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Susana Chen

Susana Chen is the founder of the Asian Creative Foundation (ACF). ACF is a community organization that helps entry-level creatives find opportunities, navigate their career paths, and help make the creative industry a more inclusive place.

Navigating the Creative Industry
Navigating the Creative Industry

Navigating the Creative Industry

Ep
198
Jul
20
With
Susana Chen
Or Listen On:

Run toward the things that scare you

Susana Chen is the founder of the Asian Creative Foundation (ACF). ACF is a community organization that helps entry-level creatives find opportunities, navigate their career paths, and help make the creative industry a more inclusive place.

Roles get flipped in this episode. In this conversation, Susana interviews Chris for an ACF-hosted virtual event called Asian Creative Festival. And they cover a lot of ground. Like what inspired The Futur’s mission to teach 1 billion people, how Chris manages stress and the story of how Chris first learned about graphic design.

The two also discuss an important and divisive topic: design school. If you’re new to the creative industry (or considering joining it), then you’ll enjoy this conversation. And if you’re not so new to it all, don’t fret. Chris offers advice for you too.

Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
music by
Appearances

Episode Transcript

susana:

I was very, very fortunate to be selected as a scholarship kid to study design. But I know many of my friends, they struggle. I think why I'm so motivated to do this community as a passion to support the Asian creative, this is my way to give back to the community.
Hi, Chris Do. This is Susana. I am very, very lucky to be here, I, myself, as a creative. And today, I am very, very lucky to have you, the Emmy award-winning director, strategist, CEO, and million followers everywhere. So thank you so much for accepting this Q&A session. We're proud to announce the Be Brave Program 2022, and the virtual event for this AAPI Heritage Month upcoming in May, as the Asian Creator Foundation continues to curate the educational events, spearheaded by many Asian Americans and creative industry leaders. We are very excited to invite you to join our Be Brave movement and tell us about how you get here. How did you become Chris Do, and why do you want to lead the One Billion mission?

chris:

Thank you very much for having me. Thank you.

susana:

So my first question, what does it mean to be brave, and what is the boldest decisions that you've ever made?

chris:

Great way to start this. I think what it means to be brave is to commit your body and your mind to taking action towards a goal where the probability of you failing is very, very high. It doesn't require bravery or courage to do something where you know you'll win. So if you get into a fight with someone, and you're three times a size, and you're a trained fighter, it's not being brave to fight someone. What is brave is you going into that fight, being the other person, someone who's much smaller in size, who doesn't know how to fight, but yet taking action, knowing very well that you'll probably fail. And I think in our society, we talk a little bit too much about success, and we punish failure. So there's a kind of condition response where we're socialized in a way where we run away from anything where we might potentially fail. We might not ask a professor for a mentorship opportunity. We might not ask that person that's caught our eye out on a date. We might not pursue a career where the outcome is uncertain. But this, at least in my life and my experience, is a signal to you that you most definitely should not run away but run towards the things that scare you.

susana:

Wow. That is so hard.

chris:

That's why you have to be brave.

susana:

Oh, wow. I really need that. Okay. So what is the boldes decisions that and actions that you've ever made?

chris:

In my career, and I just want to warn people who are entering into the creative space, the industry continues to evolve. Change is inevitable, but progress is a choice. I think between every three to five years, the industry shifts, and a lot of people are left behind because they're not willing to make that change and adapt to what's going on. You'll notice this, especially in the '80s and the '90s, there were specific styles that were very popular, and they were super, super hot, and then there were not. And many of those artists and designers didn't evolve with the time, and so they were left behind.
So for me, the biggest kind of bravest decision I've had to make was leaving behind a 20-plus-year old company that was at that time doing somewhere between four to five million in revenue a year and leaving the service industry behind and jumping into doing education, in a way that I was going to teach and scale a new startup in a space where I didn't have a lot of experience doing things that the business model wasn't clear. Making that shift from service provider to content creator and educator, building products instead of selling my time for money, was a really big jump.

susana:

Wow. Was it hard by then, or it was like, I have to?

chris:

What happened is, when you make a decision like this, you have a lot of momentum taking you in a different direction. Imagine, you, your mind, your company, your business, as a train. A train requires tremendous amount of energy to start and a tremendous amount of energy to stop. But to keep going, it's not a lot of energy at all. And so my business is going on one path for 20 plus years. And so when I started to make the decision to move in a different direction, I got a lot of resistance. I got resistance from my coach. I got resistance from my executive producers and sales people. Everybody was wondering, why are we doing this? This business is working. It will continue to work because they were attached to the way things were versus the way things should be.

