Jamil Bonnick isn't just an experienced Product Designer, with a keen eye for design but he's also a storyteller. While we discussed his background and career journey, and his new job at Etsy, our conversation was so much more! Our chat spanned a number of interesting and surprising topics from design all the way to eastern philosophy and to effective business strategy. He truly is a renaissance man and his vast knowledge shines through during this conversation.
Jamil Bonnick isn't just an experienced Product Designer, with a keen eye for design but he's also a storyteller. While we discussed his background and career journey, and his new job at Etsy, our conversation was so much more! Our chat spanned a number of interesting and surprising topics from design all the way to eastern philosophy and to effective business strategy. He truly is a renaissance man and his vast knowledge shines through during this conversation.
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Maurice: Alright. So tell us who you are and what you do.
Jamil: Well, my name's Jamil Bonic and I am a product designer at Etsy. I really consider myself a generalist. So that means visual design. That's really where I kind of got my start. Obviously product design and I've been doing front end web development for a while too.
Maurice: Now you're pretty new at Etsy, is that right?
Jamil: Yes, that's correct. I started on May 13th, so that would make it almost at the two month mark.
Maurice: Wow. Okay.
Maurice: How's it been so far?
Jamil: Man it's kinda this idea that I kind of always challenge in my like freelance and more so entrepreneurial days of how much a company can care about their employees. But really Etsy has really challenged those original assumptions of like... they just really come through and this kinda like red thread that I've been hearing from all the employees that like they really do care.
Jamil: So the experiences has been great. The perks are really good, people are chill. It doesn't seem like anybody brings like drama or egos. And also the work is challenging. I don't know if you, some people would consider Etsy like a world-class design team, which is really kind of where I was like before in this stage in my career and literally like everybody I talked to that's design is always dropping knowledge. So I really see the opportunity to learn for people, which is to me, you can't really replace that. So overall thus far, two months in kind of getting my feet wet. I love it. It's really definitely a great work environment.
Maurice: Is the culture what drew you to Etsy?
Jamil: Partially so as we mentioned, we both know Cat, she's been on the show a few times. She was one of the people who I saw really advocating online, and I know she was really instrumental in like some of her projects with the people of color project talking about work environments that are safe for black people, maybe safe's not the right word, but chill for black people.
Jamil: She's been an advocate. So I knew from that and just kind of really hearing other things that it was just a really great culture. People like working with each other. There wasn't tons of egos, and I know that's kinda one of the things that they particularly hire for. At the beginning, even when I started reaching out for my interviewing stage, the people I talked to were super chill. They kind of helped me through the process. It didn't really seem like it was this battle. I really felt like they were on the same team, and I guess that was really a major part in me actually moving forward with them. Yeah, it has been a wonderful experience. Literally from the first day I talked to somebody when they responded to my application so.
Maurice: Nice. What's a regular day like for you there?
Jamil: So at this point, so I'm on the west coast, but I work on east coast time. So I literally get there every morning, open the office. I always have a 7:30 AM meeting, which is usually a pretty chill, it's kind of like status update meeting. But then after that I kinda just sit down, drink some coffee, prepare myself for the day. Right now I have about two or three projects that I'm working on. Just kind of set up a checklist, I use... I'm not sure if you're familiar with the Todo App, but it's super dope, beautiful design. But yeah, just kind of plan out and have a checklist what I want to get done today and go over all my meetings. One thing I can say more than any other company I've ever worked with, Etsy is about their meetings. But it's really chill because like everybody's so cool.
Jamil: So it's kind of like this refreshing social interaction that kinda just like kinda gets the day going, and getting to like nerd out and geek out over the details of the project. So and like I said, kind of playing back to the no ego thing. The interactions really just like uplift your mood. A lot of times I feel more energized leaving the meetings than when I went. So yeah, it's mostly about just kinda like setting that checklist in terms of the actual work mostly is like tweaking. I'm on the email and CRM team so it's like kind of understanding the email design system and really thinking about from proactive perspective like where can I improve it, where can I kind of show my value. And I've been doing a few landing pages, small ones here and there. I'm still getting my feet wet and they're still kind of giving me introductory projects.
Jamil: But for the most part just kind of thinking through that logic and I'm really trying to get familiarized with the customer, our end user on both sides because it's a multi-sided platform. And just trying to like one of the things, that piece of wisdom that I've kind of learned going into this, it's a lot of this stuff is really about building connections and that's one of the big things about like being SF, really just taking that time to like get to know people. That's one of the major pushes. So I'm always scheduling meetings or sitting down and going to other people's meetings, doing research with them and stuff like that so.
Maurice: I don't think I've ever heard anyone describe a meeting, particularly a work meeting as refreshing. So I think that's a testament to Etsy's culture there.
Maurice: So when you have new projects that you're working on, you're on the email and CRM team. How do you approach a new project? Like walk us through that.
Jamil: So it really comes down to, especially at the early stage in that I am at the company, is understanding the context and trying to wrap my head around the problem. So one of the major things that I've been really trying to focus on is understanding who the key stakeholders are in a given project, whether that's on the brand team, whether that's on, or a UX copywriter, a design systems team, et cetera, et cetera. And bringing them all together and making sure I understand their perspective. Because literally every time I talk to somebody else it's like, "Damn it, that was an invaluable piece of information that if I didn't talk to you." They'll tell them what direction I would've went in. So that's a major part. The companies I worked at before Etsy didn't have such a... I've never worked at a product company like this before.
Jamil: So it's just kind of understanding that paradigm, and understanding where the responsibility lies on me to bringing those stakeholders and kind of champion that role. So basically it's just about bringing those stakeholders in, understanding the full context of the problem. I really been pushing myself to just like... Obviously designers are supposed to do this in general, but like really starting to understand what it means to empathize with the user. So like I kinda... Like yesterday I was just thinking, looking at my designs, pretending on that actual person I'm designing for and like going through it and really trying to put myself in their shoes when they're trying to solve that problem. And making sure that I give as much context or I bring as much empathy and understanding, and design for the solution in their shoes.
