Revisiting UCC —
"Today & Tomorrow: The Evolution of a Digital Creator"
with Yimmy Yayo & Charis Poon

Photos by Christina Choi

Photos by Christina Choi

Unexpected connections are the simplest way of describing creativity. In its most basic form, it’s pattern recognition, and at its most complex, it’s a tangled web that humans have become surprisingly great at deconstructing.

Imprint and MAEKAN: Unexpected Connections is about celebrating those who have embraced new intersections around them in both positive and inventive ways.

Our format invites fascinating people from contrasting disciplines to talk and find an unexpected common ground. How does the tattoo artist connect with the sneaker designer? How can designers of different backgrounds link experience to great work?

Unexpected Connections is about the rich opportunity for exploration when two different vantage points are joined together.

In this latest episode, Eugene Kan of MAEKAN moderates a discussion between two digital creators, Charis Poon, a multi-faceted editor (at MAEKAN), designer, and Goldsmiths University MA student, and James W. Mataitis Bailey, a talented photographer, and art director, who goes by the name Yimmy Yayo. Together, the two discuss the digital impact on how we create and the unique situation of growing up both online and offline.

With the evolution of communication and digital tools, we’ve needed to come to terms with how we approach our craft. Are some elements to be phased out and rendered obsolete as we reassess the best way to move forward?

Eugene: He’s a multifaceted creative. He’s worked with the likes of Rihanna, Jay-Z, Nike, LVMH, The Weeknd and more. While she’s technically a graphic designer, she’s kind of blown my mind in terms of someone who’s known for one thing and is able to kind of take on new tasks and new opportunities. What do you think people know you as online and do you think that that’s reflective of who you are as a person?

James: Eugene gave you guys a little bit of a background of where I started.

Charis: And you hated all of it.

James: Hated all of it. Obviously, it was an online persona. I come from a small place in Australia and their touchpoint was a persona that was used as a way for me to express things. I come from a culture which is very subdued and it’s tall poppy syndrome in Australia — it’s not very emotionally open. So I used this ultimate alter-ego to mask or protect myself to be able to express those things. But in doing that, people associate me with something that is not really who I am.

So everyone goes through that like, “oh, you’re the guy from the blog.” And I’m just like, “yeah.” It’s a horrible feeling because I know personally it’s so much more that.

Eugene: Actually, to that point: is it a kind of an ego thing where like you don’t want to be known as simplistically as the blog guy?

James: Yeah. Well, I think it puts you in like a bit of a pigeon hole.

Charis: Was there a moment in time when it did feel good, though? Like what about the first time someone was like, “you’re the blog guy!”

James: A little bit. I mean, it felt nice at the start because it was a way to express myself. I came from a small town in Australia and it was a way to get those feelings out and to get those ideas out and start that creative process, personally.

Charis: But you don’t want that following you around.

James: I guess it’s just like — it’s not that it’s had its time, it still exists — but sometimes it feels like I’ve been doing more, trying to do more. So when it goes back to that first touch point.

Charis: Yeah, it’s kind of like, “I’ve evolved so much past this now.”

James: Yeah, right. I guess that would be.

Eugene: And you, Charis. Obviously when we first started working together, you were a graphic designer and now you’re still a graphic designer, now you’re a student, now you’re a podcast or you’re a writer — all these things.

Charis: It’s funny because I didn’t get to hear any of your introduction of me. There you were talking in the back. Sorry about that, I just totally missed it so I’ve no idea how you described me. But I I like to describe myself in terms of action words, which is useful for everyone, I think. So instead of saying that I’m a student or writer or podcast or a designer, I do do design and I write and I podcast. Those are actions that I can say factually that I do and that makes up my life.

But if the second you put it into a person, it becomes one more level up. Now I have to fulfill whatever your expectation of what that kind of person is, or what that person has on their CV.

Eugene: Something I touched upon early on was that between you, James. Sorry, James. There’s probably a good generation in between there. Maybe you can start off by explaining how you were put on to creative culture growing up in a small town in Australia and seeing how it is now. It’s obviously very different.

James: Yeah, it’s something that we have talked about a little bit earlier. I didn’t start out being creative at all. In my working class family, my dad worked in a factory and my mom was a teacher. I actually started quite late. I didn’t realize what it is I really wanted to do and I after I finished school, I thought I was meant to go to college and get a degree and everything. So I was doing computer science and that was just what I was meant to do but, that wasn’t really making sense.