susana:

Wow.

chris:

And so every person, whether you're a solo operator or if you run a company with hundreds or thousands of employees, you're going to have the same problem. What you want to do is you want to forge a new path to a different destination, but you have to bring those that are willing to go with you along that ride because it's hard to build a big successful movement by yourself. So what we have to do is we have to state our intention. I want to create an education company. Here's why it's important to me. Here's the transition, how we're going to get from point A to point B. And I want to invite all of you who are willing and capable to come with me on this new journey.
And those that don't, you have fair warning now that there's a finite amount of time left where I will focus on this service business. And so the transition happens, and it happens over the course of a year or year and a half. And some people that made that transition are still with me, and some people who didn't are no longer with me. And that's okay.

susana:

Wow. Sometimes I feel like it's also, you must change. You must force, you said. You have to not look back. You have to move on. And then that's the hardest, you're right. Okay. I'm going to go into second question. How do you measure your influence in the creative industry, specifically when you started the One Billion mission, and also, why? I'm so inspired, actually not just myself, there are millions out there that are actually really, really inspired, but just curious how and why this mission.

chris:

Okay. I'd love to tell you a couple different stories. And then hopefully through the story, you'll understand my answer to this. I think it's around 2013, a year before I go into content creation, I'm hired by LinkedIn to shoot a series of documentary videos. And they tell me, "These are three people that we would like to profile in spotlight." One of them is a woman who wrote a book and was in charge of this really amazing movement for women. And she had struggled in her life and her business and rebuilt her own personal brand and was able to exit out of her own company and sold it to Bill Gates. And she made more money than she knew how to spend. But yet here she was, working still. And this confused me a little bit because I was under this mindset that you work hard to save up enough money so that you could retire. Here she was, she achieved that success, why was she still working?
And her name is [inaudible 00:07:52]. And I asked [inaudible 00:07:54], "Why do you still work? What compels you to get out of bed every single day?" And she said something to me, she turns and says in her slightly German accent, she said, "This might sound corny." "Oh, what? Okay." "But I want to do something where someone, a stranger, a friend, someone in the world that I don't know will write me a thank you note. It could be a tweet. It could be a DM. It could be in my e-mail or a real physical note." And I walked away from that interview, thinking how profound this was as an idea, as a concept, to make your life and align your goals and the work that you do to be generous in what you give to others, the transformation you create for them, that they would, out of the blue, unprompted, to write you a thank you note.
So I went away from that, scratching my head like, what a wonderful goal, what a beautiful life. I hope one day I will be able to do that. Now, in life, the way things work, at least for me, is sometimes you have one part of the puzzle, and the other part is waiting for you to discover. But when you grab one piece, it's like that game match where you have cards and you flip one over, and you're trying to match it with something else. So you have half the answer, just half. And so later on, I'm wondering how I start this education company. I'm not sure. My wife, who's a big supporter of mine says, "You're an amazing dynamic teacher. Perhaps there's more for you to do than to teach eight or 10 students at a time at a private art school." And she was right. But again, I don't have the answer. Now I have two pieces of the puzzle.
The third and most important piece of the puzzle comes in the form of a former school mate of mine. His name is Jose [inaudible 00:09:37]. And Jose and I could not be more different. He's this loud, extrovert, socially comfortable, talking to complete strangers, walking in a room barefoot and eating food in his hands and talking to people. I'm the exact opposite. I am the quiet, socially awkward introvert. I like to listen more than to talk. But the two of us, we are just yin and yang, and we compliment each other. So he says to me, "Chris, I understand you have this desire to teach. I've been making content on YouTube. Let's teach together thinking, okay, fine. I know how to do this. I'll shoot the videos. I'll set up the lights. We have the stage. I know how to make commercials and music videos. He goes, no, no, no, no. You are going to teach with me.

susana:

Wow.

chris:

"In front of the camera?" He goes, "Yes, in front of the camera." And I said to him, this is where the being brave part comes in, "I don't want to do this. First of all, I don't know what to say. I'm going to be really tense. And I don't want to offend potential clients because when I speak, I usually speak from my heart. And I try to tell stories that sometimes can be very revealing." And he goes, "Chris, calm down, calm down. I know you want to run, but I'm going to make you this offer." And he made me an offer that I could not refuse. He said, "You sit there. You don't have to say anything at all." I know I can do that. I can sit there and be a dummy. He goes, "Only speak when you feel comfortable to contribute." And so he eliminated every excuse I could possibly generate. And so that first episode, I sat there, jaws clenched. I hardly said anything. I didn't even introduce myself because I couldn't do it.
And by the end of the episode, I think I said a couple of sentences. I went home later that night, not realizing I had clenched my jaws so tightly, my mouth was sore. You know when you laugh too much, then you feel that afterwards? Why is my mouth sore? Because I was clenching so tightly. That was January 2014. And Jose, and like in many ways, dropped a pebble in the ocean that created a ripple that would magnify in ways that I could not know or expect. And that was the beginning of this drive to teach a lot of other people. Slowly, a business model emerged. And here we are eight years later, 1,500 videos, almost two million subscribers, 800,000 followers on Instagram. Here we are.

susana:

Wow.

chris:

And that's why I started this mission.

susana:

That was beautiful. I almost cannot believe that you're introvert. Watching your videos almost every other day... As a creative, we always have problems. And your contents can always somehow penetrate those problems. Like what is the difference between a marketer and strategist and-

chris:

Right, or branding person.

susana:

... creative or a branding person, a branding marketing, and what is different? So there's always that question. And when I'm confused, I know many people are confused out there, they just like, okay, the future because the answer-

chris:

The answer is the future.

susana:

And sometimes I'm just not sure if it's like, okay, is that just the one perspective? But, actually, there are a lot of really, really good answers and also discussions from your content for sure. And that's actually quite beautiful and almost cannot believe that you were nervous, or in the beginning, you didn't know that you can do this. It always seems like you know you are very well curated and these contents, you have the answers. So that's right. You always start from when you don't even know how.

chris:

Yeah. I think a lot of people get caught up with these big ambitious goals, and they want to have the roadmap. They need to have all the benchmarks set up. They need to get everything aligned before they take a step. Why? Because let's go back to the first thing that we talked about, which is, they're afraid of failure. Many of us will not take action even though what we want is right there in front of us. We won't take action because we're afraid if we try, we expose ourselves, and then we'll confirm this little nagging voice, this critical voice inside our head, that someone was right about us not being smart enough or good enough or determined enough. And we don't want to prove them right. So it's safer for us not to take action. And then therefore, we can't be proved correct or incorrect. But this is the thing that holds back so many people.
And so I think, I'd like to express this to everyone, which is, I think it's good to set a direction, to set an intention with really unclear plans on how to get there and take a step in that direction. It's okay if you veer off path a little bit, even a lot, even if you meander, but it's just better that you move in the direction of your dreams and your goals. And eventually, one day, you'll look, up and not only will you have met goal, you'll turn around and you have surpassed it. Daniel Priestley writes about this in his book, Key Person of Influence. He says, when you're standing on the ground, you don't have a lot of context as to where you are. People who live at elevation all their lives don't know their way above sea level. All they can see is when they look up, there are more mountains and higher peaks. And this is how we work. We think contextually. So when we see people who are very successful, who have 10 million followers, who are a billionaire, they look like mountains to us. But what we don't realize, we're standing on top of our own mountain of value, but we just don't know because that looks flat because that's our baseline.

susana:

Wow. That is so powerful. That is so powerful. You're right. Everyone is standing on their own mountains or between mountains and climbing. So, great. Okay. So moving on to the next question, how did you start taking your creative career seriously?

chris:

Okay. I'll tell you this in story form, okay? Now when I was growing up, I was determined to work in computers in science or analysis or accounting. The idea of being a designer was not one that I thought was feasible. I didn't have any real life examples of a professional graphic designer. Now keep in mind I grew up in the '80s and fairly limited exposure in terms of culture. I didn't really go to art galleries and museums and experience those kinds of things, just a valley kid. Now I was very fortunate to get an opportunity to work at the silk screening shop. And this was the beginning of me understanding that there is a business around the practice of creative things like illustration design. But one day, my boss, his name is Brad, he said, "Chris, I need you to run over and pick up some type setting."
And it was the first time I heard of this word type setting. I'm like, "What is that?" It seems interesting. And so I drive over to this guy's house. I have the address, and I knock on the door, and this guy opens the door. And he's in a Hawaiian shirt t-shirt and flip flops. So I'm like, "Yeah, Brad sent me. I was supposed to pick up some type setting." He goes, "Well, you're early." I'm like, "Okay, if you say." So he goes, "You want to come in?" I'm like, "Okay." So I walked down this hallway. He's got shag carpeting. And he turns right down the hallway into his den. And when I walk through that door, I'm going to tell you, when I crossed the threshold, I left my ordinary world into this new world. And the new world was, this guy is a professional graphic designer.
He had one of the earliest Macintosh all-in-one computers, 512K monochrome screen, and he was type setting using a program called Adobe Illustrator and Aldus FreeHand. I'm watching him move the things around on the screen. And it's like magic. Type is moving. It's being manipulated. And then he hits command P, and this large refrigerator size thing comes to life, starts to whirl up, and heat is pushed out, and it's on my face. I'm like, "What is going on?" And then this tiny piece of paper comes out, and it's the first laser printer from Apple. He goes, "Okay, this looks pretty good." And I'm just taken aback because I see a drafting table behind me. I see all the tools of a professional designer, markers, neatly organized. My OCD is very happy. Some packaging mock-ups that he's colored in by hand. And I'm like, "This is what I want to do."
So his name is Dean Walker. And I asked Dean, "Dean, what do you do?" He's like, "I'm a graphic designer," kind of looking at me like, what kind of stupid question is that? And I said, "Do you have another job?" He goes, "No." "So are you able to support your family-"