Jamil: And of course we have a lot of opportunities to talk to stakeholders who are very familiar with research, who can say like, "Hey, this is right or this isn't right because we this thing about the user or not." And that really, like I said, allows me to kinda be kinda as close to the truth as possible. But yeah, again, that initial research. And then the thing is too, that's really cool about Etsy is we have like really cool design critique sessions. So like I can have the opportunity to challenge any assumptions that I may have.
Jamil: And like I said, because it's a product company, people who've been working there have been really familiar with the same end user and really started to build that relationship to kind of hone that in. And then put together a few design mocks, keep testing it and keep iterating it, and then eventually pushed a lot of collaborate with developers and get it out there, and get the results measure, see how close I was, see how close we are able to get to the desired KPIs and the desire goals.
Maurice: So it sounds like UX is actually a pretty big part of what you're doing and it's not just all like front end or even graphic design stuff.
Jamil: Yes, that's one of the things that I've been most passionate about recently is really diving into like psychology, behavioral psychology, understanding how people tick. Why people do the things they do. And it's been a little bit more of a challenge than I thought it would be initially going in. But it's really just kind of hone in and take those psychology principles and apply it to my design. Apply to my design. I'm sorry. And a lot of ways that manifests is like... Well typically if I'm sitting down and I'm working on a design, sometimes I can feel myself getting like too honed into the aesthetics because like I started off as a visual designer. And I'm like while the aesthetics are very important, I think they're just as important as like optimizing for load time or one of those things. I think there's a definite functionality to a aesthetics that kind of speaks to believability, and things like consistency are important when it comes to how people perceive your product.
Jamil: But at the end of the day too, it's kind of like empathizing why people do what they do. I took this course on a psychological persuasion and digital design. And every element to a certain extent is a part of the experience. It has a psychological impact. So if you can understand these kind of biases and fallacies that humans have, and understand their core motivations for why they do what they do, and apply those principles. That's the only way I think you can really create effective products.
Jamil: And I think that really helps when you're displaying your design rationale to other designers, and I think is really cool to be able to equate that to psychology and psychological research. One of the things that I'm most passionate about is not only learning more and creating more of that bridge, because I'm so kind of like in love with this psychological research. But also using it as an opportunity to teach other people like within the organization based on the stuff I learn, and teach people outside of the organization because I do think that's a major key when it comes to putting stuff together, really building effective designs.
Maurice: So this actually feeds into a question that one of our audience members had sent in, which was what a psychology books or resources would you recommend for let's say designers or for teams that are interested, and kind of working in product design, like what you're doing?
Jamil: One of the main books that's really close to me that has really kind of informed the way I think about design and really provides, does a deep dive in psychology but provides ways to kind of extract knowledge from there to apply to my designs, is Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Basically he talks about this idea of, it's called dual process theory. So essentially what that means is there's part of your mind that thanks fast and is automatic.
Jamil: So if you say, "What's two plus two?" You don't have to really think about it, it's automatically four. But if you say like what 312 divided by Pi, that's something that takes like conscious effort. And this book really explains kind of like what's the benefits of each kind of state of mind and using like design knowledge you can really apply that and really think about when you need somebody to like sit down and really rationalize something or if you want somebody to kind of make a quick automatic decision. It's a dense book. But I definitely recommend that.
Jamil: Another book that I'm super fond of is the Psychology Of Influence And Persuasion. So you can see Amazon using a lot of these principles, but like one of the main topics that they talked about as a way to persuade people is the use of scarcity. So when you see Amazon saying there's only three of these books left, and two people have them in their cart, really kind of just making this appear as this really limited resource. I'm really in the street wear and you can see brands like supreme doing this, even in their actual website, they make it difficult. They actually build in barriers to get to and purchase the product. So initially you might think it's like a non-intuitive design, but the rationale is this idea of keeping scarcity throughout the product.
Jamil: So if it's more difficult, it makes it more difficult to obtain. And then next thing you know, they send out a push notification every Thursday. You have five minutes to actually purchase something before it's completely sold out. So it's this kind of idea of resources not being abundant that make people kind of like going back to Thinking, Fast And Slow, think automatically and just want to do something and not necessarily rationalize it and make a decision more based off of feeling. In the psychology of influence book is this idea if like social proof. So you see it everywhere. Instagram uses it a lot, 400 people like this picture now only if 400 people like this picture here are the three friends that you know, and that you interact with the most that also liked this picture. So you should like this picture too. And you see it a lot in like commerce sites and things like that, but basically kind of like understanding what makes people tick. That people themselves might not even be aware of.
Jamil: I think that's kind of where a lot of the information comes from. There's another book called Predictably Irrational, which really dives deep into how, just like the title says, people a lot of times make decisions based off of feelings. And it's to the point where these psychologists are able to predict people's irrational behavior. So for example, there's this thing called loss aversion, which speaks to people are more likely to... Even if it's like the same value, people would prefer not to gain something versus losing that same thing because it's this idea that if they already have it, it's theirs. So they kind of intuitively give it more value. And there's a ton you can actually go on my site and check out some of the other ones. Even another one, the last one I mentioned specifically The Spirit of Kaizen.
Jamil: Kaizen is this Japanese philosophy, and it's turned into a more westernized business philosophy. But it's this idea of like taking small steps at a time to accomplish something. Essentially what it is is your brain has this paralyzing effect when you try to make too big of a change. There's this other book actually called Immunity To Change that's really good. But it's like Kaizen provides a way to kind of like trick your brain into making change by taking smaller steps. So if you're setting a goal, don't set a huge goal, set a series of increasing very small goals, something that's almost absolutely effortless and do that. And after a point your brain will develop neural pathways that allow you to kinda sidestep this paralysis of big goals. And from a design perspective, a way to interpret that is like sometimes it might not make sense to take users through like a series of big changes on one screen.
