. Oh, that sounds interesting.” And I just kept taking projects. And eventually, like three years later, I’m still here and I freelanced with them for three years and I was freelancing with other people.

Like during that time, I freelanced with a private equity firm called PrivCat, and they were doing sort of private equity reports. And so a designer had already designed the magazine and so I was tasked with producing that. But then they would do these sort of digital, I don’t know, two, four or five page reports. And so I designed those. And so during the church work, I was also doing private equity work, which was a little bit dry, but the designs were a little bit more exciting because they had to make the design exciting so that the content didn’t feel so dry. Yeah, I never intended for this to be a long term job. It was supposed to tie me over to my wonderful design firm job that was going to come along, I’d be working at an amazing design firm. But it just kept growing and the opportunities just kept coming.

And then eventually they asked me to come on full time. And I was like, “well, I don’t know.” I was still skeptical. Like, I don’t know if I want to work for a church full time. Maybe I’ll just come three quarter time so I’ll give you all a set, couple of days, we’ll do that. And so I did that for a year and then eventually the job just became so big we started doing banners and we’re doing exhibits. It just became so big they sort of made a position. There was no position in place for a designer. And so the position that they made was called a communications associate. And so that’s what I was when I finally came on full time. But technically I was a designer.

And so eventually we started doing more work and more exciting work, different things, starting to get a little bit more creative freedom. Because once you build sort of trust with people, I was able to do more. I was able to able to be more creative and suggest more. And when you get that trust, people trust you to take them further than maybe their mind can take them creatively. So that’s how it grew. And so, yeah, the answer to that is yes, I was very skeptical and no, I did not want to work for a church. I will just say that outright because it’s not something that has cachet when you say it in a space. Right. I work at a church, so that was hard for a while. For me, I don’t want to believe that it’s ego, but it probably was ego.

Maurice Cherry:

Well, it’s something that we’ve talked about on this show before as well. I’ve talked to designers maybe that don’t live in a big city, or that do work for an insurance company or something like that. The work that they do is not the flashy stuff that you’ll see in design media or that might win big awards or stuff like that. But when you think about the fact that everything that we interact with as humans has been through some lens of design, that means that you’re still designing for experiences that everyone needs. Everyone can’t work at a software company. Everyone can’t work at Apple or wherever and do kind of mind-blowing design work. Some people have to work at an insurance place or a healthcare brand or something like that. That may not be, quote unquote, sexy work, but the thing is that’s stuff that people still use all the time, and those need to be thoughtfully designed experiences as well.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Right? You have to design for the people. You have to design for someone other than yourself. And I think that makes you a better designer, because your focus can’t be just making it sexy, which is fun. Right. But it has to be like people have to be able to engage with whatever you make and be comfortable doing it. I wouldn’t want to say I guess it’s more of, like, legibility and readability, right? So they have to be able to read the content because it’s content. They need to consume something sexy. You can just enjoy it for the sexiness. Even if you don’t get it at all, you can just enjoy it. And those are fun projects to do, don’t get me wrong. But when you have to design with that sort of thoughtfulness, it brings a certain level of compassion to your work that I think you can miss when it’s just all about the sexy.

Maurice Cherry:

Now, you’ve been, like I said, working at the church now for almost 14 years. When you look back over the span of your career from when you started to now, how would you say that you’ve evolved as a creative?

Vasheena Brisbane:

I feel like my evolution has been yes, technical. Because I think when you do anything for a long period of time, you should get better, right? I don’t want to say you obviously get better, because some people don’t, but you should get better. And I feel like I’ve gotten better, I’ve gotten faster, and I’ve become a much more, I feel like, compassionate designer, and not in the sort of sappy way, but just, like, understanding that people are coming here for a reason. And that reason is not always the reason you set out to design. Sometimes it’s just like they just need this content for whatever they need it for for their lives, right? Like, yes, you want to do your best work, but your best work can’t be the best work unless you have that person in mind from beginning to end. And I don’t think in the beginning, I didn’t know anything about that. I didn’t approach my work thinking about how a person would feel when they opened it. Like, on a more high level, like, yes, will they like it? Will they think it’s pretty fine, but is it thoughtfully done so that they don’t have to work harder to get what they need? I think that evolution for me has been the biggest and it has been the most rewarding thing to do. Like, how do I think about these projects through the lens of who’s going to consume it at the end and how they’re going to consume it?

That’s one thing about working with one community for such a long time is that you can really get to know the people and know what it is they’re looking for when they’re picking up a material, or when they’re picking up a magazine when they’re picking up. Because we also do the pledge campaign brochure, which is every year, the church has a pledge drive to fund the church. And so it’s an ask. It’s basically an ask for money to help us to continue to move forward the vision of the church. And so presenting those materials in a way that is sort of respectfully and thoughtfully done so that people feel connected to the institution, but also are able to get from the piece the value that they bring by giving their money, I think is hard to do. It’s a tricky ask. And when you’re designing materials for that, you really have to be careful about how you’re asking, why you’re asking. And that has a lot to do with the content and the words, but also what images we’re going to show. How are we going to connect the feeling of church to this ask for money? That’s a hard thing to do.

And so I think my favorite piece that we did was it was a few years back now, maybe 2018, 2019. I did some hand sketches of all the favorite things that people always mention about the church. And then some not so, some not so not favorite, but some sort of mundane things that people it’s like your money doesn’t just pay for, like this beautiful I did a sketch of the organ and of the rose window, which is part of the architecture of the church. It’s like, yes, we pay to maintain this, but also we pay for hymnals. We pay for palms on Sunday so that you can wave them for Palm Sunday. And so just connecting those sort of cherished things with the more nuts and bolts of the church is hard to do. And I think if you approach it through a lens of compassion, you can get it done. But I don’t think you can make those connections if you don’t know a community and approach that community and your work with them through compassion and really understand what it is that they love and how you can present it in a way that makes sense to them.

Maurice Cherry:

What are some pieces of advice that you’ve gotten throughout your career, throughout your life that you find yourself coming back to?