And my first experience with having some creative response or emotional response to creativity was a trip I did to Europe. It was my first time travelling alone and I was in Florence and I was surrounded by art. It was sort of this sort of waking up moment. I was just realized that there was more more out there and that was my first emotional response to creativity.

Eugene: But before that, something that you mentioned that was really interesting is that your creative vector was through a different medium. Like, music to you was through looking at skate videos, for example.

James: Right. Something that Lindsay said earlier too was that we were brought up surrounded by these subcultures like skateboarding or hardcore music. And a lot of your touch points come from those subcultures, which I know is what the world soaked up at a certain point and then you could use those influences of music, influences of art from a young age that you didn’t really think about. Like you were just watching skate videos to watch skate videos.

Charis: When did it click for you? When did it turn from “I’m just watching this video” — everyone watches these videos — to “hey, I can actually direct videos like this or I can be in videos.”

James: I’m still not sure I’m quite there yet, but it’s interesting. I guess it was an earlier seed that was planted and I didn’t really understand it. But then going back now, I can understand how the music can direct all that creative influence later on and so it’s a reflection thing. So there wasn’t a point early on.

Charis: So you’re thinking about going back and thinking about retracing this narrative.

James: Yeah. Sort of where it came from and early things like skate videos and stuff like that planted those.

Charis: James and I were talking earlier about this and it’s interesting because we had opposite experiences growing up because I was always interested in art and design and thought that as the only option viable for me. Whereas you had to go to Europe and go to Florence in order to find that. And I do feel really fortunate that somehow I just started in it and then continued on.

I think it is to have an open mind. I do think that I have a fear of my thoughts narrowing that I rely on the things I think I’ve learned and am unwilling to reconsider to re-open questions I’ve answered previously. So I don’t know how I have perspective on myself being this way or not in two, five, ten, twenty years, but if I can continue to maintain that ability of breaking down what I think I know to re-ask myself, then I would be happy.

— Charis, on her definition of continued success.

James: Was there any was there ever a point where you’re just like, “no, this is not –“.

Charis: I mean, I was pretty much rubbish at everything else. So maths and sciences and music were not viable possibilities. I guess it was like what I was best at.

Eugene: This a question for you

Charis: What did you think in terms of a career — when he was starting off — was the process to be a creative pre-internet? I mean, this is you obviously being too young to actually be a professional.

Charis: When I started out in university, I definitely thought that the path was to graduate and then go into an agency and be an intern and then a junior designer and then designer, senior designer, art director, creative director. Maybe one day, open my own agency and I don’t think I’m that much younger, but that’s how I saw the path.

What about you?

James: School was very traditional. You go through the tiers to get to the final.

Charis: You still think about it that way?

James: I don’t think so because I think the creative landscape has changed. There’s so much access to the creative industries now that you’re able to fast track, which I think is great in some aspects.

Eugene: What do you think allows the fast-tracking?

James: I think it’s access to information based on that. I think you can have creative influence from a much younger age. You can learn things on YouTube. You can learn how to render learn, how to shoot through tutorials. You can basically get the traditional training without having to go through the practice.

Charis: Are there still realms where you think something formal applies? That question for both of you.

James: It’s gonna sound like a “maybe not so much,” but I think with fashion in more of a craft approach with the ateliers, I don’t know. I think that if you go to a proper house, you think all the ateliers. It’s still ladies that have been there for 50 years, where you really still have to go through that process to be making those patterns.

Charis: The reason I said that was because John Jay, earlier this morning, started out with Virgil at the top of LVMH. And almost immediately, when you said “fashion” I was like, that is representative of a non-formal path right to the top.

Eugene: I actually think that with regards to creative culture, like you kind of pick and choose your own path and there’s no sort of regimented or institutional approach that’s necessary. I think that we’re pretty much representative of it at MAEKAN, like I don’t come from a journalism background. You kind of do, but that was never your intention. You just have that desire to figure it out, right?

Charis: But what about people who don’t have access to the tools to carve their own path?

Eugene: I actually think that it’s not the case as much anymore, but this is actually my question: I think that if you want to go start a blog, everything has been sort of flattened across the board. Everyone can do everything. If you guys are kind of generally in agreement that the tools are accessible to everybody, then what determines someone’s success?

