017 : Weathering Uncertainty by Putting Your People First with Maurice Cherry
“It’s one thing to have a portfolio full of pretty pictures; but how did you get there? What was the process that you put together to get to this point? Show me your work!” This is what mathematician-turned-entrepreneur Maurice Cherry had to say to those who want to succeed in the field of design. He compares design thinking to the scientific method: a process that requires testing, hypothesizing, and forming logical conclusions. Well-established processes coupled with empathy and leadership from behind, says Maurice, leads to a team that can weather any storm.
Maurice shares how his most recent employer, Glitch, manages to maintain its alignment between employer brand and employee experience, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. A remote-first company, Glitch was able to quickly adapt to limitations imposed by lockdowns across the country. From being 50% remote, they went 100% remote in March of 2020. Since working from home was never a novelty among Glitch’s team members, they were able to communicate clearly and efficiently as they engaged in solution-oriented conversations during those trying months. “As a company, we put our employees first and make sure that who they are is just as important as what they do.”
Steve Chaparro and Maurice discuss how to lead an effective design team. Having been both an employee and a business owner in the design world, Maurice accumulated a number of hard-won lessons. He realized the importance of networking to progress in one’s career, embracing the risks that come with building a team from the ground-up, and nurturing company values that keep teams healthy and inspired for the long-term.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- How Maurice applies the thought processes of mathematics to professional design and entrepreneurship
- Similarities between design thinking and the scientific method
- What led Maurice to start his own creative agency, Lunch, in 2008.
- Maurice’s early challenges and lessons learned as an entrepreneur
- Why Maurice joined Glitch in 2017
- How Glitch aligned employer brand and employee experience, especially amid COVID-19
- The story behind Maurice’s award-winning podcast, Revision Path which features the stories and work of black designers.
Resources Mentioned in this episode:
Connect with Maurice:
- Website: https://mauricecherry.com
- “Now” page: https://mauricecherry.com/now
- LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/in/mauricecherry
- Tumblr: https://blog.mauricecherry.com
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/mauricecherry
Subscribe to Revision Path:
- Website: https://revisionpath.com
- How to subscribe: https://revisionpath.com/subscribe
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/revisionpath
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/revisionpath
Tune in to Shift Shift Forward:
- Website: https://glitch.com/ssf
About the Guest:
Maurice Cherry is principal and creative director at Lunch, an award-winning multidisciplinary creative studio in Atlanta, GA. Prior to this, Maurice served as senior creative strategist at Glitch.
These days, Maurice is perhaps most well-known for his award-winning podcast Revision Path, which showcases Black designers, developers, and digital creators from all over the world. Other projects of Maurice’s include the Black Weblog Awards, 28 Days of the Web, The Year of Tea, and the design anthology RECOGNIZE.
Maurice is the 2018 recipient of the Steven Heller Prize for Cultural Commentary from AIGA, was named as one of GDUSA’s “People to Watch” in 2018, and was included in the 2018 edition of The Root 100 (#60), their annual list of the most influential African-Americans ages 25 to 45.
Sponsor for this episode:
This episode is brought to you by the Culture Design Studio, a consulting firm that helps people and cultural leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people through a series of facilitated workshops. They provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization.
Culture Design Studio has worked with organizations like Duarte Design, Design Thinkers Group, Red Bull, USAID, Bacardi, and the Office of Civic Innovation
If you’re looking for more than just a consultant and want someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, Culture Design Studio is the one for you.
Contact them today to learn more about what they can do for you and your company.
Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai
Welcome to the Culture Design Show where we feature conversations with leaders and thinkers who are passionate about culture and design. Now, let’s get started with the show.
Steve Chaparro, here. I am the host of the Culture Design Show, a podcast where I feature leaders and thinkers at some of the top creative firms in the world, including architecture, design, technology, and marketing. What’s the one thing they all have in common? They all believe in the power of culture, and design.
This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio, we help people in culture leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people. Through a series of facilitated workshops, we provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization. We’ve worked with organizations like Duarte Design, DesignThinkers Group, Red Bull, and US AID , Bacardi, and the Office of civic innovation. So if you’re looking for more than just a consultant, but someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, reach out to us at culturedesignstudio.com.
Maurice Cherry is a Senior Creative Strategist at Glitch, the friendly community where everyone can discover and create the best stuff on the web. Before Glitch, Maurice was principal and creative director at Lunch, an award-winning multidisciplinary creative studio in Atlanta, Georgia. These days, though, Maurice is perhaps most well known for his award winning podcast revision path, which showcases black designers, developers and digital creators from all over the world. Maurice, welcome to the Culture Design Show,
Steve, thank you for having me.
It’s been an honor I mean, for many different reasons. You’re you’re a designer, you’re a podcaster, and you’re an award winner. It was just an absolute pleasure for me to reach out to you and for you to spend some time with me on the Culture Design Show. It’s been great. Glad to be here. Well, I think first for me, this has always been a fascination for me just almost like the origin stories of superheroes is kind of a fascination. I’m always interested in hearing what the professional journeys of designers and creatives were, what can you share with me about your professional journey?