Vasheena Brisbane:

I don’t know that I’ve gotten advice on my career, but I feel like I’ve gotten advice on life, and it works for your career. And that is just like, go where they love you. And I don’t want that to come off, like, go where you don’t get any pushback or any flak or anything like that, but just, like, go where you are valued and they see your value and they believe in your value, and then you can, in turn, produce things that are valuable for that community. I think it’s a give and take. You can’t just go somewhere because of the money or because it looks good or for the cachet or because it looks good on your resume. I think that the most valuable advice I’ve been given is, like, go where you’re treated well and you can do work that’s meaningful and to you and hopefully to others.

Maurice Cherry:

What’s something that you kind of are still working on unlearning?

Vasheena Brisbane:

I feel like I’m working on unlearning this idea of a charted path. I feel like everyone wants the charted path. Like everyone wants that “I go to school, I get the beginner job, then I get this rock star job, and then I make a lot of money, and then I retire.” Right? I feel like that’s the path. Whatever. Your thing is fine. But what I’m still trying to unlearn I’m still trying to unlearn that. Right? I’m still trying to be okay with my career path, which is not a sexy career path, but has been really rewarding. And so I’m trying to unlearn thinking of my career in terms of what other people think is valid and trying to think of it more along the lines of what do I think is valid and what can I do to grow myself, regardless of where that may be, because I think you can grow anywhere. It’s just up to you. I don’t think the space determines if you grow or not. I think you and what you bring to it determine what you grow or not, and I’m still learning that.

Maurice Cherry:

Where do you see yourself in the next five years to that point? Where do you see yourself growing into?

Vasheena Brisbane:

I feel like nonprofit is just my calling, even though I didn’t ask for it. When I say nonprofit, it doesn’t have to be like a small nonprofit. I feel like maybe museum work or work where I’m helping to broaden the minds of people. I don’t see myself going in a commercial direction. And maybe that’s how I can speak about this better, is that I know where I don’t see myself. I don’t see myself, like, going to work for Pepsi at Coca-Cola or a big commercial brand. I don’t see that for myself. But I do see more of a sort of philanthropical or sort of path for me because I just feel like it’s been rewarding up until this point. And so at this point in the game, I’m looking for rewarding work. And I feel like that has been very rewarding for me and it’s also been very freeing. I don’t feel like you can get me, I can be wrong. I don’t feel like you can get as much freedom working for those big organizations as you can with small nonprofits or even a little bit larger of a nonprofit. I just feel like they’re more willing to take a chance on your creativity than global established brands are.

Maurice Cherry:

That is very much true. That’s very much true because oftentimes, especially with these larger companies, they don’t value. What I would consider what you’re doing is like you’re kind of a generalist. Like, yes, you work as a designer, but you’re not just doing one specific type of design. Like your work is spanning print and media and visual, et cetera. Whereas if you’re in a larger company, you’re kind of just slotted into doing one thing and you have to do that one thing. You can’t really branch out if you want to. Even if you have those skills. You’re not allowed to kind of do that within that one position.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Right there’s a designer who does this. They do this thing and that’s all they do. I would die slowly if I had to do that every day. And the exciting thing about working for a church is that I can go in one day, I’ll be working on banners the next day. Like right now we are working on that exhibit project that I mentioned earlier and we’re visiting other congregations and figuring out how they do stuff. And so we’re doing field trips and so every day is sort of different. And I didn’t know that I wanted that until I did it. And I was like, this is amazing. Every day is something different. Like, today we work on this, tomorrow we’ll be working on that. The summer is pretty busy for us. We’ll be working on a bunch of fall projects and it’s all different. And some people work in these amazing design firms and they’re doing one thing every day it’s the same. And I can’t. My soul won’t my soul won’t allow it. I would be restless and miserable, I think.

Maurice Cherry:

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

Vasheena Brisbane:

My website vasheena.com. I’m on LinkedIn. I am on social media at @sheenzfix on Instagram. I’m on Facebook for Vasheena Brisbane. But Instagram and Facebook, I’m not a big social media, so if you’re looking for me there, you’re not going to see much. But my website has some work that I’ve done.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, we had this big conversation for people that are listening. We had this big conversation earlier about kind of social media and being on which that’s a whole other thing, but I completely understand that. But Vasheena Brisbane, thank you so much for coming on the show. One just thank you for the breadth of work that you’re doing through the church. I think it is amazing and powerful and impactful to see someone doing this work, particularly a black woman, doing this work. It really means a lot. I mean, to me, it means a lot, but I think it means a lot, of course, to the community that you’re doing this type of work. And to be a creative problem solver and to do this kind of thing in a space that perhaps design is not necessarily looked at or considered or valued in a really impactful way, I think it really means a lot. And I’m super excited to see where you go from here. You’ve been doing great work. You’ve been recognized, you’ve been awarded. So clearly other people see that too. And my hope is that through this show, many others can kind of see the work that you’ve done thus far.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Thank you so much.

Maurice Cherry:

Yeah, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Vasheena Brisbane:

Thank you for having me. And thank you for doing what you’re doing here for the community and for our community specifically. It’s needed. And when I found the podcast, I was so excited that it even existed because I had been asking myself, like, where are all the black designers? And now I can connect with people and you can meet them and you can hear from them and hear their stories and to make for a more well rounded experience. And it’s invaluable. So please keep doing it.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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

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

Fungi Dube

It was a real joy to connect with Fungi Dube for this week’s episode of the podcast. She’s a skilled brand, web, and Webflow designer in Harare, Zimbabwe, and I love how she leverages her culture in her designs to create stunning visual and digital experiences for clients around the world.

We covered a range of topics related to design and creativity. Fungi shared the importance of understanding a client’s needs and goals, spoke about the creative community in Zimbabwe, and talked about how she transitioned from being a trained scientist to a talented designer. If you’re looking to find inspiration from within, then this interview with Fungi will definitely bring it to you!