James: Nepotism? (Eugene and Charis laugh) Or creative talent. I think if you can give the same set of tools to one hundred people, they’re all going to use them differently. Photography is a really great example. It’s very easily accessible, but to really stand out, it takes a certain talent and a really specific eye, a purpose and a narrative and all this.

Charis: I disagree, though. I agree with the premise that the tools are accessible to everyone, and I do think that it does take talent and hard work. But at the same time, we haven’t really mentioned the fact that the opportunities are not equally available to everyone. And that’s kind of what I meant by there are definitely people who might see, “Okay. People are saying ‘carve your own path, carve your own path.’ But actually, I don’t have the means or the means I have are so different.”

Eugene: Interesting. I think the one thing you led with was Virgil, right. I think Virgil has already been representative of a non-traditional route.

Charis: Yes, but I just think he is exceptional. I don’t know. I worry about a lot of things. But one of the things I worry about is that when we say, “okay, Virgil can do it,” it kind of takes us off the hook. Like, “oh, it’s possible someone can still lift themselves up from the bootstraps and do this crazy dance to the top, so everyone young out there can do the same thing.”.

James: And that’s not how it feels.

Eugene: Yeah, that feels like we’re making an excuse for ourselves.

James: Yeah, absolutely. Because as you said, the opportunities and the access and the presence is not afforded to everybody.

Eugene: So a question for you, James is that if you were to start today do you think that you would be able to attain a certain level of success that you have now or is not half as successful as you are on it.

James: No I don’t. I’m not really sure. I think that that gave me that wasn’t it was a way for me to escape where I was living. It was a way for me to get out of the way for me to sort of access this world creative industry that at the time if that hadn’t existed I wouldn’t have wouldn’t have moved to America wouldn’t have worked in New York at all. All this stuff.

So I can’t really say. I think that I can say that if it was earlier and that avenue wasn’t accessible, I don’t think I would have. It was really a way for me to reach out and get past the walls of where I was living. But at the moment, I think it’s just really interesting. I was a third assistant for my fashion photography. I was a third assistant, second assistant, first assistant at DG Production and I really worked my way up and then halfway through, I was like, “oh, there’s a hop, skip and a jump that I can take.” And so it was kind of on the cusp.

It was not the way I wanted to work in terms of process. I was exhausted. I wasn't having the interactions and the feedback to the craft and the creativity, which was ultimately suffering because I wasn't getting back to it. And so when that happened, I left the agency I was at when I first came here and I made a point to say like, "I have to be happy." And for me to do my work properly, I have to be at a good place.

— Yimmy Yayo, on his previous agency work on large-scale projects.

Charis: How have you navigated the different changes in technology and the way people market themselves? It’s all very rapid. So what worked for you ten years ago didn’t work eight years and six years, four years. Did you find yourself thinking about “how do I adjust to this?”

James: I guess I always lean back on that traditional path of knowing, you know, the design degree, I cut my teeth properly. I lean on that process and I work nine-to-five five to six days a week and I try to keep that regiment. And that work ethic is something that I can hold onto, I suppose. If that answers your question.

Charis: It’s kind of no matter what, if I have this internal standard, if I have this type of discipline, then that would help me.

James: And always learning. With every job I take, I always try to add in something that I don’t know whether it’s like 3D rendering or some form of production or anything on that side. So it’s like a matter of evolving with it. I think if you rely on the past and where you’ve come from — say it’s an academic background, but that industry is evolving into a non-academic field — then you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball for not really any goal or reason other than maybe pride. And you’ll ultimately sacrifice or suffer by your own –.

Charis: The internal discipline thing definitely sticks out to me. And just thinking about what can I hold myself personally accountable for regardless of what’s going on around me. Things might change and I can make that decision of whether I will dive into this new trend or whether I’m going to intentionally bucket.

James: It’s interesting because it’s not a traditional work place anymore too. So I’ve freelanced most of my life and the same for you, I’m sure, because a lot of it’s freelance work. So it’s like how do you manage the personal expectations with the client expectations with staying on top of all your admin?

Charis: How do you do it? Tell us.

James: No. I do it all myself. It’s just me. I don’t have an assistant, I don’t have Quick Books or anything like that at all.

Eugene: For both of you guys as “creatives”: generally speaking, there’s a balance between what you believe the work should look like versus that of a client. How do you guys manage that?