Oh, wow, my professional journey, I think, probably like a lot of modern designers has not been very typical or linear. Right. My background is actually in mathematics. My undergrad degree is from Morehouse College.
And I always was doing stuff on the web as a hobby. Like I got interested in HTML, when I was in high school, you know, just kind of reverse engineering looking at webpages and seeing how they work and trying to figure out how to do it myself and just sort of put this in place. context. So people know, this is in the mid 90s. This is like 95 to 99. So, no General Assembly’s, no tree house or anything like that, to kind of really show you the way step by step. There’s a lot of reverse engineering and figuring things out.
But I was very fortunate to be able to turn a hobby into a career, largely because I really couldn’t find a job with a math degree. Unless I wanted to be, I guess, unless I wanted to be a math teacher or work in the insurance field as like an actuary like those were kind of my only choices as someone that had a math degree and I didn’t really want to do either of those things. But I got my first professional design gig in 2005. And then just kind of managed to scale up from there working for different companies here in Atlanta, Web MD, at&t etc. And then quits at&t, in late 2008 started my own studio called Lunch, which we can definitely go into that because I did that for nine years, and then sort of pivoted the studio and took a job at what was then Fall Creek software, which is now known as Glitch.
Yeah, I mean, I definitely love these stories, because of many times, just from the outset, people observing from the outside may look at that trajectory, and say, How in the world, did you arrive in the world of design or digital design from mathematics? Like, what were some of those transitions that you made that even remotely took you on this path?
Well, I mean, there’s actually maybe this was, you know, just the program that I was in. But there was actually a fair amount of kind of visualization, data visualization within mathematics. I mean, I studied pure math. So we’re talking topology, differential equations, all forms of calculus, abstract algebra, etc. And especially for the calculus courses. There was a lot of graphing of like, you know, very complex equations using, you know, Mathematica And, you know, there’s a lot of writing of proofs and you know, proofs are very logical thing that really teaches you how to think. And I was really interested or not really interested, I was really surprised, I guess how much of that carried over once I really started working, not just as a designer, but also as an entrepreneur. There’s a lot of web stuff now, particularly if you’re doing things like animation, or you’re doing any level of drawing with Canvas, they use a lot of mathematics, mostly trigonometry. And then even with writing proofs, but being able to logically map out an argument to a conclusion, I found that the process of writing a mathematical proof is largely analogous to writing a proof for a client for a job.
So a lot of those skills kind of transfer over I really like to tell people that math teaches you how to think. I mean, I don’t use abstract algebra or any of my upper level math courses in my regular day to day work, but it did teach me how to think how to research how to approach, you know, a particular topic and try to prove it to get to a certain point that you need to make. So I found a lot of those skills were transferable, even if I didn’t really see it. At the time, I found that my aptitude for certain things within design and within entrepreneurship, largely ended up stemming from what I learned, you know, in undergrad.
Yeah, I also hear from designers that they say that, whether they had formal education or just experience in the field that one of the things about design, and maybe this is the same about the scientific disciplines as well is the ability to not just understand and maybe even graphically share some of these difficult concepts, but the ability to articulate verbally, some of these concepts has been a big part of their skill set that they’ve drawn either from the sciences or design. Have you found that to be true for yourself?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, math is all about showing your work. Like you can’t just arrive to the conclusion and not show how you got there. What the steps word that you got there, whether that’s, you know, something as simple as a, you know, basic algebra problem with a polynomial, or something as advanced as, like a large scale mathematical proof that you have to do for a thesis, that same level of logic of showing your steps is still there. And it’s very much the same with design.
I mean, I think if you look at a portfolio, and I tell this to design students a lot, it’s one thing to have a portfolio full of like, pretty pictures, but like, how did you get there? What was the process that you put together to get to this point, like, show your work, you know, like, instead of just showing me the end result, like make it into a case study and show? What was the research that went into it? What decisions did you come up with? How did these match with the business goals, etc, those kinds of things. I’ve also found that even you know, like, design thinking, I know is a really big topic right now. Some people are for it, some people are against it. Design Thinking is very much the same as the scientific method about testing and you know, making a hypothesis and coming to a conclusion It’s pretty much the same process.
Yeah, I love this topic of kind of going back to our education and seeing what it is that we learned then that we still carry forward to today. And I remember, for me, I mean, the school that I went to was an architecture school. And you know, the crit process, it was a big part of our educational journey and presenting our projects to, you know, those guests, Grace critique hers. And I remember that one of the things that we learned as part of this was having thick skin, being able to actually one of the concepts that they said is a good presentation is one that will elicit a visceral response from the judges. Either one, they will hate your project or two, they will love it. But if they actually have no reaction, you have failed. That’s something one of the things that I remember learning from that. And I think also probably, whether it’s in client work or even within the team itself, that thick skin is probably something to take away from that experience as well.