Jamil: If you break it down into smaller steps, that's the way to kind of like ease that action, whatever you want to do. And you can kind of go on and on. But I do think these books, and like kind of delving deep into psychology, and understanding how people tick is a absolute key to really making your designs extremely effective. And just pushing the button and having even when it comes to talking to stakeholders, if you can talk about the psychological underpinnings of why you did X, Y or Z, it's just more impactful. And it's a little bit harder to argue against years of research and books that you can refer to our research papers and stuff like that. Plus it's just, it's fun. I think learning psychology helped me as like a social person and it helps me empathize with humans in general because it's... other people in general because it's like people are to a certain extent victims of their own humanity.
Jamil: They exist as this kinda like... One of the things that Thinking, Fast And Slow talked about, they created this analogy of like a person riding an elephant. The system two mind is the mind that thinks is in control, and is the person. But the elephant, the system one mind is this massive being that's really going where it wants to go. But the system two mind thinks it's in control. But system one mind is the subconscious mind which holds all your beliefs and your feelings, and really goes into like the rationale why you do the things you do.
Jamil: One last book, last one, promise. Unconscious Branding is another good book that speaks to like why did we do the things we do? If anybody gets into UX research, one of the first things they tell you is like you can't really trust what people say. You kinda got to interpret the why behind what they say. Or tried to dig a little deeper in understanding why they do what they do. And there's a series of maybe like seven core... And this kind of gets into evolutionary psychology, but like seven core reasons like people, procreation, safety, fear. It's these like core social... being social beings.
Jamil: Humans are naturally social. That's why like one of the books I'm reading now, Matchmakers, which was referred to me by the interim head designer, Etsy, Michael Yap, super cool guy. Talks about this idea of bringing these separate communities together. So in Etsy's case is bringing these sellers together with the buyers and understanding how they intertwine in creating that delicate balance that can lead to an ongoing marketplace.
Jamil: But it's just kind of like even Instagram it's this idea of like social beings and people wanting to naturally socialize with each other because being able to be adequately social in humans early times was how people survived. You couldn't survive if you weren't outside... You couldn't survive if you were outside of the pack and couldn't vibe with the people in your circle. Everybody protected each other. So like I said, it's just like these kind of core ideas that really shape human behavior. And at the end of the day, as a product designer, mostly you're dealing with human behavior and understanding why humans do what they do and understanding true intent so.
Maurice: That is a lot. Wow. I had no idea that Etsy was so thorough with making sure that you all know all this stuff around design, particularly around product and everything. That's amazing.
Jamil: Well, yeah, and a lot of stuff, nothing against Etsy but Michael Yap, I talked to him, we had a really deep conversation one day. And he referred me to a Matchmakers. But really a lot of stuff was from the Georgia Tech course I took called Flashpoint, which is like a startup incubator. I'm not too sure if you're familiar with it.
Maurice: I've heard Flashpoint. Yeah.
Jamil: Yeah. So me and two of the homies from a NuReCo, a company that we could talk about, went and... No, three of the homies and then another friend outside of NuReCo. And basically what they were talking about there was this idea of authentic demand. And basically the whole idea, or majority of the idea coming in was like, "Hey, you have this"... It's a startup incubator. So you have this startup idea and you come in and they incubated and really try to take it to the next level.
Jamil: So the next thing they gave us, they invested $20,000. And basically when they come in they're like, "You live in a complete delusion where your product is actually a thing and what we're here to really tell you is that unless you're experiencing this idea of authentic demand, there's no way your product will succeed." So it's this guy Merrick First who is the, I think he's a founder but I know who runs it. And he really drives this point home of like really understanding behavioral psychology as a point of understanding how people tick, as a point of understanding how you can like create a successful business. And I guess a simple way to put it, authentic demand is like, he forms it in the negative. You had to... You don't want to try to sell things that people want.
Jamil: You want to try to sell things that people cannot not have. So it's like in order for a person to exist and live, and be consistent in the things that they do and say they are. That's Kinda like what authentic demand is, like if you put it in front of that person, it's not like, "Oh yeah, that's kind of cool. Yeah, I'll get back to you later." It's like beating down your door, find out how they come see you. You could probably think for yourself some things that you cannot not have. I probably, I don't know if I could come up with example offhand, but you got a successful podcasts. It's a lot of things that could be a really aligned with your goals and who you are as a person that if somebody came to you, it could almost be like invaluable.
Jamil: So that's probably where I really started to fall in love with behavioral psychology. And then me and my friends, we kind of just got obsessed with like just reading a whole bunch of psychology books and we really implemented it into our day-to-day lives because we were so entrepreneurial. We just saw it as a tool to like push us forward. And it almost feels like it got to a point where like reading books felt like every time I read a new book it felt like I added like a new superpower or a new like weapon to my utility belt.
Jamil: It was just like fundamental and instrumental to my success as a designer. And my ability to like socialize and my ability to connect with other people, and my ability to like kinda like just really have those conversations I guess that have put me forward. Just kinda like having this deeper understanding of humanity. And not saying like I'm a professional psychologist or anything, but it's just enough to kind of like show that you care and are willing to dive deeper. And it's just been one of the most instrumental things to my career.
Maurice: So you mentioned Atlanta. Let's talk about that. Did you grow up here? Or did you move here? Like what's the situation? How'd you end up in Atlanta?
Jamil: For all my people in Atlanta. So I don't get nothing for this. I was born and raised in Stone Mountain. I moved out to... I was born in Latonya. I was born in Crawford Long Hospital.