Charis: I feel like James’ answer is going to be different, but for me in my freelance work, I really do take the client’s problem at heart. I try to not go in having this clear vision of what I think the answer or the solution should be and just trying to understand what they perceive the problem to be, how can I inform that problem and does that fit the problem that is presented, rather than I really wanted to have this final shiny package and I’m going to make it that. Maybe that makes me feel good in a moment or maybe it looks good on one Instagram post, but ultimately, I don’t think it serves a bigger purpose.

James: For me, it’s a balance. It depends on how you’re approaching the work. I think it’s important from a certain aspect to to have a voice and an identity and an artistic point of view. But you as a freelancer, you have to pay the rent and you have to feed yourself. And there has to be some form of sustainability.

So with client work, a lot of time, it’s balancing how much of yourself you want to interject.

Charis: Do you think younger people who are getting into this understand that?

James: I’m not sure. I think it’s probably gonna be a hard lesson for a lot of kids at a certain point where they’re like, “oh, this is the job where I’m gonna do this cool thing that I want to do,” and they get there and it’s like, “this is absolutely not what we wanted. The fuck is going on?”.

But I think it’s more interesting and more exciting to serve a client and do something that’s not just your style because it’s more of a challenge and it’s part of the process. It’s part of what the design process is, which is to answer these questions or to answer ‘why?” And it’s more of a challenge to be working on something.

Charis: It’s more thinking through the actuality of something.

James: Exactly. And it’s a more intrinsic creative process and is more of a narrative and more of conversation. I think it’s because you have to understand their point of view and then you’re able to apply your skills and abilities.

Eugene: In the last five years or so, how have you guys seen the evolution of building a career in the space?

James: I think it changes a lot. Obviously, it’s changed a lot with social media. I think a lot of it is is outward projection or I would say self-applied “aim,” for lack of a better word.

At the moment, it feels like it’s a lot more about saying that you’re doing something or rather than actually getting it done or showing that you’ve done it.

Charis: I think we struggle against it, you and I with MAEKAN, because we’ve felt so much that by doing a good thing, the good thing will be noticed. But the reality that we’ve seen in the past few years is that many people do good things and they’re never noticed because we’re not yelling loud enough or cutting through the noise or whatever metaphor you want.

So if it feels like, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to go out and have to shout ‘hey, we’re doing this good thing!'” But at the same time, if I don’t then who will know?

James: It’s an unnecessary — guess I think of it as an unnecessary evil, but it’s a part of the process now. That to be seen as creative, you have to be present on the social platforms, you have to show what you do. I shy away from that a lot and a not a lot of my stuff is out there because I just don’t want to do that. That’s not what I used to do, but it is really tough.

Eugene: If you were to not share your work, like let’s say you did some hype stuff and you didn’t share it and in five years you became irrelevant because no one recognized your work, would you be ok with that?

James: Yeah. Because I guess it was like being true to myself. I would rather that than to be like blasting it and feeling like I’m not being like myself and saying, “check me out. I’m the shit,” and then get to a place where I’m like, “oh. I’ve had to be that guy which I’m not to get to a place that I wanted to?”

Eugene: But what if it validated itself? What if you posting this stuff ends up getting you more jobs?

James: And I think that’s a really important part. I think it is necessary. That’s one kind of struggle with a little bit, I’m not too sure if you’re the same, but it is part of the process to be present, to be top of mind.

Charis: I think the thing I try to think about is whose recognition or favor am I looking for? Am I interested in the recognition of being on social media and a lot of people liking it and commenting on those photos? What does that serve me if that is the recognition I want? If there’s someone else whose recognition I’d rather have, can I go another route? Because your question was like, “oh, what if people don’t recognize anymore?” My question back to you is well, which people? I think that’s the question.

James: Yeah. Is it would you rather a hundred thousand strangers or ten of your closest peers? For me, it’s people in this conference, the people I’m sitting next to and talking to. Having that peer respect is just as important, so that’s a really good point. It’s like who are you trying to impress? What validation are you looking for really?

Charis: I know that this is not useful for making money and being sustainable, but I feel like well I don’t need this conference to be in national papers or blow up on some blog, I just want one person in this audience to recognize this as valuable. I understand that doesn’t translate into being sustainable enough to have another conference then, so I don’t really know how to connect those two dots.