Absolutely now Now granted, I’ve never taken any design courses I’ve never, like sat through any crit sessions or anything like that. But I know like when I gave my senior thesis in the way that my advisors were ripping my work apart, I can only imagine that the feeling is very much the same.
Oh, yeah. And in those cases, it was probably verbally ripping it apart in architecture school, they literally rip a model apart. I remember them taking literally an entire building off of my model, and throwing it off to the side and say, Okay, now it’s better.
Yeah, I remember when I was doing my thesis, because the advisors will have their own copy. And this is, I’m saying back in the day, this was 2003. Like, back in the day, this was with like, overhead projectors. And so they would take like a page from your thesis that they’ve printed up on like a transparent, you know, kind of a sheet of paper, but you know, like a little transparency, and they’ll mark it up right there so everyone can see like, when you came to this decision, like how did you get there and you have To explain it in front of them and the class and you’re like, sweating bullets.
Yeah, but those are great lessons, great lessons that we would probably at least for myself, I would not go without having those experiences because they definitely, were part of my formation for sure. Yeah. What lunch? Let’s talk about lunch. What led you to have the desire to start your own agency?
So it came about? That’s a good question. I think at the time, if I can think back to that time, this was late 2008 was right around the time Obama first got elected. So like, October, November 2008, the company that was working for at&t, I hated it. It was soul crushing work. It was strictly a production workflow. So you would come in in the morning, you would grab a paper packets that had the website work that you had to do. And so basically these forms that the salespeople would get businesses to fill out, and you would have all the text that you need for the websites and the pages that they want and you have to combed through our database and find decent pictures and put everything together. And like you’re doing this in the span of a few hours, you basically have to make a website in a day. And this is a five to nine page website. This is pre CSS layouts, mind you. Or rather, this was right around the time when tables were being phased out and CSS layouts are coming in.
So it was like this weird transition period. And it was soul crushing. I was working six to six, just I mean, crushing hours and I was getting the work done. I was at the top of my team, I was knocking them out, but it was just so soul crushing. There was no love in the work. It was all it was like McDonald’s, almost like you come in, you get the site. At this point, I had made my own little like CSS almost like a template sort of that I could continue to use for different sites. If I just wanted to change up the navigation I changed a variable and it would be horizontal instead of vertical or something like that. I could change things up just so you could get the Work done quicker, and get it out the door, get it to QA, pick up the next website, keep going. And I just felt like, I could do better than this.
At this time I had, I was well out of college, I was in grad school at the time studying, I also have a master’s degree in telecommunications management. And I just felt like, I could do better than this. I could do better than working 12 hours for a company whose main motto is to shape human capital, like I could do better than this. And I think I was also just really swept up in what Obama was doing and the optimism that he had around this campaign. And I was very much, you know, yes, we can about a lot of things at that, you know, time in my life, and I just quit because I felt like I could do better. The other circumstance behind me quitting was that the company owes me thousands of dollars in back pay, because I got a promotion, but they didn’t promote my salary to the correct ban that it should be. And I found out how much I was getting paid and the other senior designers that were on my same team. And I eventually got that back pay. And once that cleared in my account, that was the day that I quit. I was like, Okay, I’m out of here, and was able to use that money to start my studio.
Now those first I’d say, November, December, January, like those first three months, were really rough. Like, I don’t recommend that to be a great time to start business unless you have a business that can cater to the holidays. Because it’s like the end of the fiscal year for companies are not really trying to spend money, they’re looking more towards next year. So it was really tough to kind of get off the ground with finding clients. I was lucky to have that back pay money to kind of have as a cushion until I finally did start getting clients. But I actually did that next year in like January, February. But those early days were really rough.
Because the thing with entrepreneurship, and this is you know, 2008 going into 2009. There are so many and it’s probably it’s probably this way now. There’s so many people that try to tell you what’s best for you. Like, you know, there’s there was no shortage of entrepreneurship coaches and business coaches and all sorts of you know, things that people are trying to tell you how to maximize your time, you should do this and not that. And for me, it ended up just being a lot of trial and error, like I have to do what worked best for me in my workflow and not necessarily someone else’s pre prescribed solution. It took me a while to get to that point, it just took me a while because I felt like I could go faster with help. But once I really got a chance to see what I knew, work best for me, instead of trying to see how I could take someone else’s solution and fit it into my workflow. That’s kind of when business started really changing. And taking off.
I’m grateful for those first three months that I had, where things were really rocky because I got to fail a lot. And luckily, I mean, it’s, you know, for, I’d say for entrepreneurs, particularly entrepreneurs of color like that is not a luxury that we have to be able to fail, especially in the Early days, like you want to have that momentum to really hit the ground running and be successful. And those first three months were just rough, like, really rough. But then I got my first huge clients. Let’s say it was like late January, early February, and then things kind of just took off from there.