Jamil: I moved to my first... My mom's first house was in Latonya, then we moved to Stone Mountain, Rock Ridge Road. We went to Rock Ridge Elementary. Then we-
Jamil: Went to Rock Ridge elementary, then we went out to Gwinnett county and lived in Snellville. And that's where I lived out through most of my teenage years. I ended up going to, fortunate enough to go to Woodward Academy. They are horrible at that school. My parents were pissed because tuition was so high, they pulled me out. And then I ended up going to South Gwinnett High School, which was, deep, not deep Snellville, but in Snellville, 78124, for all the people who are familiar with that area. And then after that I left and actually moved to the city of Atlanta. So I lived in Metro Atlanta area, for all the people from Atlanta, it's a very large city and you got to have a car to get around. But I actually lived in the city for the last six years I was there.
Jamil: So, born and raised, I really knew nothing else. Georgia was kind of like my home. It actually took me a while to realize... It took me living in other places to realize how fortunate I was as a black person to grow up in Georgia and in the Atlanta area, specifically the Atlanta area, the rest of Georgia can be a little sketch. But particularly the Atlanta area and having such a strong black middle class around me. I just thought that's how it was. I thought everywhere black people was just doing what they had to do and flourishing. But moving to other places and seeing other communities, I started to understand. Like me and my girlfriend get in arguments all the time. She's from DC, what's like the Black Mecca, Atlanta or DC. But, for me, Atlanta was like instrumental to my success, instrumental to my confidence, and it really showed me many examples of black people just doing the thing. So it was never a situation where I wasn't able to see people who look like me succeeding around me.
Maurice: And speaking of that, you mentioned there were code that being one of the, I guess, one of the businesses that you were involved with. Now, I actually knew about you for a while now through [Neurocode 00:26:08]. I think I reached out to them maybe about 2014, 2015.
Jamil: Oh, wow.
Maurice: Yeah, because we were doing features for the show and I heard about Neurocode and I reached out to, I think it was Isaiah or Giovanni, one of the two. I either reached out to them or I met them at a meet up and asked about it, gave them my card. Is Neurocode still around?
Jamil: Neurocode is still around. I'm no longer officially with the company. I keep up with Isaiah. That's like the big homey for life. He's moved the company in a different direction and I haven't been in the loop in terms of the specifics, but Neurocode is definitely still around in a slightly different form from when I was in it.
Maurice: Got you. I wasn't sure if it was or not, because the startup scene here in Atlanta, as you know, is pretty big and there's a lot of meetups and things like that. So I'll see people now and then, although now I'm not super involved with it because I'm doing more media things right now, so I'm not as involved in the startup or even the design scene here, I think, as I used to be. But you worked in and around Atlanta for a while. I think Neurocode is probably one of the places you were at for a good long while. But what was the next move after you left there?
Jamil: So I actually ended up working with one of the people who I worked at Neurocode with. I'm not sure if you know Kimbo Tom.
Maurice: That name sounds familiar.
Jamil: Yeah. He's one of the big homies. He's one of Ian's big homies, actually. Which is another way I knew him, but it was still the same Neurocode circle. It's actually crazy how I started at Neurocode. So basically I was working doing plumbing with my day and, love my dad to death, amazing person, but he was getting on my damn nerves. He really wanted me to be a plumber and I was like, "I really want to see this technology thing through, I want to be a designer." But parents just don't understand, Will Smith said it his best. He like, "Why you playing around on that computer? You need to come into a real job," or whatever.
Jamil: I had ended up joining this somewhat sketch Hacker Hostel Camp, which was in the... Damn, which street was that? It was downtown Atlanta in the [Old 44 00:04:31] district. And the building that it was in wasn't even completed yet. When you ride up the elevator you could see through the elevator and everything. It was like super sketch. My parents thought I was working at like some crack house. They did not believe anything I was saying. But it was like whatever.
Jamil: But that's actually where I met Naim, one of the other guys from Neurocode. And this was before we joined Neurocode. So we had linked up, went to the Hacker Hostel Camp. It wasn't what we really expected, no surprise. We weren't learning as much as we wanted to. We ended up just playing basketball a lot, and it really wasn't like super focused like we expected.
Jamil: But through that time we did manage to teach ourself html, CSS, and some basic design skills, enough to get us kind of going and able to network. So through that experience, after the Hacker Hostel Camp was kind of dying down and just kind of like fading away, we were able to speak to the owner of the building at the time. This is like a 20, 30 floor building. So it's like kind of crazy. But we were like, "Hey, we can do web design and graphic design services for you if you let us stay here for free. And he was like, "All right." Because we had basically had this really nice html mockup that we were kind of tweaking. We showed it to him, and he was blown away. So it was like that. So he let us get a room.
Jamil: It was me, Naim, and David. And it was literally like, it had to be like 150 by 150 square foot room with a small bunk bed in it and a couch.
Jamil: We literally did that for like six months just saying like, "Yo, we're going to make a way no matter what. We refuse to go back home to our parents. We're going to make this happen." So a lot of that time, I'm not sure if you're familiar with Hypepotamus.
Jamil: At the Biltmore Hotel in a basement.
Maurice: I almost worked for them once upon a time as their Editor in Chief.
Jamil: Wow, that's crazy. So, you remember Jermain Dupree always used to be down there?
Jamil: I think he had an office down there. But that's where we was really going and networking. I know we met Yolanda from Black Girls Code there. She was really instrumental in our growth. But that's where we actually met Isaiah. And he was just like, "Yo, I see y'all little homies hustling. Come let's chop it up. I could put some money in your pockets." Basically an exact quote. It was like, "Yeah, yeah, we're going to do that. Let's do that or whatever." And we're supposed to connect with him and ended not connecting. And then a few weeks later, between the three of us, we were down to our last $20.
Jamil: I don't know if you remember Marty was doing the goal things for awhile for the [inaudible 00:31:19].
