Try to be John Williams, Not Jony Ive

Vox Media Product Team | Washington D.C.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak to the Vox Product team’s AFK (Away From Keyboard) day. I gave a talk about how the real work in your career isn’t always the design.

I focused on 3 major themes. Balance, friendships, understanding the business of design. Success takes time.

These are the all things I’ve had to learn the hard way over my career. Some quick visual highlights:

You can only choose one. Choose life. Your family will thank you
Keeping this in mind at all times is the key to becoming a better designer
My burden is proving every single day that I have the right to exist and be successful in this country
Going to Webster Magnet, an integrated elementary school, taught me how to love everyone
What you may think of as positive and praiseworthy images are flat out insulting to others
I went to high school with some amazing friends
I’ve wanted to be John Williams since I was 8 years old.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of an NBA organiztion and build something that lasted
I have had to fight a battle with substance abuse.
Snarky, sarcastic comments and bad attitudes have already doomed your career.
My secret is that I am at peace with being a servant of the people. A utility.
The only way to make something that lasts is to do the work…

The team at Vox is a bit different than I expected. They are kind, thoughtful and passionate about building things that help people. I mentioned making friends is important in my talk and was given a poignant critique by one of their team members. “I would change one point you said…to…make friends, not cliques or boy’s clubs.” I thought about that sentence and possibly the eons of universal frustration that may have been behind it on the bus ride home from the retreat.

Make friends not cliques. The world doesn’t need any more invite-only boy’s or girl’s clubs.

Beautiful and timely point. :)

Usually, people give talks to show off how ‘great’ they are. Rarely are talks given with the invitation to get to know someone and be friends. In this current changing climate in tech and design, I hope I was able to offer my advice, experiences and mistakes as an invitation.

Let’s be friends, but first, let’s do the work.

I hiked up the Appalachian Trail with Vox. If that ain’t friendship, I don’t know what is.

Sincere thanks to the entire Vox DC staff. Special thanks to Ted Irvine & Ryan Gantz for allowing Aminatou Sow and I to share some time with your team.

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