Interview Transcript

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

Fungi Dube:
I am Fungi Dube. I am a brand visual and Webflow web designer based in Harare, Zimbabwe. I have been designing, according to LinkedIn, for almost eight years now. So I think that’s super cool. And I mostly am inspired… not mostly, largely inspired by the profound nuances that are embedded in African culture. So if you are to interact with my work or engage with my work online, you’re probably going to see that a lot of it is really centered on African narratives and seeing how I can tell their stories in a really fresh and inspiring way.

Maurice Cherry:
So how has the year been going for you so far?

Fungi Dube:
The year has been good. I feel like at the very start of it, I was kind of flailing about, just trying to get everything in place and trying to organize myself personally, just getting my goals out there and that sort of thing. So it was a bit of a whirlwind, but as it has progressed, it’s gotten better. I feel like I am more in control. I’ve regained all balance and it’s been really good. I’ve been working on some super exciting projects that hopefully you’ll see the light of day soon. But yeah, so far so good.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you have any goals in particular that you want to accomplish for the year?

Fungi Dube:
Definitely, definitely. I have a lot of sort of business-centered goals when it comes to being a solopreneur and running my own design brand, but I also have goals with regards to sort of tapping more into the design education space and seeing what I can do with that. So I do have two big, major self-initiated projects that I’m working on that I’m also funding that I’m hoping are going to work, and then I can go and ask people for money to make them bigger. But yeah, I definitely have a few things that I’m working on at the moment that I would like to see done by the end of the year.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, nice. I mean, I’d love to learn a little bit more about them, as much as you want to go into detail about them.

Fungi Dube:
I don’t want to keep it too generic, but pretty much the focus of these projects is that I feel that there’s a gap, and the gap is seen in how when it comes to African design systems or African design education or African inspiration in general when it comes to design is a little bit lacking. So you are able to find references and that sort of thing on Google. You could probably go outside and have a chat with a roadside vendor or with your grandmother and find out about things and that sort of thing, but I want to be able to at least contribute towards the documentation of some of these things. So there’s definitely a gap when it comes to the literature that we can read with regards to African narratives and how to implement them in design. So the project’s really one which is digital and one which is actually physical or centered on being able to start this documentation process, not only for designers now, but for designers to come.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds really interesting. I’d love to hear more about that once it’s out in the world.

Fungi Dube:
Definitely. I’ll definitely let you in once there’s something to actually see.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now, you just earlier described yourself as a solopreneur. Tell me just kind of more in general about your design work and what you specialize in doing.

Fungi Dube:
I don’t know if I should take the audience all the way back, but initially when I did start designing, I sort of was everywhere. So you could have told me to do, I don’t know, to design a flyer for the most random thing ever and I would’ve done it because I was still learning and sort of getting my feet or dipping my toes in the water just to see what the industry was like. But I want to say probably at the four-year mark of my seven plus, almost eight year journey, it sort of clicked that I wanted to be able to work on projects that I could see myself in as a young Black, Zimbabwean female African designer.

So I made the shift and my focus since then has been seeing how I can leverage African culture, African narratives, nuances that are embedded in African cultures like textures, colors, patterns, the use of graphic symbols as a way of visual and global communication, and just seeing how I can interpret that in a fresh, modern, and inspired way and send that out to the world. So that is the base or the foundation of the work, and then the sort of disciplines that I work within would be the brand design space, the visual design space, and more recently the Webflow design space.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I worked briefly, this was back from 2017 to 2020-ish, I worked for a company that was doing a lot of, not no code, low code, they really actually wanted to be more code, but we worked a lot with or kind of in congress with other companies that were doing those sort of similar things, like Webflow, basically taking the process of design and sort of democratizing it in a way where you could use a product to create things. I’ve used Webflow before. It’s super powerful. I love how you’re able to really create full, really fully functioning sites with just dragging and dropping. And if you want to get into the code you can, but I like that the code is not a hindrance in order for you to create something.

Fungi Dube:
Yeah, it’s really changed my perspective on design as well, because there’s just so much that you can do. So Webflow is super flexible, infinite possibilities when it comes to very unique user experiences and customizing really cool interfaces and animations and interactions. So yeah, it’s been a really cool journey so far. This would be my second year in Webflow, but I’m just super excited to really learn more about it and see what I can create with it.

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

Fungi Dube:
Goodness. Okay. So my routine has changed a little bit as the start of this year, but I used to be 5:00 AM club. I am not anymore. I have become 7:00 or 8:00 AM club, and that’s perfectly fine. So that’s the time that I usually wake up. I tend to have my little morning routine, so whether that’s cleaning my space, making my bed, taking a shower, having some breakfast, but I will be settled at my desk around 9:00 in the morning. I like to get administrative tasks out of the way first, so I check my emails, I check my socials. I am also a brand design coach with Flux Academy, so I tend to check all of those emails as well and see what’s happening in the community with the students. And then right after that, which is probably maybe an hour, an hour and a half, then I’ll dive into any kind work that I could be working on.

So I tend to also like to work in little sprints throughout the day. So I’ll dedicate an hour block or an hour and a half block to a certain task, and then I’ll move on to the next one. But with each and every single day, I do at least make sure that I prioritize time to go to the gym. So that’s usually in the late afternoon. And if I am able to, I also schedule nap and nap time because I think it’s important to recharge and occasional dance breaks. It’s so weird, but I have it in my schedule to be like, “Okay, I think that we need to just blast some tunes right now and just have a vibe at the desk,” so that things don’t get too hectic and you don’t feel like you’re losing your mind. So yeah, that’s pretty much what a typical day looks like for me. In the evenings after gym, dinner, shower, cup of tea, I’ll wind down and maybe watch something on Netflix, read something before I go to bed, and we start it all over again. But my workday is usually done around 10:00 PM in the evening.

Maurice Cherry:
I love that you have these breaks in the day scheduled for play, or I would say for non-work, but you’ve got them scheduled in your calendar and you don’t move them around or anything. I love that.