Eugene: Having said that, obviously there’s a very strong relationship with the craft and the art. Why do you think generally speaking, creatives have been so shy about the money conversation?

James: It’s tough if you have to do it for yourself. Like, if you have to say to somebody, “I’m worth this much,” at least for me personally, it’s really hard. You have to be really confident. You have to be really forward and really understand what you’re worth and value. It’s not a great conversation to be like, “I want X amount and I’m worth it.” It’s great if you can do it and I think it’s really important to understand your value and worth. But I think it’s this sort of conflict between art and commerce.

Charis: I mean, David Choe talked about it right before us, which is, I think for creatives, we have this problem in our brains where we think “why would anyone pay me to do this thing?” And it also seems sort of nuts to be like, “well, I already love to design or make art or make music. And now someone wants to pay me to do the thing that I love,” in our heads. That doesn’t make sense. And that’s why it keeps us from demanding what we are worth in actual fiscal dollars.

James: It’s not a direct connection. There’s a break in it.

Eugene: To that point, I generally subscribe to your guys’ point of view. Charis knows very well, like that’s generally how I’ve looked at things. But then there’s one thing that blew my mind and it wasn’t necessarily revelational but that it just all makes sense: I was in a John Jay’s office in Tokyo and he was just saying “money isn’t the enemy because it enables you to do better work.” And I think that if there’s one thing that creatives need to understand, it’s your work can be good regardless when it’s for yourself. But imagine what you unlock by having a little bit of that secret sauce.

Charis: It feels a little bit dirty in a way. And I know that’s my personal perspective, but it just feels — I just haven’t gotten over it yet.

James: I guess you could use it as a tool. It’s a tool you could use to push forward and develop that will allow you to get to a different place, to talk to a different person or do kind a process or project that you weren’t able to because you didn’t have the funds or access.

Charis: Do you have a specific example of that? Or a project that you had where money came in and then suddenly, your options widened?

James: Yeah. I when I first came to America, I was working at a boutique agency called WP&A and we did all the touring and all the live direction and stuff like that. The first project we worked on was the Jay Z Barclay’s opening. That was eight shows in a row.

It wasn’t obviously money directly for me, but it was a scale I’ve never worked at before. At one point, the first night I had just flown in from Australia and I was directing the lighting. I thought this is insane that I’m able to flex this creative or at least you know process on a stage this big for this many people, but it’s money. It’s that the stage was that big because he paid a million dollars, two million dollars for it. And it was insanity. But that’s you know, it really changes things.

I think you’re just able to get so much more out of it, but that’s not to say that you can’t get a really good visceral emotional reaction out of pennies and dollars. A great example is music videos: you have $10,000 or you have like, $500,000. You can get the right location, you can get a couple of extras and get the right DP and it just allows you to really tell the story you want to tell.

But I think that there is really value in being able to do it without that. I don’t think that you should rely on it, but it definitely changes the game for sure.

Eugene: Is there anything that gives you guys anxiety? What is it, the number one thing that gives you a lot of anxiety.

James: You can go.

Charis: Oh what? No, because the first thing that pops into my head was everything. Oh everything, gives me anxiety.

Eugene: And the reason why I want to ask the question is that, for us and you guys especially as creative, there’s like a set of problems that generally you guys are focused on. Is there a crossover there between the set of problems you guys are often solving for clients and your own anxieties? Or is it separate? Is the client work easy?

With every job I take, I always try to add in something that I don't know whether it's like 3D rendering or some form of production or anything on that side. So it's like a matter of evolving with it. I think if you rely on the past and where you've come from — say it's an academic background, but that industry is evolving into a non-academic field — then you're putting yourself behind the eight ball for not really any goal or reason other than maybe pride.

— Yimmy Yayo, on keeping up with changing technology.

James: Mine’s a little bit more existential. In a weird way it’s more “am I doing the right kind of work I want to be doing? When’s the next paycheck going to come in? Like, all these things. It’s just general lifestyle.

Charis: It’s funny because yours is like really big picture.

James: Right. And it’s all part and parcel. So when we say, not to speak for you but, when the anxiety is universal, it’s because it’s from top to bottom. It’s working with clients, working with peers, getting the money and it’s being able to pay. Is the work good enough, is it what I want to be doing?