Yeah, what I love about this site, you took me back. So you took me back by saying, okay, 2008 This is the beginning of the Obama administration, it was in the middle of a recession. And you had decided that I’m putting words in your mouth, maybe. But this is me reflecting back to you, you know that your mission and purpose, the meaning that you want to derive out of your creative work was not in alignment with the firm that you were at. And so what you could not find there you wanted to create for yourself, Am I getting it right in terms of the picture of the moment? Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. Yeah. And I think what I love about that is innocence is talking about the creative person and what we look for, in terms of purpose and meaning in our work and when we don’t find it, you know, what do we do then? And I think that’s an important thing to consider. When we’re talking about creative teams. What did you learn? As you started to build your team? At lunch? What were some of the lessons that you learned about culture of that design team? Oh,
I think the biggest thing was, Well, two things. One, it was making sure that I’m networking with like minded people. I think certainly, when you’re building a business or studio, there’s always this thing about culture fit. You want to make sure that the people that you’re working with are people that you you know, like, you’re gonna be spending a lot of time with them. And I’d say probably, later on in my career, I saw that as a negative, but it is positive. I think when you’re an entrepreneur because you do want to have people that you like, that could actually do the work. I think it’s one thing to get people that can do the work but they’re just not good people that you want to be around because And that just makes the days more difficult. Like you kind of build yourself into a box in a way because you’re dealing with someone that you don’t necessarily like, but maybe they can get the work done.
So networking with like minded people that understand where you’re coming from what you’re trying to accomplish, I think is really crucial. And I would say that even extends into like, networking in general, especially with podcasting, like, networking with people. Like there’s one thing with podcasting, you know, because we’re on a podcast, we always want to get new listeners, we always try to get new listeners, but oftentimes that can be done to the detriment of our current audience. And so I found it’s been better to make sure that your current audience is served well, before really trying to go out and rush and try to find new people. So I think that’s probably the first thing.
The second thing I would say is really making smart investments. As I mentioned early on, when you’re an entrepreneur, particularly or design entrepreneur, there are no shortage of people that are trying to tell you what’s best for your business. And what you should be doing. You should be doing this. And you should do that. And, you know, you have to kind of like, take all the advice in and spit out the bones. Not everything is going to be great. And at the end of the day, I found what is best is to just invest in myself, like, what are the things that I can do that will be best for my business, whether that’s like, for example, when the first thing that I did with lunch was hiring a virtual assistant, which was great, because it took off so many administrative tasks from checking in with clients to, you know, responding back to vendors, things of that nature, and allow me to do more of the things that I wanted to do in my business, which were the actual design or the creative work and allow me to do more of that and less of the things that I didn’t really want to do.
Yeah, I would imagine that there were some new challenges that came up with leading teams one you before when you were at your previous company, as an employee, you were part of the design team and maybe even a senior member of that team, but I’m sure it’s different when you become, as you described it a design entrepreneur, and you’re building your team, what were some of the early challenges and lessons that you learned by overcoming those challenges in terms of building that team and the culture?
I think probably the earliest thing you know, I said before about kind of networking with like minded teams, you know, every person that you bring onto your team, when you hire someone, whether that’s full time or even if it’s just like on a project basis, it’s a risk. You know, a lot of it is dealing with risk management, you hope that the person that has presented themselves to you is the person that they’re going to continue to be. Sometimes that’s the case, sometimes it’s not. I’ve hired friends that have been terrible, absolutely terrible at work, and it has ruined the friendship. Absolutely. 100%.
I have also hired people who are really great at their jobs that have ended up becoming friends, you know, so it’s, it’s a risk every time you know, you hope that that person that you bring Ours is gonna do the best work, they’re gonna represent themselves well, and it’s really just up to you to figure out how that will manifest itself. I also think, especially for small teams, you know, be human. Like, if you’re a small team be a small team. I see a lot of, especially with solopreneurs try to push themselves off as being this large business, like, oh, like, if someone calls them you’re like, oh, wait a minute, let me get, you know, that was my assistant or something. If it’s just you let it be just you. There’s no sense of trying to put on and I know, the reason that people do it, one it gives to the client, just a bigger face, that you sort of, like have everything together.
And then I guess, depending on what your pricing model is, they may think, Oh, well, if this person has an assistant, and they was, you know, they must really be getting paid, you know, like, so you can maybe come in to higher rate or something like that. I know the reasons why people do it. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing to do because you know, that fantasy is gonna end at some point unless you actually do get an assistant or Whatever kind of, you know, measure you’re putting forth in your business to kind of make yourself seem bigger than you are. But yeah, bringing people on is always a risk. It’s just something that you have to prepare yourself for. And I think it’s something that you get better at, the more that you do it. You just become a better like Judge of people and their character and what they can bring to the table. But it’s still a risk. Absolutely.
So your career went from being a designer, as an employee than a designer as an entrepreneur and then an opportunity came up, I surmise, to join the team at glitch What was it about that opportunity that really compelled you to close the chapter on lunch and move over to glitch?