Fungi Dube:
Yeah, I think it’s super important to prioritize things such as help us to also relax as designers, because I think it’s super easy for us to be at our desks plugged behind our computer screens for 16 hours a day and you actually don’t realize that you’ve been working for so long. So I’m a strong advocate for making sure that… and balance looks different for everyone, I should add that, but just for ensuring that at least there’s a little bit of me time even in the chaos and the busyness of work. So even if it’s 20 minutes of just, “Hey, let’s do some chair dancing, or let’s take a quick nap,” I’m definitely going to take it for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
And I think it’s super important, especially when you’re a solopreneur, because nobody’s going to prompt you to do that. Nobody’s going to tell you, “Hey, maybe you should take a break.” You have to do it. You have to schedule it in in order to make sure that you get that done.

Fungi Dube:
Yeah. And that’s the thing as well. When you’re a solopreneur, you have to wear many hats. So it can get really overwhelming and you find yourself sort of feeling a lot more burnt out and that sort of thing. So I had to be very intentional about ensuring that I scheduled this into my day-to-day so that at least I can cope with everything else that I have to do, because I have to be social media manager, I have to be accountant, I have to be administrator, designer, strategist, all in one. So just having that time to yourself where you can just do nothing or where you can play really, really, really makes a difference.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So let’s say you’re starting a new project. It can be from a new client, from a current client. What does your creative process look like?

Fungi Dube:
From the jump, I like to have a discovery call. With any potential leads, I will write to them and just find out when they’re available for us to meet. I will introduce myself in this call. I will also listen to them talk about their brand/their business, their service, their product, what it is that they think they need for their brand, because sometimes you will actually find out that they may think that they need branding, but maybe they actually need a strategy first and that sort of thing. So once we’ve had that discovery call, then I follow that up with documentation and what this documentation is, depending on what sort of service they’re after. So whether it’s brand design, whether it’s web design, I’m just going to send them a questionnaire where they can then put all the words that we discussed in the call onto paper just as a form of reference for the both of us so that if I need to pick up any vital information and that sort of thing, then I know that I can always refer back to that document.

It also helps me to set a project proposal, which covers all of our working terms. So issues to deal with costing, with deliverables, with turnover times, just for general terms of engagement that allow for us to be happy as you go throughout, as we work on the project and that sort of thing. And then once that’s signed, sealed and delivered, then I will then start working on the project. So it’s very collaborative on my end, where I tend to also include and involve my clients in the project as much as possible. And so I set up a central workspace on Notion where we can exchange ideas, where we can shorten the feedback loop, where everyone has access to everything. So at any stage of the project they can see exactly what’s going on, they can see what assets are being created and that sort of thing.

So when it actually comes to the design process of it, I’m going to start off with the visual mood boarding phase, which is basically putting together or curating some reference images that capture the essence of the brand or how we are trying to get it to look like. Once that’s approved, then I go into development, which will obviously be very different depending on what the project is. So it could be the logo suite and then colors type, supporting assets like iconography, brand patterns, maybe illustrations to accompany some of the assets that have been created and that sort of thing. And then, I will iterate on that of which in my project proposal I also stipulate how many rounds of revision are allowed for the project depending on the price and everything.

And then once it’s happiness and joy, we’ve sort of worked through it, we’ve edited what needs to be edited, we’ve revised what needs to be revised, then I will hand over all the asset files to them, inclusive of all the high resolution formats, inclusive of the original source files, and obviously guidelines and that sort of thing as to how they should retain the integrity of the brand identity that we have just worked on together. And yeah, that’s it. So that’s sort of how I cycle through it, but it’s all also very, very, very, very heavily based on research. I think that probably takes me 80% of the time and then executing everything is like 20% of the time, because I want to make sure that I am obviously creating something that is distinct, something that’s memorable, something that’s competitive, but something that also captures the heart and the essence of their story. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you find that clients often want skip that research step and they just want to go right into the creation part?

Fungi Dube:
I have had instances where that has happened, but it hasn’t been that often in the recent years. But if that has been the case, that’s been an immediate red flag because I think the discovery call has helped me to get a sense of whether they would be open to my process or not. So if we are on the call and they’re like, “Hey, you know what? Let’s just skip over that. Don’t really matter. Let’s just design the logo and let’s go,” then I know almost immediately that that’s not going to work because there’s a lot more work that goes into the visuals or into the final outcome that people are then going to engage with. So it does happen. It has happened. It doesn’t happen as often now, but I mean, we are dealing with people at the end of the day, so everyone has a different way of thinking of how things should be done, so there’s that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’ve often found even when clients want to skip that step, it always extends the project because what ends up happening is you’re making something, you’re just jumping right into it, and then you have to do X number rounds of revisions, which I like that you put in, you stipulate, “I’m only doing this many revisions.” The research helps so you stick to that, so you’re not kind of doing this constantly iterating process of trying to appease the client without doing the research first so you can try to get it right the first two or three times as opposed to, “Here’s version 12 of what we’ve been working on.” No one has time for that.

Fungi Dube:
Yeah, no one has time for that for sure. And what I actually wanted to add on to that is to say that when you find that you have clients who sort of jump the gun in that way or want to do that, it really takes away from the process in the sense that you’re saying you definitely will find yourself maybe having to go back to V1 or after you are at V7 of the project, and it’s really not going to benefit you and it’s not going to benefit them either, because I think there’s going to be a lot of frustration there.

Research really, really, really helps you to get to that point where also you are not designing according to your client’s preference, which is another thing that we need to mention, because they are going to have their personal taste and everything like that, which is fair and fine, and we should definitely consider that, but we need to understand that when it comes to these sort of branding and visual projects, we’re also designing together or to appeal towards a certain target market or audience. So that research is essential. It really ensures that, “Hey, when we push this out, are we going to be speaking to the right people and then are they going to take it the way that we intend for them to do so?” So if anyone is listening, and if your client or potential lead is like, “No, no, no, we are not going to do research. We are just going to skip through this,” then I will tell you to not take that project. It’s not going to be worth your peace of mind.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What are the best types of clients for you to work with?