Charis: Well if I can pick one specific thing about MAEKAN, which we both talk about: how do I tell the story right? And am I doing the subject or the nature of this story justice? Is my perspective fair? I do have a lot of anxiety of does the reader get what I am trying to say and what are they gonna leave this piece or this audio story with? I think that is a good anxiety I have. I think it makes the work better.

James: Also the desire as well.

Charis: Yeah. If you downgrade anxiety, it can just be a desire until it keeps you up at night.

Eugene: If you guys take a look at the current path we’re taking as culture in terms of what we’re able to create with, do you guys see a linear path or do you guys see a fork in the road at some point?

James: Create in what sense?

Eugene: For example, and this is obviously up to you to determine, but if you feel that currently we’re at a decent place creatively but it’s gonna get worse because everything is so algorithmically driven by numbers, or do you think we’re going to push against that?

Charis: Earlier, I wanted to say that the positive note of having difficulty shouting about the good thing is that there are so many more good things out there and back in time, there were fewer people making really great things and so it is easier for those things to be amplified. But nowadays, there is something for everyone and also more local things, right.

So I think that’s great and we might complain about how we get across our individual message, but at the same time, it’s great that there are so many people getting to talk about their things. I guess I’m generally optimistic.

James: And I’m not, so much.

Charis: So, perfect.

Eugene: Why are you not optimistic?

James: It’s not anything to do with the creative industries. It’s just me personally. Just who I am. I’m not too sure. I don’t think there’s anything really bad. I think the creative industry is really open at the moment, kind of like the Wild West and I don’t think that there really is.

It’s just what you want to do. It’s how you want to approach it.

Charis: Do you think you there’s not enough standards?

James: It depends. I think if you hold yourself to your own standards, what we should worry about, I think you will be lost if you try to answer.

Eugene: Do you generally agree with whatever’s popular currently? (

James: No.) And why do you think that is? Because you’re older or more mature or you’ve seen more?

Charis: Can you describe what’s popular currently?

Eugene: Let’s just say hypothetically, this is like a movement that’s going on that’s massive, like a style of music –.

James: Like a trend or popular culture.

Charis: I know, but like, don’t we want to be popular too? I feel like your question is “should we just hate on what’s popular then?”

Eugene: Well, no. I think that there’s a time and place where you can see a movement develop and you can decided if you genuinely believe in it.

James: I think that if the message and the culture has a genuine purpose and comes from place of — like the shifts in activism around like social injustice — stuff like that. That’s amazing. You could call it a trend because it’s really visible right now and I think that’s great. And it has a purpose, it has a reason to be here and I think it has like an ultimate goal. But if you look at certain things like this rapper who has been to jail for like hitting women is the most famous person of all, you’re like, “I can’t get behind this.” There’s nothing here for for me. So it’s give and take.

Charis: I guess I’m resistant to lumping everything popular together.

James: Yeah, popular culture is hard. Because maybe I’m a little older, I lean on older things. So I could be “saltier” at a younger audience. But you just have to piecemeal it a little bit. There are things that you could — maybe not be at peace with — but it’s just about choosing, I suppose. Knowing which battles to sort of fight. Which ones to just to step aside and be like, “I’m good.”

Charis: It takes a lot of legwork to look at what’s popular and decipher why that thing is popular and if you’re on board with it, which is what you’re saying is the key thing.

I think if you can give the same set of tools to one hundred people, they’re all going to use them differently. Photography is a really great example. It’s very easily accessible, but to really stand out, it takes a certain talent and a really specific eye, a purpose and a narrative and all this.

— Yimmy Yayo, on differentiating when creative tools are available to everyone.

James: Yeah. If there’s a reason that it’s popular. If it’s popular for popular culture’s sake.

Charis: And not just be like, “oh, this girl has 10 million views and it’s rubbish” because of that.

James: But I think there’s also something to be said for being having active criticism with popular culture and having conversation with it. As you ingest these things, there’s so much information coming in on social media and videos. So it’s up to you to be saying “do I really like this?”.

Eugene: Is your general sentiment that there’s not enough critical thought and analysis? If you look back at yourself 10 years ago, do you think you had that same critical thought analysis?

James: I think there’s so much like to ingest these days, so much that’s thrown at you. Like social media, popular culture. It’s just nonstop.

Eugene: But I think there’s two fundamentals there. It’s the fact that it’s just tiring to need to filter it, or do we not have the tools to actually filter it?