Jamil: And we had a whole bunch of those. And I think it was Raised Pizza across the street from the Biltmore. We were there, we always liked this buffalo chicken pizza. So we was like, "Yo, this the last of our money, we going to buy this buffalo chicken pizza and then we just about to figure it out."
Jamil: So we stayed in there paying for the pizza in these coins. And Isaiah just happened to be there. He was like, "Yo, bro, what y'all doing? I thought y'all was going to come chop it up. What happened?" He was like, "Bro, stop playing. I'm going to put some money in y'alls pocket. Come on. Let do this." It's crazy.
Jamil: So he ended up paying for that meal. Literally, was going to be our final meal before we just had to struggle, struggle. And we ended up linking up with him and Justin. And from there it was just like take off. We ended up doing work like HBO, we did work with [Kyue 00:32:12], we did work with Snoop Dogg, TrapFlix. That was a crazy experience. That's where we met your Javane, who ended up being like those are like my brothers. And that's really kind of where everything came.
Jamil: We started this application called Wavy, which was one of my first big UI design jobs and full on branding and stuff like that. And got to a point where we had like 50,000 downloads and people was actively using that. I had close friends that I put on that was actively using it.
Jamil: Essentially, what it was, was we wanted ways for users to be able to keep up with their favorite artists. It was a pretty simple idea. So if Lil Wayne dropped a mix tape, then you get a notification and you can instantly download that mix tape. So we had it on... Because the mix tape scene is free music. So we had it on iOS and Android. And it was a good thing, but the thing is we were hosting those files so the server costs killed us and we ended up shutting down. Exactly.
Jamil: But, all that being said, that moment in my life was literally the genesis of what I consider now to be a successful career. And it really speaks to this idea of having those big homies who, particularly being black, Isaiah's [Rastafarian 00:09:33]. And dude's a genius. He graduated early from Georgia Tech with a mathematician degree. He could develop an app in a night. Dude's like crazy genius. But that was so instrumental.
Jamil: And one of the main things was that he was like, so every time I'm like, "Yo, I feel like I owe you, you did so much for us." He's like, "Yo, it's just about passing it to the next generation." And doing that same thing that he did to us, so I'm forever grateful for those experiences. And I don't know if you know Lucious Smith.
Maurice: Oh, I do know Lucious. Well, I don't know him know him, but we I think are/were in the same black design group on Facebook. But I've heard Lucious. Yeah.
Jamil: Yeah. Lucious is the homie. Isaiah paid Lucious to develop a design curriculum for me. It had syllabuses, or syllabi, and everything. Because to the point before I met Lucious I was really designing for aesthetic. When I thought about even interface design, it wasn't necessarily experienced design. It was just like how do things look? And a lot of times it was like reusing solutions that might not have necessarily been tailored per what the solution does design it for actually may require.
Jamil: So he basically showed me the ropes and he really taught me design. He taught me design history. He taught me proper typography use. Because I thought I was doing something before I met him and he was looking at some of my stuff, he was like, "Yo, bro, this is trash."
Jamil: I was like, "Damn." But to me that was like, "Challenge accepted." Like, "Yo, let's do this or whatever." And we had done a lot of work together and he was so, so instrumental. This is the thing about Atlanta, like having these black mentors was invaluable to my career growth, teach me entrepreneurialism, teaching me how to deal with my money, how to preserve my sanity. One of the things that was my biggest faults coming up as a designer was this idea around not taking on too much work. It was points in times where I was having anxiety attacks because it was like I had 13 clients at once and it was a value of my worth because, particularly at that time, design work seemed so abstract. I was like, "I can do it. It feels pretty easy for me to do it. I feel like I can knock this out in two, three hours." Like charging a whole bunch. Or how do I place a dollar value on that? And I was like, "I'm so young, my rents cheap." All these things like that.
Jamil: So it was a point where I was taking a lot of work for cheap. And Lucious was one of my clients and stuff and it was a tough period because I was letting a lot of people down and while also being broke. So I was stressed because I had so much work, wasn't completing the work on time like I should have been, and was broke and had nothing to show for it, which was like, "What the hell are you doing?" Which was funny.
Jamil: But the thing about my parents, though, we had, during the Neurocode experience, we were featured on Fox News and twice in the tech tech for one of the other local stations, so it was on TV. So that kind of counteracted a little bit of it. But, for the most part, I was really struggling to understand my worth.
Jamil: And I kind of came to the conclusion which brought me to where I am now, that freelance is definitely not the way for me. It works for certain people and it's definitely a way you can really be about it to the point where you can really make your money and make more money than you would working for a company. But I guess I wasn't as interested in the logistics side of it, of chasing down checks and managing proper invoices and applying interest and things like that, and keeping up with having a legal entity that could operate and paying taxes and all that stuff was an issue for me. And I really just felt like it needed to be a point where I was honing in on my design skills more.
Jamil: But a lot of people stuck with me through that and just saw just a little homie, he having his growing pains, and not really holding it against me and keeping it real throughout that. Because, especially when you start talking about money and business, you can go through some rough times if you're not on top of it.
Jamil: But also another person to shout out is Dante. I don't know if you know Dante. He runs a few businesses. He's like a serial entrepreneur. He was a integral part. Joey Womack, I think. You know him, right?
Maurice: Oh, from Goodie Hack, right?
Jamil: From Goodie Hack. Super dope. Console Kings. We didn't work as closely with him, but he was definitely like this family.
Jamil: Yeah, CJ. Even though we didn't like work, but he was just another big homie who you always go to for advice. He had the space at and everything. I know he was doing stuff with the Avatars with Microsoft, which is really cool. So, yeah, just that Atlanta experience was really so much of providing a solid foundation. I don't know if you know Jana Hicks.