Fungi Dube:
So I have had a broad range of individuals and small businesses and corporates that I’ve worked with, and I can’t even pin it down to who the best kind of client is because I think everyone comes with a different kind of energy and a different kind of vibe. But what I’ll say is that in general, some of the projects that I’ve really enjoyed working on with individuals or small businesses, startups, enterprises who really value the importance of storytelling in one way or another.

So if we’re on the call and off the bat they’re like, “Oh, we started this in 1897 and it was because my grandmother did this and did that,” and you just get this wholesome story that they just tie together and they tell you the background of why they’re doing it and that sort of thing, immediately I get good vibes from that because I’m like, “Oh, this is going to be something good to work on because there’s a lot more meaning and there’s that strong emotional connection to what they’re doing as opposed to just selling a product.” So those have been that clash of individuals who come with that sort of energy and that value storytelling in one form or another have been some of the best project that I’ve worked on.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’re in Harare, Zimbabwe. I’d love for you to just paint a picture for the audience. I would say our audience is probably largely in the US. What does the creative industry look like there? Is it centered around Harare? Just kind of give us a window into what the industry is like there.

Fungi Dube:
So I would say that it is. We do have another major city called Bulawayo. Harare is the capitol, and a lot of what happens on the creative scene definitely happens here. And what’s really exciting about this time that we’re in is that we’re in a season where the creative scene in Harare or in Zimbabwe in general is on the rise. So even when it comes to novel ways of expressing fashion, of expressing fine art, of expressing expressive photography, there have been some really cool live exhibitions that have happened. They’ve been very urban fashion and photography exhibitions and shows that have also happened in the most unlikely places as well, where you would see these sort of things. And it’s just been really exciting seeing how young Zimbabwean creators are really stepping up or really stepping into their own, are really honing their craft and are really thinking of new ways of expressing the ideas. So it’s on the rise. It’s on the rise. I’m hoping that it infiltrates and sort of starts to penetrate crowd supporters overseas, but there’s a lot, a lot, a lot of exciting things that are happening currently.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been able to tap into a creative community where you’re at?

Fungi Dube:
So I am a part of creative communities, not just here alone. I think if anything, when it comes to more of the work that I do with regards to branding web, there’s definitely room for there to be something that sort of unites creatives who do the same thing that I do. But that is, it’s there, but it’s not there. I know that’s very vague, but it makes so much sense in my head. I think there’s definitely room to see where that can go and what can be done with regards to that, but in terms of just general design communities and stuff like that, I am a part of and have had the wonderful opportunities to connect with other African creatives on the continent who are based in different cities to me. So that’s something that I’ve been able to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I think if the creative scene is on the rise, like you mentioned it, it kind of I guess would make sense that there’s maybe not a lot of creative groups yet because things are still, it’s in that sort of burgeoning state where stuff’s beginning, stuff’s starting to pop off, stuff is starting to gain attention and gaining traction. So it’s probably just the visibility thing I would imagine at this point because yeah, I think it might just be a visibility thing. I’m completely guessing. I have no idea what it’s like in Zimbabwe, but I just know usually when I’ve talked with other people in other cities all across the world, when they’ve had those sort of small design spaces or creative spaces that are starting to pop up, the community just hasn’t coalesced yet around something. So I think as the scene rises, those types of things will happen. I think you’ll be able to find some community there, but it’s good, like you said, that you’ve been able to find it elsewhere, too.

Fungi Dube:
And I agree with you. I think it’s definitely a visibility thing for sure, but it’s something that we’re slowly breaking into. But yeah, everything in strides, I would say.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, let’s learn more about you as a person. I know you kind of gave us a hint into your kind of daily creative routine, but I’d love to hear more about you growing up. Were you really into design and art as a kid? Tell me more about that.

Fungi Dube:
So I always enjoy talking about my childhood. It’s a very special, special time for me. I grew up with what I would say were liberal parents in the sense that they let me explore. So both my parents were vet surgeons and we lived in a very small town here in Zimbabwe called Norton. It’s very nice, it’s very peaceful there. So I say liberal in the sense that whenever my parents went out on site visits, whether it was to farms for vaccinations and that sort of thing, they sort of let me wonder often see what I could find. I don’t know if that’s dangerous or not, but they kind of let me do it, to the point that on one of my site visits with my dad, I sort of snuck into an ostrich pen and I saw a massive ostrich egg, and I surprised my dad when he got home and he was like, “What is that? When did that happen?” I was like, “well, listen, you kind of let me wander off, so that’s what happened.”

But I do find that even from that, it really sort of opened up my mind in terms of how I thought and what I did. So I spent a lot of time outside. I built a lot of sandcastles, I played with dirt, I built things with sticks. So because of that, even when I then started going to primary school, I’m not sure what you would call it, but when you’re maybe six years old and you start going off to school, so we call it primary school, I found myself also taking time out to make special DIY cards for my family members at that young age for special occasions. So if my aunt had a birthday, if my cousin had a birthday, I would draw my favorite cartoon characters on the front of the card, just a blank sheet of paper, fold it in half, draw my favorite characters, color them in and give that to them as a birthday card.

So I think the creative sort of inclinations and the creative bone or creative DNA has been there from the time that I was born really, but I didn’t know that I could actually sort of capitalize on it or I could really bring it in and do something with it, which is why, like you mentioned earlier, as you were talking before this, that I went on to study science instead of anything creative. So instead of anything design related. I think maybe it probably worked as well because my parents essentially would’ve been in the scientific field because of the veterinary surgery and all of that. So it made sense for me to also do something in line with that or try and go into the scientific field.

But yeah, I kind of realized it much later after I graduated. I was like, “Wait, okay. There’s this thing called design and I could probably take it up and let’s see where it goes.” But again, I wouldn’t say that it’s something that I really thought of. It happened also in a very freakish way because after I graduated from university in 2014, I was job hunting for six months at the start of 2015, and I couldn’t find anything anywhere. I put my CV in the most random corners of the world and nothing came up, and I was so frustrated and I had no idea what I was going to do.

