Tell me about your early years and where you come from.
I was born in Columbus, Ohio, the second of two boys in a middle-class household. The Midwest defined my personality; my family defined my spirit. My mother, a nurse, and my dad, a mechanical engineer, served as guiding lights on how to behave and what to expect out of the world. I mimicked my thoughts and interests after my brother well into my teenage years: his favorite movies, music, and hobbies became my favorite movies, music, and hobbies.
My parents provided my brother and me with the means to express ourselves and the tools necessary to build lives as independently as we chose. Video games and computer equipment were popular gifts for birthdays and Christmas, our family’s winter holiday of choice. I have a romantic memory of my brother receiving a printer in the mid-90s to use with our family shared PC. We were obsessed with our newfound ability to craft documents on the digital screen to then produce a unique tangible object that didn’t exist before. What was at first a simple gift to escape our mundane school lives became an instrument to explore what would become a necessary component of my educational and professional career.
My parent’s rehearsal of introducing technology into our home and everyday lives had a profound effect on my development as a designer, engineer, and person. My parents were among the first in the neighborhood to get Internet in our house, back in 1992. I was five then; I was fortunate enough to grow up with that utility. The development didn’t end at home: My elementary and middle schools featured computer skills as a core component of the curriculum. I logged countless hours on the classroom’s Apple II, playing Number Munchers
with other students competing for that week’s high score.
I adopted the role of computer nerd of my family and friends early on. I held on dear to its niche quirkiness and unique comfort.
How did you first get interested in design?
In 1995 my parents gifted my brother and I the Disney Animation Studio software for our PC at home. This marked my introduction to the world of design.
This software came on what seemed like 30 diskettes, and I’m pretty sure it ran on the MS-DOS operating system.
When you boot the program, the user is presented with an artboard/canvas-type area with Photoshop-like tools for drawing shapes and text. There were already a good many drawing programs out there; what was different about the animation studio was that you could engineer your illustrations to come to life with movement over time. This thing let you make your own cartoons!
Tell me about the work you've done?
I’ve held a number of positions in my career and have worked on a higher number of projects, all in the realm of web design and development.
The very first website I was paid to build came from an ad I answered in my local newspaper when I was 14. Basically, some guy wanted a website that showcased photos of his amphibians and fish in a grid on black background. Gifs were involved of course. A hit counter too!
Flash forward seven years, and I was developing and designing the website for my university’s centennial celebration. In 2010, the web team at the Bowling Green State University library showcased videos, images and audio clips decades older than the technology used to access it. Cool stuff
Then, in 2013, I spent over a year working for AARP on a website called Create The Good
, which connected people to volunteering opportunities in their area. For the last several years I’ve worked at Sonos
, the multiroom speaker company, building front-end frameworks and feature-rich landing pages on Sonos.com. Sonos has been a good environment for combining my skill set in web design and development.
What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?
Launching the Create The Good website, designing and developing a page promoting a partnership between Apple and Sonos, and of course the overall presentation of the Sonos website.
What have been your biggest struggles of your career?
It’s cliche but finding a balance between work and personal life. I’ve experienced burnout’s common symptoms, but I don’t think I have yet experienced what’s been described as the event.
Currently, my biggest struggle involves how to keep relationships between coworkers alive and thriving through disagreements—managing the emotional baggage that comes with growth or scale.
I’ve learned that growth does not always include everyone growing together.
What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?
I’m an empathetic person and I always try to make sure anyone I’m working with or orbiting around is feeling good about the project at hand. Really, it’s a mantra of “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.”
What have your experience been as a person of color in the design industry?
My black experience as a designer hasn’t been one fraught with loud examples of racism or exclusion. I think my racial background has been an asset when it is paired with my attitude and track record. I have noticed, in job interviews and conversations around the workplace, a duel sense of excitement and tension about my place as a black man in tech. I think it comes from both a place of inclusion—wanting to have an inclusive, diverse workplace—and anxiety—not wanting to say the wrong thing, basically.
Once I found where I excelled in my work I’ve found that most white and tech-bro industry is stoked to engage with a black man in the same space.
What are your biggest motivators?
My biggest motivator is flow, the feeling that your behaviors and actions are in tune with nature and that you matter. My biggest motivation is to feel, as much as I can, that sense of progress and that I’ve done more or better than I did last time.
On the other side of the above motivator is the response I get from my audience. Coworkers, family, friends, and aspirational connections keep me locked.
How do your friends and family feel about the work you've done?
I have a private Slack instance with a few friends that I share my work with first. None of us work together, but they’re great and are always encouraging. I’ll show them a new feature or something and get some emojis and kudos.
What do you love most about working in design?
I love being surprised when something works and feeling like it might, in some small way, shape the world.
“Design” is something you do or experience on a computer with an art program. But it’s also so much more than that. It’s the room we walk into, the car we drive, the silverware we pick up for dinner.
What would you like to see changed about the design field?
Honestly, there’s no radical shift I’d like to see.
How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?
I think mentorship plays a large role. Design was accommodating to me as I could see myself mimicking the people around me to achieve what they could.
We need designers to make it clear to the world that design is a broad definition, not just something that a subset of people dedicated to its practice can do.
It’s my thought that there are likely many designers in any group of underrepresented people that don’t call themselves designers. Design industry members could identify these areas and cease an opportunity to raise a community of designers.
Once these dormant designers realize in themselves attraction to the art or practice of creating form, shapes, or whatever, communities and society should make available tools to do so.
What are you working on right now, either for work or for yourself?
For Sonos, I’m re-architecting the website’s front-end framework and preparing to evolve our rapid prototyping workflow focusing on creative art direction.
Personally, I’m working on Comfort Food, my side hustle in music production. I have a passion for creating, producing and mixing music and aim to release and share the music my friends and I make.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Do you think you'll stay in design?
For work? Yes, it’s very likely design will always play a role in what I perform for work and for fun. Design is a big part of how I derive purpose. It’s in my DNA.Will I always use art programs, code editors, or even computers for design though? I can likely expect the format to evolve if we’re considering a 10-year stretch.
CSS, the internet browser’s paintbrush, is a phenomenally expressive language that gets updated and expands in definition as time goes on.
I don’t know if I’ll be writing CSS in 10 years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were still channeling the emotion I felt from Disney’s Animation Studio into my work similar to the way I do now.
What advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are in design or hoping to get into it?
Design everything that you do. Design your text messages, design the way you study, design your sense of fashion, everything!
Seek out your personal lowest barriers to either the tools you need or the persons or people you want to meet. Get brave and introduce yourself on Twitter or Instagram, two of the design field’s largest gathering places online.
It is difficult for a designer to design without material so you will need to get good at identifying what you will need to achieve any anything at all. The better you are at the small stuff, the better you are with, the bigger.
Ask yourself almost crazy low-level questions and understand what all goes into preparing for designing anything. In this, realize how far you have to go but also just as important how much you already have.
To me, design is a broad occupation, and a lot of us exercise it daily. Getting into design as a career should start with realizing what you, or a company you want to work for, don’t know how to achieve and identifying your method for figuring out the mystery.
That and Lynda.com.