So it was a number of things. I had been doing lunch for almost nine years, coming up on nine years, and the market had changed. I mean, when I started in 2008, I think it was a lot easier. So just to kind of give an example I did a lot of work with custom WordPress installations. A lot of work with MailChimp like doing Custom campaigns and things of that nature. And the market had just changed to a lot more self service options. A lot of people wanted more Squarespace for Wix or they wanted something that was, you know, not as expensive. They may have wanted WordPress, but they didn’t necessarily want to use WordPress or be trained on WordPress, or they wanted all these things and didn’t realize what actually goes into a fully fledged project. I’ll give you an example.
I would have people that would contact me this one woman, for example, contacted me and said she wanted like a sneaker website. That was like a sneaker database where people could browse sneakers from all over the world and they could buy and sell them. I mean, this is like a huge ecommerce project budget was only $500 I can’t even give you a logo for that much. Yeah, that’s ridiculous, you know. So like, there’s that part where people feel like and this is maybe just the education thing where the web just kind of all normalizes down to one singular experience, which I feel like at this point is probably a WordPress site because WordPress power so much of the way.
But the market had changed. And I found myself being able to do less bespoke big project creative work. And it just kind of ended up being me doing almost like mechanic type of work, like tune up to up this website, do this do that. And the podcast was going great revision path was doing well, but I just found myself kind of bored with work. And I had actually been looking for work, probably for about a year because I mean, the studio was doing well, the podcast was doing well, but I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. Like I’m getting older. I just kind of wanted to do something a little different.
And then this opportunity of Fog Creek came along, and I thought, well, this might be a good place to kind of, you know, settle for a while because I think for anyone that does entrepreneurship for a long time you realize it wears on? Yeah, a lot. Yeah, I like to tell people that with being an entrepreneur, you can, you know, work half days, any 12 hours you want. So, I’ve found myself just spending so much time working and working and work you just so much And what I liked about Fog Creek when I first found out about it was their strong culture towards putting employees first the policies they had in place around work hours, and just how they did asynchronous communication. Fog Creek. And glitch by extension is a remote first company.
So I would still be able to work from home and do a great job, but then also be able to stop work at four o’clock and live life. And that was such a revelation to me like, like, wait a minute, that’s that’s it. It was wild. So that opportunity came along. And I wanted to join a team and I knew and Neil das, I’ve known Neil das for several years knew of his work, and thought it would be really cool to be able to work on a team with him. And so I applied and, you know, luckily I got an interview and I got hired and two years later, I’m still there.
Yeah, I love that story piece. I think there’s something pretty powerful about what some might call an employer brand, of a company that is able to To attract a person of your caliber of your experience of even your leadership pedigree and say, Hey, this is a culture where a person that is very experienced can thrive and not just thrive, but also be retained there. And it’s very interesting to me that it’s obviously not only a place where you could do the work that you’ve always done, but be part of a culture that was completely in alignment with your own personal values. I think that’s pretty amazing.
Yeah, I mean, I have to really give it to glitch for that there’s a lot of talk about company values. And as a company, they do try really hard to stick to those with pretty much every decision that they make. I think a lot of tech companies probably don’t have that much of a conscience about just making sure that they, you know, achieve their bottom line or whatever. But I have to give it to glitch for being deliberate about standing by those values and making sure that they factor into the equation of what they do as a company, you know, for everything from hiring to Product decisions to marketing to everything.
Yeah. And I think what I love about what you’re sharing is this alignment that I’m hearing between the employer brand and the employee experience. It’s one thing for a company to say, this is who we are, this is what your experience will be. This is our values. But it’s another thing as to whether or not those things are actually lived out and experienced by the employees, especially from a creative perspective. You know, for glitch to be an example of where those two things are in alignment. I love to hear stories about that. And I’d love to hear maybe what are some more examples of how those things are lived out and what is done to ensure that those things are kept in place, even under some really high pressure situations like COVID-19?
Well, that’s a great question, Steve. So yeah, right now we’re recording this. We’re in the middle of a global health pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, Glitch is remote-first company. So the majority of the company at least half of us are already working remote. I think right around early March or so we made a decision to go 100% remote. Once, you know, we started hearing more about the virus and how it’s affecting people, they closed the New York office, everyone’s been working from home. And so I’d say for that month of March, there was a lot of knowledge sharing between people that do this, like the remote people, and now the newly remote people as to how do you make this work?
And I want to say that everyone now has gotten to a good if I can speak for the company by saying this, I want to say everyone has gotten to a good point where we’re still able to kind of get work done, and that working from home is not the novelty that the media and other tech companies are purporting it to be like, if I see another post about custom zoom backgrounds. Yeah, give me a break video conference has been around for 10 years. You’re not coming up with anything new Just stop it. But I mean, to that point, you know, like I said about the company values and making sure they put the employees first, you know, glitches exhibited a fair amount of grace to its employees during a very stressful time, not just with what’s going on with the Coronavirus.