So in order to curb my frustration, I decided that I needed to teach myself a new skill. But even how design came about, again, maybe it’s divine order, maybe it’s something in the universe, I don’t know what it is. I was on YouTube and my top recommended video was a Photoshop tutorial. And it’s so weird, Maurice, because I had never heard of Photoshop before and I had never remotely… you could be like maybe the algorithm was doing things or whatever, but I had not even searched anything that is even closely linked to anything to do with Photoshop. So it was so weird. I just kind of clicked into it and my mind was blown because I was like, “Wait, are you telling me that people can actually do this with your computers and people make money from this and it’s a whole thing that you can do?” It was so bizarre to me.

So that’s how it sort of started, and I started self-learning in design, and I also happened to get a full-time job that I started going to towards the middle of May in education. So I worked in education for six years with children age between 6 and 12 years old, and I was in the sports and coaching and conditioning department at the school, so in line more with the human physiology part of what I studied, but I was learning design on the side. I would go to work and come back and be like, “Wait, what can I learn today? Let me pull up another YouTube tutorial.” And at the time, I had a jet engine of a laptop and I had cracked Photoshop.

So yeah, I don’t know if the audience would be familiar with this, but maybe it’s going to show my age, too. But it was a time of torrents as well, so you could sort of download the torrent for Photoshop. Yeah, so that’s what I did, and it just kind of stuck and I loved it, and I just kept going with it, up until eventually I left my job at the end of 2020. I was like, “I’m going to be a full-time creative solopreneur,” and it’s been one hell of a ride ever since then.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, I think there’s certainly going to be a good bit of our audience that relates to using a cracked version of Photoshop to start learning about how to design. That’s how I started up. I was using a cracked version of Photoshop, and I was going to a local bookstore, and I mean, I’m dating myself now. This is early… not early, maybe mid-2000s or so, 2004, 2005. Because there used to be these books published about Photoshop, like Photoshop 6: Dirty Tips and Tricks, and it would show you all these different little effects that you could make. “This is how you make a metal effect. This is how you make a gold effect. This is how you make a water effect.” And I didn’t have the money to purchase those books because those things were $50. I was like, “I don’t have $50 to buy this book, but what I can do is write down all the steps in my notebook and take it back home, or I could take a picture,” because I had this little dinky point and shoot camera, and I would take a picture of the page and just go back home and download the pictures and have the picture up, and then have Photoshop up and try to mimic the steps and stuff. So I mean, that’s how you learn. It’s that hands-on kind of stuff. So I completely, completely understand where you’re coming from there.

Fungi Dube:
Yeah. I mean, it’s a real life case of trust the process.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. When you look back at your time in college, you were studying human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry. In hindsight, did you see any elements of design in that work?

Fungi Dube:
Yeah, actually, because now, especially when it comes to maybe my research methodology just for creative projects, I see that I borrow a lot from what I learned during that time. So even when it comes to general experiments, obviously you’ve got to know what sort of equipment you’re going to use. You got to know what you need in order to get a certain result, you’re going to have to evaluate that result. Maybe you’re going to have to redo things and that sort of thing.

So that entire process of being able to design an experiment, I think is the same thing that I use now when it comes to coming up with concepts for brands. The research part of it definitely comes from there, because I can read any sort of, what may seem very boring content, especially within my line of work and my influences. I probably need to also read research papers, see what other maybe anthropologists or just historians have come up with regards to a certain topic. So that’s pages and pages of just literature, and I blur through that with ease. It doesn’t even feel like anything to me because I think just having been trained in a specific way when it came to my formal education really has helped a lot, and more so even when it comes to coming up with solutions and dissecting briefs and that sort of thing, I see a lot of my scientific background coming to play there. In hindsight, I’m definitely grateful for it because I think it’s made me a better creative and it’s also made me a better problem solver and a better thinker. So yeah, I definitely see how the two roles come together to form something quite beautiful.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, that’s great that your scientific background influences your approach because we were talking earlier about research. If you were a doctor or you just try to diagnose someone or just jump right in without doing research, you would not be a good doctor. So similarly, it’s the same way with design. You have to do that research to know, “Well, what’s the best approach? How do I know the best way to tackle this particular thing?” As you mentioned that, it just reminded me of what I’ve went through as a math… I don’t want to say a mathematician, but my degree as a math. I didn’t study design professionally. I just studied as a hobby and managed to turn it into a career. And when I look back even at the times where I was drawing 3D graphs by hand on a chalkboard or trying to create certain graphs and functions in mathematical or whatever, tessellations, fractals, et cetera, there’s design in those elements, too. There’s a lot of design in math that I don’t think probably, I don’t want to say traditional designers, but I think most designers probably don’t look at math that way. It’s funny, I even mentioned it and folks are like, “Ugh, math, I hate math.” And I mean, I like math.

Fungi Dube:
I don’t blame them. I don’t blame them. It’s math [inaudible 00:36:14]

Maurice Cherry:
But I mean, I think what math does, and probably similarly to what you have went through studying anatomy and physiology and biochemistry, it gives you a different way to process information. So for you, it’s really about making sure that you have that thorough research to execute the designs in the right way. When I think about math, math really taught me how to structure my thinking and that I’ve been able to use in proofs, in proposals, in any sorts of things when it comes to getting that message across succinctly to a client or something like that. So for designers out there that are like, “Ugh, the sciences,” don’t rule out the sciences. There’s ways that you can tie these things together.

Fungi Dube:
Yeah. And it’s actually so interesting, because like you’re saying it really shapes your process and how you dissect creativity in general. I’ve had the most interesting conversations. I feel like some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had are obviously with you right now because this is very enlightening, but also with people who have made career pivots, so accountants who are now creatives or medical doctors, which is so crazy, who are now creatives or engineers who are now creatives. And also just looking into their process and how they do things and how even the final outcome looks. It’s so interesting, because you see how based off of the different professional backgrounds or the different educational backgrounds, the process is just going to be entirely different, but the outcome is going to be just as beautiful. Sorry. So it’s just really interesting just seeing how people merge all these different worlds and then just come up with this solid body of creative work. It’s fascinating to me, absolutely fascinating.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What do you want our audience to know about, I guess, design in Zimbabwe? What do you want them to know about, whether it’s the work that you see coming out of it, other creatives that you know that are kind of on the rise? What do you want to let our audience know about that?