Maurice: Jana Hicks. You're mentioning these names and they sound familiar. Some of them I know and some of them I'm like, "I know I've heard that name before somewhere." But Atlanta's kind of small like that in a way too. Especially in the tech scene.
Jamil: [crosstalk 00:39:23] tech scene.
Maurice: But no, you mentioned, though, an Ian. I went to school with Ian. I've known Ian for 20 years probably. Yeah. I've known Ian for a long time.
Jamil: Yeah, man. Ian, he's definitely one of them big homies. One of the coolest dudes I know. Well, well, well networked. He's pretty much been down from the beginning. Him and Isaiah, we met most of these people through Isaiah. But him and Isaiah have been super cool. And I know they go way back, but like I say, and this is something that I started to notice networking and really understanding the power of networking, particularly within the black community, but just really saying like, it's such a powerful thing when you know the same people. But even coming here to this interview and then checking you out on LinkedIn, and saying, "Oh yeah, we got like eight people in common." And I know these people. I could call them now and like, you know, I chop it up with these people and keep up with these people and stuff like that.
Jamil: So, yeah, it's just powerful. And one of the things I noticed even coming out to Cali and seeing what the Silicon Valley SF scene is like. A lot of the, particularly African American as a subset of the larger black community, are from Atlanta.
Maurice: Really? That are out there?
Jamil: A decent amount. Yeah. Melvin is from Atlanta. Another person that I connected to at YouTube was from Atlanta. One of the other homies who used to work at Yik Yak, then MailChimp, and then went out to go to Facebook, is from Atlanta. It's only a handful of people that I know out here, like I'm still kind of getting my feet wet, but it's no longer a surprise when I come out here and see like, oh, you know they came from Atlanta or they came from DC. And it's really just a testament to how much influences, or really just how much DC and Atlanta are like powerhouses for not only the black tech scene but the black community as a whole.
Maurice: Yeah. Yeah. That's really something. I mean, it's amazing. Even when I think about like this show and the folks who I end up meeting who end up being connected to this person, who knows this person, who knows this person. I think part of it is just because I've been able to talk to so many people. But even as you're describing all the Atlanta experiences, I'm just like, I remember back when I had my studio like hustling in that same way. You go to this place, like I'll go to Octane or somebody and meet someone there and then they know somebody who might've been at Atlanta Tech Village, or they might've been over in Tech Square for something. This was before, what's his name, Rodney Sampson had the whole Tech Square Labs and all that stuff. I used to be around there all the time just like at ATDC hanging around there, just trying to see what people are doing, see what work was going on.
Maurice: Man. Yeah. And that energy is still here, too. Although I would say now, I don't know, a friend of mine just spoke here recently. I think there was like a black tech conference here and he was mentioning to some of the people there about how, I guess, other people that were in the same incubator or accelerator, I guess is what it was. They didn't even know other stuff that was going on. So while there is that I think very insular community in Atlanta in terms of that, it still can be pretty separated from other things. I don't know if you experienced how segregated it can be down here sometimes trying to work with other folks just in the tech scene here. But I don't know. I see what you mean about the connections coming from DC and Atlanta, which I think is nothing but a good thing and it's good that it extends out further than those two cities.
Jamil: Yeah, definitely. And that's kind of what it came to me, I had to work on my networking skills to the point like growing up kind of nerdish. I'm not going to say I was like full level nerd, but you know, I was into technology heavy and in the gaming pretty heavy and I really embraced that side and wasn't like crazy extroverted. I took the time and, like I said, really understand psychology for some reason in a really non-intuitive way. I wouldn't even say non-intuitive, but it didn't necessarily, it wasn't something that the aim wasn't to be more social learning psychology. But, yeah, just being able to network and really pushing it to the furthest extent is really what helped me just get out there and somewhat be a social butterfly of the black tech scene.
Jamil: And also, to be honest, a lot of that was having the big homies on the team who could have those connections. And I'm sure I'm completely oblivious to other scenes. It's one of those things, you don't know what you don't know. But, to me, the scene was kind of like open and, I ain't even going to say right for taking over, but I never really experienced having issues getting where I needed to go when it came to Atlanta in terms of meeting people. But, on that same token, I was already extremely overwhelmed with work. So it's kind of like it took a single person, I kind of reached a capacity. I know with the podcast it might be a little different because it's really no capacity, because you can be networking, interview as many people as you want to, but when it comes to freelance work, for me in particular, it was just like, all right, like I said, I was taking on two projects at the same time and wasn't delegating tasks to other designers or anything. I was just working on it. So it kind of got to a point where I was just overwhelmed already.
Jamil: And I guess everybody's experience is different. But different, but within the black community, within the tech community, particularly when it comes to the design community, I never really had any issues in general. And I'm really trying to think back. And, too, a big part that was instrumental in my ability to network was that I always had some type of entrepreneurial venture going on, and as a designer I ended up for some reason falling into more of the person who was actually like connecting with people who could be potential clients.
Jamil: So, for example, we have me and Naim, one of the developers from Neurocode, who actually lived with for a lot of the Neurocode experience. We had this application that we were working on called... Well, it was really like a whole platform. But it was called [Grando 00:46:33]. And the idea was that, and this kind of falls under this idea of solving black people problems, and that was one of the things that we took away from Neurocode. Like what opportunities can we find using our skill sets to solve black people problems? Because as a all black development shop, it was just kind of like a unique position and angle and opportunity.
Jamil: But where Grando, basically what it was... So this is the pitch that we used to do, which was pretty funny. It was like every black person has at least seven cousins that rap. So why is Drake's music play on the radio 12 full times every hour? Where the hell are all these other rappers? How many of them are actually good, and why don't we hear from them? Because it really came down to this thing where we went on SoundCloud one day. Well, I had introduced Naim to the underground rap scene a little bit in general, but we kind of wanted to see how far we can push it. And we ended up finding this rapper from Chicago by the name of Martin Scott. And he had produced some of the dopest music that we heard in a while, and that was significantly better depending on how... And, of course, music is all subjective, but depending on... He had a skill level that would be easy to argue is at the same level of the stuff...