James: It’s actually something we’ve said earlier: the ability to receive critique has been lost. (

Charis: Oh, yeah.) People struggle with having someone say “I don’t really like your work,” but also to the ability to be able to articulate why you don’t like somebody’s work is just as important. So it’s a two-way battle. I think the art of critique is being lost because people think you’re just hating and just being negative. It’s like, “no. I actually have a point of view.” But it’s also up to you to be able to articulate that in a clear manner so that they understand.

Charis: But I think in a way, the pessimistic part of me is towards the technology and the tools that we’ve adopted. I think they push us towards simplification. They dilute our messages so that even though in the past, we might have been capable of communicating ourselves properly and in long form, we’ve been weaned off of that. We’ve been trained to — (

James: a hundred and forty characters). Yeah, exactly, to simplify our messages. And so without us noticing, that has eroded our ability to be critically analytical about things.

Eugene: My question regarding that is like you said, Do you feel like you guys being up on stage here and with the crowd today, is there a sense of elitism in regards to we have more knowledge, more whatever in terms of critiquing stuff? Or should we be like, “hey, let’s understand what’s before us and the challenge. And let’s filter it down.”

James: I would say that there probably is grounds to have that. But having watched the speakers and people like John Jay and Dave Choe and the ladies before, it doesn’t seem like that. It seems very open and very accepting. I don’t think that there’s an elitism there.

John Jay is probably the best example. It’s like, if there should be anywhere where elitism could exist in this conference, he’s the guy. He’s done it all. I’ll talk to him a college, but he’s talked to everyone. I’ve heard nothing but great stories. He comes up here, he’s eloquent he’s welcoming and it’s really refreshing and it’s nice. I think it’s a theme that I’ve met through everyone at this conference so far.

Charis: I think our structure of this conference is already non-traditional in terms of having three people on stage with a moderator and two people talking to each other. And that’s already better than having a series of people talk to a crowd, one to everyone.

James: But even David’s, everyone was involved.

Charis: It was participatory. I was about to say in an ideal situation — I know, it would take tons of organization — but if we could just work it out so that people were in different small groups and talking to each other and then maybe there were different experts, I feel like that would be also be just as exciting slash more exciting than having us on stage. I don’t think of this as elitist.

James: Well, conversation is part of the creative process too. Being able to talk to somebody and have feedback is very different from us being up here talking and there being no real response and having to have a moderator.

That’s the break and that’s the halfway ground, but then the real interest and the real feedback comes when you’re actually having a creative conversation with somebody. Whether it’s one on one or it’s a group, that two-way communication is really important.

Eugene: For you guys, what do you deem to be success on a personal level and or on a larger cultural level? Maybe starting with you, because you have baked-in audience that you potentially can steer in a certain way. How do you look at that?

James: For me, I feel like I could at some point have said in the last five years that I hit the top. I was doing was working as a great artists and I was getting paid a certain amount, and I was living in L.A and it was all great. But I wasn’t really happy.

Eugene: Why weren’t you happy?

James: It was not the way I wanted to work in terms of process. I was exhausted. I wasn’t having the interactions and the feedback to the craft and the creativity, which was ultimately suffering because I wasn’t getting back to it. And so when that happened, I left the agency I was at when I first came here and I made a point to say like, “I have to be happy.” And for me to do my work properly, I have to be at a good place.

Charis: And you would equate happiness with success.

James: For sure. I mean, you have to live and you have be able to pay rent, eat and everything. That is also part of success. But for me, it’s not monetary so much. It’s more about — (

Charis: your own personal feeling.) Yeah, exactly. How you feel when you’re doing the work.

Eugene: How about you, Charis?

Charis: It’s funny, because you know that that’s your favorite question. Again, to refer to John Jay this morning: I think it is to have an open mind. I do think that I have a fear of my thoughts narrowing that I rely on the things I think I’ve learned and am unwilling to reconsider to re-open questions I’ve answered previously. So I don’t know how I have perspective on myself being this way or not in two, five, ten, twenty years, but if I can continue to maintain that ability of breaking down what I think I know to re-ask myself, then I would be happy.

James: It’s like examination and the process. It’s not getting to a point of being like, “I know it all.”

Charis: No, I think it’s just a maintenance of a state of mind. I can say that it sounds very lofty. I too would like to keep paying rent and bills but ultimately, I think that would that is how I would measure success for myself.