Fungi Dube:
Oh, gosh, there’s so much. I just wish that this was a video presentation and I could show you some of the work because it’s so good. But I think if anything, there’s a shift. There’s a shift, and I definitely want to speak on this, but not in greater detail because that’s not why we are here. But I think there has been a lot of external imposition on what creative work looks like or should look like based off of history and colonization and everything that has happened.

So there’s this massive shift where what we are trying to do is to decolonize design in the sense that we want to say, “Hey, design can actually look like this, and that’s perfectly fine. Photography can look like this, and that’s perfectly fine.” So if anything, like I was referring to earlier, within the creative scene in Zimbabwe, there is definitely a lot that is coming up and on the rise, but even as you engage with the visuals, when you engage with the patterns, with the colors, with the execution, and I spoke of how you have these fashion shows that are being done in the most unlikely locations, you see that there’s definitely this big drive to ensure that the work is great, but also the way that the work is executed and the way that people engage with the work is unlike anything that we’ve seen before.

So it’s really, really exciting just seeing how more young Africans are stepping into their own really claiming and owning their identity and are just saying, “Hey, this may be a lot for people to take in. Maybe it’s too African, maybe it’s just too much energy, but it’s fine because this is who we are and we want to be able to tell our story the way that it should be told.” So yeah, it’s fun times ahead, fun times ahead. Fun times ahead. Let’s look into the future. Two years from now, five years from now, I believe that Zimbabwe and Zimbabwean creativity and Zimbabwean design is going to be on a whole other level.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you consider to be your biggest success in your design career so far?

Fungi Dube:
I am going to go more on the qualitative route, where I feel like my biggest success has been the chance and the opportunity to be able to connect with other creatives who are like me and have them sort of recognize themselves in the work that I do. I could easily say something like, “Oh, I worked with a client who paid me X amount, or I did this and that,” but I think that just the sense of community is something that has really, really, really, really impacted me the most.

I get so much joy when I’m able to talk to, or someone who’s just an up and coming designer or thinking of design, and they’re based maybe in Kenya or they’re based in Burundi, and they just write me a message on social. They’re like, “Hey, I saw your work and I just absolutely feel really inspired that I can actually sort of tap into my own culture and see what I can come up with,” and that sort of thing. And that is something that really, really, really, really, like I can wake up every day to that and not get paid a single dime and I’ll be fine. So that has been my biggest success, my biggest achievement, and I want to see how I can continue to build on that and see how I can continue to hopefully inspire and encourage other young African creatives to really step up and showcase your work and showcase their heritage, their culture, your tradition, and just take that to the global market. So yeah, that’s it for me.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’ve mentioned, I read this as I was sort of doing my research, you mentioned that you find inspiration from within when it comes to your work. Can you talk with me a little bit more about that? How do you build that sort of internal fortitude? How do you build that?

Fungi Dube:
So it hasn’t always been there, and I should be very honest about that because I think that as we were growing up and also the public education system that we’re exposed to, a lot of what we were taught doesn’t really resonate with who we are. So I probably at that point knew a lot more about Western history than I did about my own history, and I think that is something that needs to be fixed. So the resolve, I guess, or the tenacity has really come from wanting to do more when it comes to that. And I sort of had my light bulb moment when I encountered a book by well known as Zimbabwean graphic designer, but he’s also known in the international community. His name is Professor Saki Mafundikwa. He actually went to school in New York, I believe. So he studied there, and then he came back and he started the first graphic design school here in Zimbabwe.

He’s also given a TED Talk, and in his TED Talk he talks about looking for inspiration within. So after encountering his book, which is called African Alphabets, I was completely blown away because again, it comes back to that whole issue of documentation where I didn’t really know that it was possible to document African design systems in the way that he did. And it’s mostly based on typography and it’s absolutely fascinating stuff. So if anything, that’s where the initial point of contact or inspiration came from, and it just made so much sense to me because I had sort of been lost in this design world where I was doing anything and everything. And I’m sure you can attest to this as well, when you start out, you do everything. You’ll do your company profile, you’ll do a brochure, you’ll do a flyer, a poster, doesn’t really matter what the subject matter is.

I mean, it does, don’t get me wrong, because people will be like, “Hey, what kind of things were you designing?” But not in that sense. But that point gave me a sense of direction and really inspired me to be like, “Hey, actually we can flip this thing around. Let’s take all of these fundamentals that we’ve learned and convey them into a message that I would actually want for people to engage with and a message that I would want to see myself in.”

So I guess that is where that internal resolution has come from, and it’s been the driving and motivating factor ever since then to be like, “What can I do today? What can I do different? How can I take this story that people may have perceived in this way or this narrative and turn it into something that’s Afro-positive?” Because there are a lot of stories, there are a lot of things that I see about who we are and what we do and where we eat and where we live and that sort of thing and the world may see us a certain way, but I’m like, “No, actually, if we take power and we actually tell our story the way that it’s supposed to be told, then there’s so much more that we can actually get out of that.”

So really the looking within is to say as much as I can go out and seek inspiration online, on Pinterest, on [inaudible 00:46:11], what is in my backyard? Because when you look at the global and historical context, even between the two of us, we may share the same skin color, but when it comes to our historical context, our global context, there’s absolutely no way that you would be able to design like a designer who is in Harare, Zimbabwe, when you’re in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s just different.

So that’s where really the looking within comes into be like, “Hey, what am I exposed to? What do I see on a daily? What sort of conversations can I have to seek inspiration? Can I go and speak to an outside vendor and find out how he weaves his basket? Can I have a conversation with my grandmother about how she designed her mud hut kitchen and all the paintings and murals that are on the outside?” Things like that really, really make a difference because you actually start to see that there’s creativity in a lot of the crafts that I see around me, and how can I leverage that? What can I draw from their processes as well, and how can I turn that into this fresh thing and tell it in a different way for everyone else on the internet to interact with? So that is really where it comes from.