susana:

Did you really ask that question?

chris:

"... by doing this thing?" Well, I literally asked these questions because I'm dumbfounded right now. And Dean's like, "Yeah." And at that moment, I'm like committed to myself. You, me, Chris Do, you are going to become a graphic designer. And I shared the story because of a couple different reasons. One thing that I'm blessed with is a pretty clear memory of moments that are transformative in my life. And the reason why I share this is because oftentimes, we talk about equity, inclusion, and representation. Now Dean was an older White man. I was an Asian kid. He didn't look like me, but he represented something that I wanted. And so what he did was he gave me permission, implicit permission, to pursue the thing that I've always wanted to do but didn't know what to call it. I didn't see it as possible. So he made my dream tangible.
I crossed into that threshold, and my life changed. And that's why I want to share that story because at that moment in time, I knew what the next 10 years, 10, 15 years of my life was going to be, and it was super clear to me. And so I encourage people that if you are afraid to share your voice, to speak your mind, to do whatever it is that gives your heart joy, and to share it with the world, you are potentially depriving some young boy, some young girl that ability to see themselves in you and to be able to be brave enough to do what it is that you do.

susana:

Wow. Wow. And actually, that comes into this next question. The question is like, how does your family influence you or your background? So when you discovered you can become a graphic designer, and you can make a living out of it, did you go back home and talk with your parents or your family and-

chris:

Of course.

susana:

... tell them, "This is what I want to be doing. I want to be working with drafting table and all the type font." And what did they understand?

chris:

Yeah. I think my parents knew I was inclined towards the arts and design because my mom did buy me a drafting table, did buy me an airbrush, and encouraged me to enter art competitions. And she, herself, she's a fine artist. I mean, she did something very technical for work. And then in her spare time, she would paint with oil pastels and oils. And she's a self-taught artist and pretty incredible artist in her own right. But she also didn't have that roadmap, that template. For her, art was a secondary pursuit, a hobby. And if you're Asian, you know what this sounds like. It's called the plan B. You must have a plan A, which is to do something respectable, predictable, conventional, and very much boring. And then plan B can be this dream. And it's a lie that Asian parents tell their kids because they know you don't have that much energy in your life. If you're going to become this other thing, plan A, you're plan B becomes smaller and smaller until you totally forget about it.
And so I come home, I'm like, "Okay, mom. I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to become a graphic designer." And she goes, "That's wonderful, honey. How are we going to do this?" I'm like, "I don't know. I don't know. I just know this is what I want to do." Okay. And of course, I don't really talk to my dad like this because dads just don't really care that much about what you do, but I think... You know Peanuts, Charlie Brown?

susana:

Mm-hmm.

chris:

When the adults talk, you can't ever hear them. It's like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa."

susana:

That is so true.

chris:

So I'm sure when I'm talking to my dad, "Dad, I'm going to be... And I'm going to go to..." He can't hear these things. If it doesn't sound like Stanford, an engineer, or computer scientist, he's not hearing it, right? Now I want to share a couple points about this story. One is in order for something to become real, you first must believe it to be true, and you set the intention. And then what happens is when you're clear in what you want and are intentional, you magnetize yourself and you draw to you the resources and answers that you need. So again, point in a direction. So I go back to work the next day. I run into my boss, his name is Brad. "Brad, I'm going to be a graphic designer." He goes, "Fantastic. Well, you'll need to go to a school called art center, and it's in LA." I'm like, "That's super generic. Art center in LA?" He goes, "Yeah." And he was giving me a hard time, he's like, "There are all these cocky people there just like you. You're going to fit right in."
This is pre-internet, everybody. It's pre-internet, so this is the '90s now or laye '80s, early '90s. And I don't research. I don't know what to do. So I go home again, and I tell my mom, "Mom, I'm going to go to art center in LA." And so my mom does what good moms do. She starts calling and asking friends, "Have you heard of this school called Art Center in LA?" And then it turns out it's a real school. It's a legitimate school. And it's one of the top schools in the nation. Now I share this part of the story because Brad could have said, "Go to the Boston College of Arts and Crafts." And that's where I would've went because I had not known any better.
But it's a miracle how all these things work, like our life is designed for you to succeed. You just have to be willing to be brave enough to say it out loud, "This is what I want in my life." So now I have a destination. I'm going to go to Art Center. I know it's somewhere in Los Angeles, technically it's in Pasadena. And over the next year, I work with my portfolio. I get into Art Center. I get a scholarship to go to Art Center, and I finish the school in four years at the top of my class. So everything is now working for me.

Greg Gunn:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.
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Welcome back to our conversation.

susana:

Most people probably know what they want, but they will wait and wait and wait to get permissions, especially many and many of Asian culture, kids growing up, always waiting for their parents to tell them what to do. That's incredible that you are not scared to search what you want. Or is there a time where you're like, "Maybe, I'm not sure," you feel defeated? You're like, "Oh, this is too hard. During the four years, I failed project." I'm pretty sure there are times that you feel, "Is this a good decision?"

chris:

No, I didn't doubt it was a good decision because when you find what it is, what you want, and you didn't know even how to articulate it. Let me compare and contrast my world before and my world after Art Center, okay, or during. My world before Art Center is full of interesting, diverse people who are someplace sports, some want to be an engineer, an astronaut. Everybody looks different. They have different energy, different ways of dressing, and different ways of speaking. There were the people who were into metal rock bands and people who are into country music and everything in between.
When I go to Art Center, it's a black steel and glass building designed by Craig Elwood in a very mid-century modern aesthetic. It's just white and black and glass inside. And the sliding glass doors open, and you walk in. And the smell of the resin and the different materials that are being used, I breathe it in. I feel like I'm at home for the first time in my life. And I look around. There are weird, interesting, awkward artist, designer types everywhere. And I think to myself, I have found my tribe, and inside me probably was a little tear, "I'm here. You're my people."

susana:

Wow.

chris:

And this is it. For the next four years, I'm going to be looking at typography, color swatches, paper stock. This is what I geek out over. And I'm going to meet people who are as passionate, if not more knowledgeable than me, about the things that we care about. And this is it. You walk into the student gallery, and you think this is some of the best design work I've ever seen anywhere. And I'm going to be able to do this? No way. So there's a little bit of that doubt. And I think Art Center's very strategic in that they put the student gallery right up front. You cannot miss it. It's in the middle of the campus. As soon as you walk in the visitor entrance, you see this work. It is meant to overwhelm you with a quality of the work. And here I am, first semester, I'm a 19-year-old student, just looking like, there is no way I can do this. I'm going to have to trust somehow that you can take idiots like me who are socially cultured and somehow turn me into that.
And I remember looking at this poster one time, and it was designed by an upperclassman. His name is Richard Kobayashi, beautiful design, three-dimensional typography. He had this American flag inside. I was thinking to myself, "Man, one day I would just be thrilled to be able to do the level of work that's being seen here." And then I start to learn about design. I take Simon Johnson's typography class. And then I come back to that gallery a couple semesters later, and I have a new thought. "I cannot only do this work. I could do better than this work."

susana:

Wow.

chris:

Because you learn-

susana:

Wow.

chris:

... and your mind expands. And there's this quote, hopefully I get this right, "A mind once expands to new dimensions does not contract to its original form." And now my mind is expanded. I've learned, and I keep learning. And the more you learn, the more confident you become, the hungrier you become, the more curious you become. And it's like building and building on top of this foundation. And I've found my voice. I've found my identity. I'm not just Chris. I'm a graphic designer. I know who I am. And knowing who you are can take people a lifetime to find. And now I know who I am.

susana:

Well, that's the question that I have. So you take on more and more, right, you become you, you become Chris Do. You become yourself being so much that your dream becomes so much. And also, there comes stress, and it comes to a lot of pressure or at least expecting yourself to do more work or better work. Do you feel sometimes that you feel frustrated or very stressed out because you want to build bigger dream, you wanted to have a bigger team, you want to have a bigger mission? And even building a One Billion mission, I think that's a quite achievement that you, your team has done. But along the journey, do you feel at some point, "I needed to rest," or, "I needed to take a break"? Does that comes in often or just once a little bit or that's sometimes a mental balance that you take on constantly?

chris:

Yeah. I think Simon Sinek said something like this, where he's like, "When you work really hard for something that you love, it's called passion. And when you work really hard for something you don't love, it's called stress."

susana:

That's right.

chris:

And being stressed out is being nervous about a negative outcome, whereas your passion comes from being excited about a positive outcome. And I'm wired a little bit differently than a lot of people because I don't process stress the way that normal people process stress. All I look at are there are challenges in my life, and my general life philosophy is run towards the things that challenge you, the things that scare you, because the reward for that is you get to learn something about yourself that you didn't know. You find limits to what you're capable of. But more often than not, you surprise yourself by being able to achieve these goals. You become a better person, a braver person, a more skillful person, a more experienced person.
And so my wife freaks out because she looks at the, quote-unquote, "stress" that I'm under. For example, she's like, "Don't you have a call in 10 minutes?" I'm like, "I'm okay, babe. I got this." I'm going to show up. I'm going to be 100% grounded and present in this situation. Wherever Susana wants to take this conversation, I would just meet her there. All I have to do is show up to be the best, truest version of myself. And if it doesn't go well, it doesn't go well. That's all I can do. And so these little moments create stress for someone because they can't process it the way I do. But here's the thing. I believe when you stress your system, your body and your mind start to build tolerance to it. When you work out, when you exercise, and you're using weight lifting, you're creating microtrauma on your muscles. You're literally tearing your muscle fibers apart. And when they regrow, they grow a little bit bigger. They grow a little bit stronger.
This is how you build it up. So you build up tolerance for stress, and that's what I do. And I always look at it like, this is so exciting. I get to talk to Susanna in 10 minutes. I'm not dreading it. So I tell myself, this is a wonderful opportunity to have a real conversation with someone to potentially share my life, thoughts, and philosophy with a few other people. That's exciting to me. Why wouldn't anybody want that? I don't know. Now when you ask about, have you ever felt burnt out, or do you feel like, I need to take a break, sometimes I do, but not very often because right now I believe I'm in my zone of genius doing the work that is important, that is impactful, that will make a difference in the world.
And when you find that, you can't wait to do something. I don't look at what I do much as work. Sometimes it feels like it, but more often or not, it feels like play. And Seth [inaudible 00:34:05] talks about this, "When you're playing, you ask, 'Can I have more?' And when you're working, you say, 'Am I done?'" And so if we can align our life with our love, our passion, the things that we're good at, the things that generate value for other people, I think we find our mission, our purpose in life, our reason for living. And I think then you'll have all the energy in the world. But I want to say that there was a period in time, about five years after starting my company, I was working like an animal. When I say working like an animal, there's other peoples working like an animal, and then there's my version of it, which is working 14, 16 hours a day for five years without going on vacation one time.

susana:

Oh, boy.

chris:

So towards the end of that, I was like, I feel I have nothing left to give. I took a three and a half-month sabbatical. I started teaching. I found my next mission in life. My first was, I want to be the world's best designer. My second mission was, I want to be the world's best teacher. And in teaching, you learn so much about yourself. They say this, and it sounds like a cliche, but it's very true. All teachers will recognize this. They say something, "My students have taught me more than I ever could hope to teach them." What they mean is you learn so much about yourself when you're trying to break down your own thought process to explain it simply to another person. I'm a better person, a better communicator because I've spent 15 years teaching before I recorded my first video.

susana:

Wow. Next question, how do you feel about the future of creative education? I mean, is design school still worth the value? Is online education enough, the YouTube, the academy? For many creators or non-creatives out there that are very, very interested to become a freelance designer or graphic or photographer, do you still think going to design school is a necessary, must to-do for becoming a graphic or becoming a designer?

chris:

Your question is deceptively simple, but the answer's quite complicated. So I will try my best. The short answer is no, you don't need to get a formal education or to get a degree in the creative arts because people hire people based in their portfolio and their general attitude and philosophy. And it doesn't really matter where you went to school to attain this. Now, if you're an autodidact, if you're a self-learner, teach yourself in any which way you want. What we were finding is universities used to be the knowledge centers, the creators of knowledge, but with knowledge and information being so readily available on the internet for little to no money, universities are no longer the knowledge centers of the world. They are the curators of knowledge. And if you want to pay for that, you can.
And for some people, that's what they want. They need the credentials, they need the pedigree and to say to themselves and to other people, "I went to X, Y, Z name brand school." And they're happy to pay and to potentially be in debt for quite a long time for that privilege. But if you're talking about the peer transference of knowledge from A to B, there are a lot more efficient, economical, and scalable ways to do this. And you mentioned YouTube University basically or online workshops and courses that you can take that are fraction of the cost. I have a son. I have two boys. One of them is about to enter into college. Tuition at the schools he wants to go to is a staggering $80,000 a year.

susana:

Wow.

chris:

So if you say four years, some parent is going to have to foot the bill with your child to the tune of $320,000 in tuition alone. This is not taking into account room and board and supplies and opportunity costs. So by the time you're done, you're probably out over half a million dollars in real expenses and opportunity costs. Because if you were just to go to work for four years, you would've gained an income. A lot of people don't think about that when they choose to go to school. My youngest son, he's 16. He's going to be a designer. I'm going to slightly encourage him not to go to school. And what I would do is I would give him the money I would have to pay for his tuition to allow him to have four years of life experience to travel the world, to work with artists or to make art or to be in his own studio to do what he wants to do. I believe that's a better use of the money. But it's a very individual and personal question as to, what is your style of learning, who do you have to please in your life, and what really matters to you? For some people, the traditional brick and mortar, private art school is still worth it. For me, it's not.

susana:

That's always a good question. I mean, I, myself, graduated from Parsons, and many of our community members graduated and still unsure what they want to do as a creative because then they graduate as a graphic designer, but they wanted to navigate towards maybe UX/UI and then they spend the next three years finding what they want to do.

chris:

Can I ask you a question?

susana:

Yeah.

chris:

How long have you been out of school?

susana:

10 years.

chris:

10 years. Have you paid off your student loans?

susana:

I did. I was very, very fortunate to be part of the HEOP program.

chris:

I see.

susana:

So I was the full time to go to Parsons. But I know the reason why I started the Asian Creative Foundation is because I was very, very fortunate to be selected as a scholarship kid to study design. But I know many of my friends, they struggle. I think why I'm so motivated to do this community as a passion to support the Asian creative, this is my way to give back to the community. Yeah. Yeah, so I'm very respected of the future as well, knowing what you do. This is incredible experience talking to you.

chris:

I graduated 27 years ago, and I have friends that I graduated with that are still paying off their student loans. And the tuition has only gotten exponentially higher. So how people are going to pay this off is just... It makes me wonder. It makes me worry a little bit for them.

susana:

Many student had graduated from the four years BA degree, BFA degree, BFA, and then they still want to go to MFA. And then after that, they're still trying to figure out what they wanted to do. And then after that, I think one of the part where there are many creative struggles, I know this question comes in a lot, many struggles to figure if they want to become a specialist like a graphic designer, or they become a strategist like creative strategist, or a generalist, like they do art direction, or instead of going to one industry, they do everything. How do you get yourself in line with so much from a graphic designer role to knowing what marketer wants? I think that's something that you're very, very, very good at. And I think a lot of the creatives out there still unable to communicate when working within the corporation or within their jobs.

chris:

Is your question about how a graphic designer gets to know more about marketing?

susana:

Yeah. Do you have any suggestions to graphic designers to... Because a lot of times, graphic designer is attached to marketing because they create marketing material or some campaigns or, right, visuals. So how do you suggest the creatives to bridge out and of course learning their trade and their profession as a creative, but being able to be knowledgeable of talking to what marketer wants?

chris:

Yeah. Thank you so much. So I want to start off by saying, we live in a wonderful time. It's 2022. There is these amazing platforms that not only allow you to upload hours of content for free and store it, they will then distribute it to others for free for you. And in some cases, they'll pay you for the pleasure of doing this. These opportunities didn't exist 10, 15, 20 years ago. So let's roll back the tape. So when I'm out of school, in order for me to get work, I have to let people know about what it is that I do because they can't hire me if they don't know who I am. And you've heard this before, people hire who they know, like, and trust. So the first rule of getting hired and creating opportunity for yourself is to get known. How do you do this, right?
Okay. Well, back in the old days, you would take out an ad in a creative directory, like the black book or alternative [inaudible 00:43:02]. It would cost you probably about $4,000 for a spread, maybe a little bit more, I can't remember. And then they would distribute these really heavy books to a bunch of art directors, art buyers, and things like that. And then you would have to hire a sales rep, and you would go quite literally sometimes from agency to agency doing a dog and pony show, and you'd bring out your portfolio, and you'd show them things. And the reps would kind of constantly work a very specific circuit going from agency to agency and saying, "Hey, do you have work? Do you have work? Do you have work? Anything coming up? Can I help you? Can I help you?" And you would go to industry parties and be socially very awkward, like myself, like a wallflower, while people who were in power walk and talk amongst themselves. And you are thinking, how do I talk to that person? I don't know. So I'm going to stay in here like a fool.
And every once in a while, you would write a press release for a project that you did and you would send it out, and hopefully someone would pick it up. So there was a lot of work that was needed to be able to get the attention of a prospective buyer or a prospective client. A lot of work. Today, we have this middleware that connects buyers and creators together on a socially open platform that's, for the most part, democratized. And we say to ourselves, "Oh, I don't want to do social media marketing. This is stupid. This is..." Well, if you don't like it this time, go back to the way it was done. Do the dog and pony show. Go to those parties that no one wants to talk to you, and people are drunk and talking to you with wine breath. Go back that if you want. Go take out an ad in a directory or two and spend your money there. Oh, you don't want to do that?
So when people talk about the evils of social media marketing and being an influencer and they throw shade on it, tell me a better plan. What is your plan to get known? And the biggest lie that art schools are going to tell you is, all you have to do is work on being better, just work on your craft. You could be the world's best UX designer, UI designer, experience designer. Whatever it is that you think you are, if no one knows you, how do you plan on getting opportunities? So the name of the game is be good at what you do while being good at creating content around the things that you do to educate people so that you are being perceived as an authority. When you do that, what happens is the market starts to decide when we're looking for any person, we will find the person, the one who is best known, who has the largest social proof.
Social proof can come in number of followers, level of engagement, platforms which you dominate, but it can also include things like books you've written, testimonials that you share on your website, or case studies of previous successful projects that you've completed. So this is what we're all trying to do. We're trying to build up a warehouse of social proof so that when somebody thinks about hiring someone, we pop up on the radar, and there's ample evidence that we've done this consistently and successfully for many other people. If you can do that, you're going to have less competition, be able to charge more, and be able to lead the engagement versus being told what to do, competing on price, and hating your life. Name of the game, learn how to market yourself.

susana:

Thank you. Oh, that is exactly why we have this festival, a lot of time to really let the creators being able to step out and shout out for themselves. We, as well, wanted to bring back to the community and shout out for the creatives, amazing creators out there that are doing amazing things but really don't know how to market themselves. So thank you for saying that. Okay. So we're [inaudible 00:46:58] to one last question. This is the easiest but also the hardest, is the fun one. What is your advice for the next generation that want to work as a creative?

chris:

Okay. While you're learning your craft, I highly recommend what you do is to create content and share it with people what it is that you're doing as you're doing it. It's wonderful to see the trials and the tribulations, the struggles and the solutions when you're doing it in real time. In this way, you build a community around what it is that you do, and you build leads for future opportunities that you don't even know exist yet. So what I do is I make content. And somewhere out in the universe, and the way I'll explain is this, when you create a piece of content, it's like you putting a little note, a message in a bottle, and you're in a deserted island. And you take this, and you throw it out into distance, and it washes up on the shore somewhere else, far away from you. And someone picks it up, and they look at it and like, "Huh, that's a very interesting thought." But what's happening on social media is you throw out one bottle, but 10,000 bottles arrive, and the message reaches shores very far away.
And so I can't tell you, but there's a large sports apparel brand that reached out to me who wanted to sponsor me because they enjoy my content. But they're like, "You wear a lot of hats. Would you consider us sponsoring you and potentially doing a collaboration project with this large sports apparel brand?" I'm like, "Yeah." And so those are the bottles that you throw out. So the advice to you, to all of you, is to start doing some form of public journaling. Share your thoughts. Write them down. Make a painting. Produce a video. Record an audio podcast or something like that. And keep doing it. Stay out of the results. Don't worry about the haters. The haters are a sign that you're saying something important. Keep doing this, and eventually, the bottle comes back to you with a very pleasant message.

susana:

Thank you. That is very, very beautiful. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for this program. Thank you for sharing us about being brave and walking to the scariest things that you don't know but you will work towards it and becoming yourself and take creativity seriously. Thank you so much, Chris.

chris:

Thank you, Susana.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music.
If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me? Head over to thefutur.com/heychris and ask away. We read every submission, and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

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