Jamil: ... would be easy to argue is at the same level of the stuff that is on the radio, but they don't necessarily have the marketing prowess, or didn't get that lucky hit to reach that exponential growth.
Jamil: So, we were just thinking, just really dialed in deep into this problem that we solve for these up-and-coming rappers who feel like they're better than people on the radio, but aren't getting their shine time. One of the main things about it was rap isn't getting respect in terms of subcategories. You look at rock music, you got indie rock, you got metal rock, you got classic rock. Its a whole bunch of different ... I'm not really a rock fan so I can't speak on that too much. But there are certain beats. Rap music that had utilitarian purposes. You don't want to be listening to no super deep introspective rap music in the club, but you also may not want to be always exposed to club rap music that's for lack of a better term, ignorant. Not super deep.
Jamil: So, we were thinking just how we could use that be able to attach different artists to different fans. So, one of the things that I really liked about Martin [Style 00:49:22], was that he had these jazzy beats. He was really talking about ideas that were deep. You could almost listen to his music and learn something or form a new perspective or its almost equivalent to reading a good book to a certain extent.
Jamil: It really came from this idea of finding the dopest rappers that exist out in the world and giving them the opportunity to shine, because is this act of the recording industry had in 1996 was basically allowed ... I forget the name of it. But it basically allowed these record labels to have a monopoly over a radio station. So, a record label would be able to buy up a whole bunch of radio stations and control which music was played. So, if they wanted this one thing to be a hit, then they could play it out of all those radio stations, and it basically, we got into the weeds of how music, particularly in the rap industries control by non-black people and what the implications of that are.
Jamil: So, it really came down to rap, we saw doing our research in the beginning, really was this diverse aray of music. So, you had introspective stuff, you had dance music, you had gangsta music, you had all these different discussions and ideas, but then it seemed like these days ... and you know a lot of people throw around this idea that rap is dead. Its like the most popular stuff seems to also be the most ignorant, which is cool and it has its place, and I'm not judging it or anything. I think these young kids should get it if they can, but at the end of the day where is that introspective, deeper stuff? Why is Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole and people like that, these outliers.
Jamil: So, all that to say [Grandle 00:51:25] was essentially a way to where you got these people who talk about rap in their daily lives, it might be through a Instagram portfolio or through a blog and stuff like that, and we wanted to have it where they actually, they have a site that's a submission portal. So, for example we link with one guy who we call curators in New York, My Rappers Really Rap. We created a site for him that made it where he can accept rap music, because he was saying, "People are already sending me rap music and their SoundCloud links and stuff like that and it just feels almost disrespectful, because they just feel like their entitled to my time, like, 'Yo, listen to my music, or whatever.'" On the web, depending on which site you visit, you're bound to see a SoundCloud link here and there. So, we're just thinking how could we use X person in the industry who really cared about rap and R&B would be better stakeholders and industry execs and hardcore capitalists to be the guardians of rap music?
Jamil: So, for him example, we build out these social media marketing assets, so he could market himself as an entrepreneur in this field, and basically says, "Hey, I'm taking rap submissions. Go to my site and send me your SoundCloud link." And it was a basic form or whatever. So, we had three SKUs, we had Listen, we had Listen Plus Review, then we had Listen Plus Review Plus Share, and I think it was $2, $10 and $50 respectively. And we ended making a little over $1000 in a matter of three weeks, because people wanted their music heard.
Jamil: You got to think. Put yourself in the perspective of a user. You're a rapper. You've been doing this for seven years. You know your shit's amazing. You know that you're the truth. You know you have worked, and you know the lyrics that you bring. You know that the rap world needs something different. You know all these things and you just having this issues of getting outside of your following. Back in the day Gucci Mane paid the strip clubs to spin his music and that was a marketing avenue that made it where he's one of the legends in the game and of course he did that with the money he had, but we wanted to create that same type of avenue to people, to these Instagram followers that are known for their music.
Jamil: So, with him, people, we would get emails every day and money in the account saying, "Hey, this person just bought a post." And we would basically get a snippet of their music and create this social media player where we played their music, and then the person posts it on their profile. So that person got the exposure, they got a quality review saying why they did or didn't like the music, "Oh, it sounded great." Obviously they got this X, Y, Z person, this influencer to actually listen to their music. It connects to the whole psychology thing. A lot of the more ... I don't want to say 'intelligent' ... but some of the rappers were like, "Hey, I understand. I'm kind of in my own delusion. I'm probably surrounded by a whole bunch of yes men who are just going to tell me my stuff is dope, because they don't want to tell me the truth. They might honestly think its dope." But they just want to be exposed to a wider perspective. And that the avenue that we wanted to provide.
Jamil: And eventually the long term goal of it was going to be one, we get a more diverse aray of rap music in there, because rap as a medium is powerful. I think hip hop beats have a very hypnotic property and could make people more susceptive to messaging than they would be if somebody would be just reading it off a paper or something. Two black music to me is very synonymous to black male youth and I think it's to a certain extent, our brand, which is why I think it's a little problematic that we don't own most of our stuff and control our own industry, but that's another conversation. And three just black commerce. We want to get a way to one pray people who are really about the industry to make some extra money and empower themselves to do it what they love doing which is listening to music and making a way where they can make some money off of it. Two get those rappers a proper exposer with people who are most likely to listen to their music.