Maurice Cherry:
At this stage of your career, how do you define success?

Fungi Dube:
Ooh, that is a loaded question, now, isn’t it?

Maurice Cherry:
Is it?

Fungi Dube:
Yeah, because I’ve really got to think about it. But I think at this stage, what I think is really cool and what I’m really grateful for is the fact that even in interactions where I may not be there, so whether it’s physical spaces, whether it’s calls, it’s the fact that people are able to sort of recognize my work, and I think that’s so cool.

I get humbled every single time when I go on LinkedIn and someone will maybe tag me or mention me and be like, “Hey, is this your work?” And I’ll be like, “Oh, no, it’s not my work, but I think that it’s so cool that you think that it could be my work.” So that really, really, really, really inspires me and motivates me to keep going. Just the fact that I’m in a position where people tend to think of me when it comes to a certain style or when it comes to a certain interpretation of design, I think it’s super cool. So that is one of my proudest moments, I think, and I’ve been working hard at it, so I’m glad that it’s paying off.

Maurice Cherry:
What advice would you give to any aspiring designers out there that maybe want to sort of follow in your footsteps? What would you tell them?

Fungi Dube:
This is going to sound so cliche, but I think the thing is to just go for it. I have come to learn that there are beautiful things that grow when you step outside of your comfort zone. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but I think that if you put yourself in a position where you’re like, “Okay, this is a little bit crazy, it’s a little bit scary. I have absolutely no idea how I am going to pull this off, but I’m going to go for it,” which is sort of what I had to do.

So I spoke of leaving my job, but I was sort of unsafe, like unfairly dismissed. In pandemic year in 2020 was the most heartbreaking experience ever. And I was kind of left thinking, “Whoa, what am I going to do with this thing and how am I going to make money and how am I going to take care of myself,” and everything like that. But you realize that certain doors get shut and they get shut in the most uncomfortable way ever because they’re sort of pushing you to get to the next thing, to start working on the next thing.

So if anything, if it feels a little bit scary, if it feels like you have absolutely no idea how you are going to do it, then I would encourage you to go for that thing because you never know what’s going to come out of it. But I mean, go with it. Go in it, sorry, having a plan of sorts. It may not be something that’s super solid, but at least make sure that you work on your strategy, make sure that you know what it is that you want to be doing and where you’re going to be doing it and who you’re going to be doing it with. Write all of that down and see if you can break it down into actionable steps and then see how far you can push it. But that really would be my advice. If you want to make a career pivot, too. I mean, former mathematician who says that he doesn’t want to call himself a mathematician and former scientist-ish over here. So if you also want to transition, if you want to go over the bridge, it’s never too late. You can always do that, as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want your next chapter to look like?

Fungi Dube:
Oh, I love this. I definitely see myself in design education. So as we have been talking, I’ve been talking about documenting processes and that sort of thing, and I am grateful that I’ve already sort of started dipping my toes in design education when it comes to my mentorship and my coaching role with Flux Academy. So we work with brand… we work with students across the world to enroll for various design programs, and one of them happens to be a brand design program. So I sort of offer them support with that. I offer them feedback as they go through their modules and everything like that. It’s a very diverse group of students, as young as 20, as old as 70. So it’s very interesting seeing what that is like, but it really feels like sort of the next step for me because I really want to see myself more in the African design education space. So can we have more design curriculum? Can we have more design curriculum that is geared towards African creatives? Can we get more literature? Can we get more books? Can you get more additional platforms that help African students learn about design and a more African aesthetic? Things like that. So that’s definitely where I would want to see myself five years from now.

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

Fungi Dube:
I am everywhere except for TikTok because it scares me. I have a burner account on TikTok where I just follow amazing people, but the comments section scares me there. So you can always find me on my website, so fungidube.com, or my social links are also on my website, so you can find my Behance, you can find my Twitter, you can find my Instagram. You can also find my LinkedIn there, but it’s fungidube.com.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Fungi Dube, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. One, I think it’s awesome that you can give us just a window into what it’s like being a creative solopreneur in Africa, in Zimbabwe, giving us a sense of what that looks like. But also, just thank you for sharing your story about just determination and passion and how you’ve been able to really cultivate that creative engine within to create great work and showing people that you don’t necessarily have to go down a specific path, no pun intended for the name of the show, but you don’t have to go down a specific path in order to become a creative, be a creative, and even to leverage your own culture in the work that you do. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Fungi Dube:
Thank you so much for having me. This has been so much fun, now.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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

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

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I couldn’t think of a better person to start 2018 with here on Revision Path than Jermaine Bell. The Baltimore-based visual designer, photographer, and social designer embodies what it means to work within a supportive creative community.

Jermaine started off by talking about his childhood growing up in Baltimore, and we followed his design journey through high school and college. He also gave us the lowdown on the ups and downs of fellowships, his first foray into retail, and discussed what it means to him to “make it” as a designer. Keep an eye out for Jermaine — he’s doing big things!

Did you like this episode? Get special behind-the-scenes access for just $5/month!

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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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We have a lot of students that listen to Revision Path, but I haven’t actually had a student on as a guest in a long time! Enter Eniola Odetunde: a visual designer and current grad student at the Savannah College Art of Design. She shared some great insights into the life of a student designer that I think you’ll enjoy.

Eniola’s specialty as a designer deals with movement, so we talked about how she got into dynamic typography and stop motion work. She also shared why hand lettering is so popular right now, and shared how she gets inspired and works on new projects. We even went into the Atlanta design scene a bit and talked about diversity in the design industry. According to Eniola, “you might not be the best, but you have to figure out your style.” Excellent advice!


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Revision Path is sponsored by Facebook Design. No one designs at scale quite like Facebook does, and that scale is only matched by their commitment to giving back to the design community.
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Revision Path is also sponsored by Hover. Visit hover.com/revisionpath and save 10% off your first purchase! Big thanks to Hover!
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Revision Path is brought to you by MailChimp. Huge thanks to them for their support of the show! Visit them today and say thanks!
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