But also, we’re in the middle of a product launch. And we just launched our paid products earlier in April. And so in the middle of trying to get this done in like the homestretch of the project, now, all of a sudden, there’s this huge global virus that’s killing people. And now you have to work from home. Like how do you switch gears like that, right. So to be able to accomplish that, within the midst of this is something that you know, the team, I really have to give it up to the team for being able to do that.
We’ve also just recently launched a new podcasts, our first podcast called shift shift forward, which is kind of the the outward facing brand voice of what glitch is about and what we represent as a company. And so we’re able to not only talk about the things that interest us, because there are a lot of super interesting, super smart, super talented people that work at glitch, but also were able to turn the mic inward and talk about what’s happening. At the company in a way that perhaps is more transparent than traditional content marketing might be. For example, I think by the time this episode comes out, we will have aired our episode talking about incidents, like what happens when the site goes down. And your customers are angry, and they want to know when is it going to get back up? And when can they access their project? And when can they access their code? What does that look like? And so we look at it from the infrastructure angle, our infrastructure team is spread across multiple time zones between US and Europe. We talked to our support engineers about like, how do they handle it because they’re on the front line. And then the CEO comes on and gives, you know, a very candid but heartfelt kind of, almost like a fireside talk about like, this is what’s been happening for the past few months, and this is how we’re going to get through it.
And it’s, it’s transparent in a way that’s not shouty or is having any sort of confrontation, but it’s saying that like you know, just like what we’re in with this crisis, we’re all in this together when it comes to building things, you know, with tech, you’re not alone. There’s always someone there that can help you out. We’re here to help you out. You know, we know that there are real people behind these accounts. And so just like we know, there are real people behind these accounts, there’s real people behind glitch, making it work. I mean, glitch small company, we’re about 45 to 50 people. So we’re pretty small.
And so when it comes to, you know, something like that, where there’s these big incidents that can take the site down, you know, there’s a very small amount of people that are working to get these things together, we don’t have any huge massive teams that are making this work. So the fact that we’re able to communicate that in a way that is honest, and straightforward and poignant and hopefully, a little bit entertaining to in the midst of all this, I think speaks to the fact that as a company, we really put our employees first and make sure that you know who they are is just as important as what they do at the company.
Why as a podcast junkie, I definitely need to listen to this podcast. What’s the name of the podcast again, we’ll include it in our show notes.
Yeah. Shift to shift forward. And if people want to check it out, they can go to glitch comm forward slash s s f, that will take you to the homepage of the podcast where you can subscribe because in the past episodes, we only got two episodes out. I think by the time this comes out, we’ll be on episode three. But yeah, check it out.
Fantastic. Well, let’s talk about your personal podcast now revision path. So it’s an award winning podcast. It’s also the first podcast to be added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. You’re about I think seven years in, I think you’ve released what 345 episodes so far.
What was the impetus for that?
So the story behind the podcast actually starts way back in 2006. In 2006, I had put together a online awards program called the Black weblog awards, and I did the black weblog awards from 2000 For 220 11 before I sold it, but basically it was a, like an online event that recognized black bloggers and podcasters and video bloggers and stuff. And I was working as a designer in 2006. I was just leaving working at the state of Georgia because I was there for a year and a half as a webmaster, and then going over to at&t to start as a junior designer. So I had known people who are designers, you have friends of mine, you know, peers, etc. But just didn’t feel like we were getting any kind of recognition for the work that we were doing.
You know, you can look, if you think about design media, at that time, pretty white, like print magazine, how different podcasts, you know, conferences, etc. It’s like an Arctic tundra. And I just felt like where are the black people? Because I know that we’re doing great work. Why are we not at least in the conversation in some point, and so I started revision, I wanted to start revision path then it wasn’t Gonna be caught revision man. I don’t know what name I had for but I wanted to do something back then that would speak to kind of the work that black designers are doing. But I didn’t have the time for it. I was also in grad school at that point, and I was working 40 hours a week. And I was doing the black weblog awards. So I was like, I just don’t have time to do this.
It wasn’t until 2013 were at that point, I was five years into my business. I was financially stable. And I was like, you know, what, now is the time for me to try to put this idea into motion. And initially, it was going to be a magazine very similar to like, I don’t know, the great discontents or something like that, that would have these nice, long form articles with great photography, etc. And that just ended up being a lot to pull off because the interviews took so long in terms of, you know, getting back to people with email and stuff, and I just didn’t feel like I was able to keep it going on a regular basis to the point where, you know, I felt like people would actually read it like I was maybe putting out one Interview a month if I was lucky, you know, just not doing that great with getting stuff out because it just took so long to do. And I didn’t have any process. I was really just trying to figure it out as I was doing it.
It wasn’t until June of 2013, where someone had contacted me a designer from Chicago. And she said that she had read revision path and she really liked it and said that she was going to be in Atlanta, and wanted to know if I could interview her. And I was like, yeah, sure, I could do that. And so that was actually Episode One of revision Pam. We recorded it on my cell phone at 100 stag, which is a restaurant here in Atlanta in Inman Park. I mean, the audio quality is terrible. I keep it up. So people know that, like I started from somewhere, but like, that was the first sort of episode and so I was like, wow, this like we talk maybe for hour, hour and a half, perhaps. I mean, you know, shaved some things down, but I was like, I should just do this as a podcast. Why did I think to do this as a podcast in the first place? I don’t know. But now I can do that.