Eugene: I’m supposed to start the Q & A but I just have one question I want to ask you guys. Sort of started to and able to have just have one question I want to ask you guys. We’ve talked about how everything has been super democratic as of late with access to tools. For you guys, personally, how do you stand out amongst commodification? As graphic designers, whether I can go on Fiver or I can go on whatever and hire a graphic designer or photographer, how do you guys push back against that and have your own independent position within the creative landscape?

James: It’s a clear point of view. When I work with clients or musicians or artists, whoever it may be, the way I approach things is really personal. It’s very much about communication. It’s very much about a collaboration and experience really helps. Being able to articulate the creative process and certain practices rather than just being like, “oh, here’s a photographer. They’re gonna shoot it. It’s gonna be great.” We’ve actually chosen this photographer for these reasons. This is why we’re gonna shoot this. This is how we’re gonna do it.

And I think that, not to say in a bad way but, what would make you stand out more these days is more thought, consideration, and purpose. I suppose rather than being like, “got this kid. Got a camera. It’s gonna be sick,” and just be like, “that’s cool. There’s not much to go off in the end.” And everyone can really do that, you can say that. So for me, it’s more of a rational thought process.

Charis: Well I’m going to steal something from someone else and answer this question. So I did a profile of Avery Truffelman, a producer at 99% Visible earlier this year and she said to be successful, you really only need two out of three things: you need to pick out of being on time, being great to work with, and delivering good work. And I think I do good work, I’m definitely not on time, so I must also be great to work with. (

Eugene: All you need.) So I guess that’s gotten me this far.

Eugene: I’m going to go through some Q&A questions: The first one is for you, James.

“You have such a wide and deep artistic vocabulary — from stage design no fashion to photography and much more. Is there a certain point of your style that unites your work across all mediums?”

James: I’m not sure. There must be, because when people come to me and say “we love you work,” I’m like, “cool. Which part? I don’t really get it.” But it’s great and I think that it’s more maybe tone of voice. It’s maybe more of that.

Charis: Do you think someone can look at whatever you do and say “James did that”?

James: I want to say yes. There’s the creative and the artist and I want to say ‘yes,’ but I think there’s a part of me where a lot of the work I’ve done is to serve the client’s purpose. And so a lot of it will be answering a need from them, which might not represent myself. I think that’s part of the process and the idea as a creative to get to a point where everything has your little touch on it, but it’s something I’m still working towards or at least I think so.

Eugene: And for you, Chairs: “What do you see as the role of creative culture to the world’s progress and innovation, and how do you see your role as a contributor to creative culture?”

Charis: I think I play a small role. I don’t know. I think I’m flattered to have any role at all in it, but to answer the first half of that question: you can’t be innovative without being creative. I feel like those two words are intrinsically linked in order to innovate. You have to be creative and whether that innovation is in tech or medicine or photography or whatever, it is to make something new.

It means you had to come up with something different or something different from what existed. And that is creativity at its core. Or putting together things in a different way, which is what this whole conference is about having the same materials as someone and thinking “actually, you can combine A to Z instead of A to B.”.

Eugene: The last question for you: “You are notoriously private online. What compelled you to speak?”

James: You asked so nicely. That was really it. I looked at the lineup and –.

Eugene: Trying to steal someone’s brand equity, eh?

James: Yeah. (laughs) There was there was there was some people on the bill today which I grew up in design college looking up to and I was just like, “I’m not really going to get a chance to sort of be around this position,” but I am slowly dying inside. (Eugene and Charis laugh)

Eugene: Well, that wraps up our talk with Charis and James. Give them a round of applause! (Applause)

I think I play a small role. I don’t know. I think I’m flattered to have any role at all in it, but to answer the first half of that question: you can’t be innovative without being creative. I feel like those two words are intrinsically linked in order to innovate. You have to be creative and whether that innovation is in tech or medicine or photography or whatever, it is to make something new.

— Charis, on her role in driving creative culture.

  1. Opening Remarks
  2. “Future of Creativity
  3. “The Role of Science in the Realm of Creativity
  4. “Unscripted
  5. “Building Communities and Constantly Reinventing the Tried and True”
  6. “Today & Tomorrow: The Evolution of a Digital Creator
  7. “Creating Culture, Communities, and Movements
  8. “Pushing for Truth in Storytelling and Narratives that Inspire Action”
Play Pause
Context—
Loading...