And So we officially kind of relaunched revision path, I guess as a podcast in March of 2014. Because about that time, I had been doing kind of a combination of recorded audio, as well as long form interviews, like some, some of the guests just did better as long form because they could show their work. Some guests did better as audio. So I was kind of given guests the choice as to which way they wanted to do the interview. And then once I just saw how easy it was to just only do audio, I was like, well, we’re just going to do audio. So Episode 16 is kind of, I don’t know, I guess, canonical first episode of revision path, because that’s the one where we really start putting it out every week, because if you go back to episodes, one through 15, they’re still pretty sporadic in terms of how often they come out. But we started really getting that weekly cadence going in March of 2014. And it’s just really kind of kept off from there.
In terms of the Smithsonian. That was a four year process. So I first heard about the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2015. When I attended a conference at Harvard, called Black and design, it was the first year that they were doing the black and design conference there. And it was the first time I’d ever heard of that kind of event, a design events for black designers by black designers, I was like, I have to go. And it was cheap. It was like less than 100 bucks to get a ticket. I was like, I have to go. And I was trying to get other people to go with me, but they were like, oh, but they’re not talking about Photoshop. And that’s talking about SketchUp like, it’s called Black and design. How many of these types of events have you been to let’s just go…
For nothing else just to support the cause.
Yeah, like or honestly just for, like historical relevance to say we were there. So like, I went to the first one. And there I met one of the curators for the museum, because at the time the museum and I think it had just broken ground. And they were still taking donations for the museum, like, you know, if you, they were letting people know about it, they have things they want to donate, they should let them know and they’ll try to get into the museum and all this kind of stuff.
So I had sparked up a conversation with the curator I told her that I was doing this podcast about design. And she’s like, Oh, yeah, that’s great. I’ll check it out the conference that they have. They do it every other year. So in 2017, I was back at Harvard for blackened design. 2017 ran into the curator again. And she’s like, Oh, yeah, I remember you. And I’m like, yeah, I’m still doing the podcast. We’re coming up on like, Episode 200. And she’s like, oh, wow, like, you’re still doing it. I’m like, yeah, still doing it. Like, check it out. And so I kind of was just being still very persistent about having her listen to it, and get her feedback. At this point. I wasn’t even thinking about how do I get it in the museum? I was more so like, do you think this is like, museum worthy? This is historical, like, is this historically relevant in some kind of way? Because I had been hearing a lot of positive feedback about the show, and people really liked it.
And I mean, big companies were signing on to sponsors at that point in time. Facebook was a sponsor, Google was about to be a sponsor. I’m like, if these big companies want to sponsor this little podcast that I do Out of my bedroom, I must be doing something right. And then around 20 was, like 2018 ish. Or so they got back in touch with me and said to send them a list of all the episodes that I had. And I think to that point I was up around, maybe like 250 or so I sent them the episode that had they went through those and chose the ones that they thought would be great to be included in the museum. I was like, oh, okay, so what’s the next step? next step was me formatting the audio, like stripping out the ads and all that stuff. So they just have the interviews. And then they had to talk to each of the guests from those episodes, so they could get rights to include it. They call it museum rights or usage rights or something like that. They had to get the rights from all these people to say like, yes, you can use this in the museum. So by the time all that got worked out, I want to say it was around like, May, April or May of 2019 when it all started to work out.
And at the time, I was coming out On Episode 300, I had Episode 300 already scheduled, I was gonna do it with Hannah beekler, who is the academy award winning production designer for Black Panther. She’s done work a lot of work with Ryan coogler. She’s worked with Beyonce. But I was really looking forward to that interview. And I had known from the time when I visited the museum last year, there’s a lot of black panther stuff in the museum like in the gift shop and stuff. So I was like, Oh, can we squeeze this one interview in because they had chosen 10 episodes. And I want to know if they could just put in just one more, because I’ve got this one coming up, and it’s with Hannah beekler is going to be really great. And they were like, yeah, include it. So once everything all worked out, we did the interview, they got the right to etcetera.
In July 2019, the near the end of July 2019. They announced it, we put out a press release. Fast Company picked it up MSN a number of different podcasts and design media picked it up. And yeah, it was. It’s part of the museum’s archives which is still kind of wild. To think about Yeah, to me, I was like, it wasn’t something where I was doing this for the intense of like, yeah, I’m gonna do this, it’s gonna be a museum. It just sort of happened that way. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m making light of this. But it really was something where, you know, I just felt like I put in a lot of hard work with this. I knew that people were really responding to it well, and, you know, thankfully the museum saw that too, and saw it as being something that was historic and worthy of being preserved.
Yeah. What I wanted to ask about that, what is it? Do you think that what are the reasons why people are responding to whether it’s the format the message, the guest, what is it about the podcast that has resonated?
I think the main thing that resonates with the podcast is that Well, I mean, just on face value, it’s, it’s black, like, I’m a black male, I’m talking to other black designers. And that’s not really a conversation that I think a lot of non black people get to be privy to. Especially on a professional level, I would say that oftentimes when they see two black professionals talking to each other, they’re like, stars. They’re, you know, like, oh, maybe Michelle Obama is talking to Serena Williams or maybe, you know, I don’t know, Will Smith, it’s all gonna be on sale or something like that, I don’t know. But they really get to see it on like a professional level, especially with something like design because, like I said before, the media around design is pretty white. And I would like to say that in the time that I’ve done revision path that it started to diversify a bit. I think it has.
I’m actually interested to see if this pandemic reverses that, particularly around like, conferences and spaces, like I was talking about some people in a slack community the other day, like, with so many events that are moving online and being virtual, like how are How are events enforcing codes of conduct? How are events even looking at diversity? Is it really important now because it’s no longer physical spaces, the digital space like how, like, Is it gonna change with that? I don’t know. But yeah, that’s kind of how the podcast got in the museum.
But in terms of why people I think resonates with, aside from it just being black is that we just have real conversations like, I don’t have anyone on the show, just to plug whatever their latest thing is I really tried not to do that. I want it to be people that are like authentically talking about their work, and their journey and how they got where they are. And it’s real. Sometimes we do talk about diversity. Sometimes we don’t. I think people might think, Oh, it’s two black designers talking. It’s gonna be all about DNI. Oftentimes, it’s not oftentimes, it’s just two people just kicking it. You know, I try to make sure that guests are comfortable enough to open up to me so we can talk about whatever we have, like we’ll talk about music or we’ll talk about movies or we’ll talk about the pandemic actually, like I feel like the next few episodes, each one of them has something to do with a pandemic and some point as far as like, How are you feeling? How are you weathering all this etc but It’s just real conversations. I really tried not to like pepper people with a bunch of random asked questions. Like, I just want to get to know who they are. And I try to approach every interview blindly. So that way, both myself and the listener are learning about them at the same time. And they’re learning about it in a way that’s like authentic and organic. And that people get to see kind of a well rounded view of who they are outside of the work that they do or the expertise that they have.
I love that. I love that I love the format of organic conversations, you may begin the conversation as a journey from a specific place, and even take a certain direction but allow the conversation to just go or it may speaking of paths in journeys, or into the name of revision path come from.
So revision path came from, to be completely honest, I did not want the show to have black in the name. I had ran into this issue with the black weblog awards, where A lot of people would not even pay attention to it just based off of the name like they would hear black. And it’s like, well, I don’t want to hear, I want to hear. It just turned people off from even wanting to learn more about it. And so when I was doing revision panels, like I don’t want to call it like, black design, podcast, or whatever, and I couldn’t think of a good name that I thought would really work. And so revision path was interesting because it sort of has a design connotation, as well as like a tech connotation.
So like, if you’re talking about revision paths you might be talking about get versioning or paths you might be talking about directories to us, you know, on a server. If you’re talking about it on a design way, revisions might mean just the multiple revisions you have to do on a file. A path might be something that you have to trace with the pen tool in Illustrator or something like that. So I wanted it to have kind of this dual meaning in that way. Of course, later on down the line, people started to say, Oh, so when you say path, you mean like the path that people got to take? Get where they are. And I’m like, yeah, that’s what I meant.
That’s what I meant. Yeah, for sure.
Yeah. I mean, if you extrapolate a different meaning from it, I mean, go with it. I’m not gonna. I’m not gonna dispute that. I love it.
Folks, we’ve been talking to Maurice cherry, a senior creative strategist at glitch and the host of podcasts revision path, or Reese if people want to learn more about you and your work. Where can they find you?
Sure, so they can find me at MauriceCherry.com, that’s just my name. MauriceCherry.com. You can always find that what I’m working on right now by going to my now page, which is MauriceCherry.com/now. I’m on Twitter at Maryse cherry. I’m on LinkedIn to search for Mari Sherry. I’m on Tumblr. I still have a Tumblr blog. It’s just blog that MauriceCherry.com in terms of Revision Path. You can find it at revisionpath.com we are also on Twitter and Instagram just search for revision path. You can also find us on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, anywhere you can listen to podcasts. And then for the podcast that I do with glitch that’s called shift shift forward. You can find that at glitch.com/ssf. And you can subscribe to that on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, wherever you find your favorite shows.
Maurice, thank you so much. This has been an absolute pleasure. I think that there’s probably maybe some future conversations that happen. I’d love to get some tips from you just being a podcaster itself. Some things I could probably learn from you. I appreciate your time.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me. I’d love to come back.
Thank you for listening to the culture Design Show. We’ll see you again next time. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. And while you’re at it, feel free to leave a review of the podcast