Jamil: So, for me, honestly if there was a way where I could find a pre filtered list, because going through the trenches and trying to find the good music yourself is literally like migraine inducing, but a way to get all these tracks, like, "Oh, okay, this influencer has a focus on lyrical music with jazzy beats. I want to go to his page, because I know he going to be posting all these underground artists from somebody's mama's basement in DC who's making next dope song or somebody in Atlanta or Oakland or whatever who's making that next hit and be able to have that pre-curated, based on the subgenre of rap music that I like. And three just I think it's a way where we can just reframe what rappers aspire to be. Like, "Yo, you don't have to just be on complete ignorant stuff to make it, if that's what you choose to do."
Jamil: In our research, we saw a lot of people, even Jay Z had a notable line about it, but its just they talk about certain things, because they know those certain things sells, even though they have the capacity to go above and beyond. And like I say, it's a touchy subject, because you want to be very cognoscente of the fact that one, you just don't want to start calling people ignorant or say they're dumb. Rap music is a product of its environment and its an environment that exists in a social political realm that where people may not have the access to certain education, or it might be surrounded by gang violence, because resources aren't really allocated for their community. Racism, capitalism, all that good stuff. It's deeper than just the face value of it.
Jamil: And I push myself to say, "I understand to a certain extent why things are." It's not a case of blaming the victim or getting mad at our own people for spreading certain ideas or whatever. But I just see a world where there's many Kendrick Lamars. Kendrick Lamar is such an outlawer. No disrespect to him. Dude is a beast and deserves the respect that he gets, but if we're being honest, chances are there's people who rap at Kendrick Lamar's level out there, of all the rappers there are which just hasn't got the exposure. So, what is a platform or mechanism that's built to expose those people look like?
Jamil: So, that's generally the idea of what Grandal was, and the other guy we're working with on it is basically focused on it solely by himself right now, but its just one of those examples of, its a entrepreneurial thing that I'm working on. So, when I'm out and about, I got something to talk to people about, and that became this go-to icebreaker for me of like, "Yo, I got a mission when I'm here." So, I'm going to talk to everybody I can, because you don't know who's a rapper, who knows a rapper. We ended up meeting with Isaac Hayes Jr and he ended up being a [inaudible 00:59:24] advisor and helping us understand the mechanics of the music industry and getting a little deeper into that, but you just never know who you meet. Who can be instrumental.
Jamil: The reason I'm really in California right now, is because when I was in DC, I met one of the homies who I'm actually working on a clothing line with whos old professor was able to get him a job at Google. So, he referred me and then I went through six months of interviewing and then six onsite interviews. They ended up telling me no, but it really helped me calibrate my skill level and to be like, "Okay, I have an opportunity to really do something. Let me not sit here and be victimized by this lack of self worth. Let me push this as far as it can go, if I'm going to be on this idea, this realm of looking for a job, working for a large tech company."
Maurice: So, with all of that, I guess I'm curious to know, what are you most excited about at the moment? I know you're still very new at Etsy, but you have anything coming up in the summer that you're interested about? Anything like that?
Jamil: Today actually is my birthday.
Maurice: Oh, well, happy birthday.
Jamil: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Etsy has given me this idea that I can control my career and my brand and I'm really at this point honing in on what I want to do as a designer, who I want to be. I want to hold true to my promise of passing on the torch to the next generation, and I think its important for me to be an inspiration. And I think to a certain extent I have a duty to show people that are like me, black, young, girls and boys that like, "Hey, design is an opportunity that you can take."
Jamil: Me with my untraditional background in terms of not getting a college degree and not necessarily being extremely great during my academic career. Showing that like, "Hey, if you got enough passion, you can really learn and pursue this career in design. There's an infinite amount of resources online. Just get out there and network and do as you have to do and don't feel bad about obsessing with it. Meet like minded people who have similar goals to you and push forward and spend that time doing what you got to do to develop those skills."
Jamil: But from the perspective of, "I'm 28, new era of my life. Just got this new gig, just moved out to Oakland. Just thinking about really being intentional with my career. Design it, coming up with goals, figuring out how I can give back to the community that's given so much to me."
Jamil: One of the projects that I'm really interested in is working on mindfulness in the black community and playing with the idea of what that looks like. I think there's a stigma around mental health in the black community where they basically are like, "Yo, that's some white people shit." Black people, particularly African Americans could use healing more so than any group that I can speak to. Obviously I'm a little biased because I'm African American, but just thinking about, "How can I rebrand meditation and mindfulness to remove this negative stigma away from it?"
Jamil: I don't know if you're familiar with how much [inaudible 01:03:07] and the guys been using his platform to spread mindfulness or whatever. I don't know. I just think there's opportunity there. I've been playing with this idea of using hip hop beats as a way to make it more palatable and digestible. Particularly for black use and provide this digital experience that can recreate a meditative experience without making it feel so middle aged yoga mom-ish. But its really just hone in on that. That's what I'm interested in. I'm getting deeper into the research phase of it and just experiment and seeing what works or not, but I think that could be really instrumental in terms of healing. I had this vision of ... I don't know if you heard that J. Cole track where he's talking about "Meditate, meditate." And it really just got me inspired. What would a world look like where Young Thug is reading a meditation track or walking you through it?
Jamil: Have you used Headspace?
Maurice: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jamil: Yeah, what would it be like if Young Thug was on a track for Headspace type of thing, walking you through a meditation. To what extent can these figures that are already popular and all cooler than cool sidestep this negative stigma around mental health and how can we push that forward? And is that what we need? This idea of a hierarchy of needs and people can't really focus actualization and becoming their best selves if they can't feed their family and eat. So, its certain things you got to take into consideration but also, meditation has proven to be something that improves levels of empathy and increases empathy. So, being able to empathize with your neighbor and function together I think, is a big part of it too, and just building a community.
Jamil: I'm still trying to figure it all out, and really figure out how to apply intentionality, because learning from my past mistakes, it's like, "Yo, time is finite. To a certain extent, plan B is a distraction from Plan A." So, what do I want to do with my time here on earth and what could be the most impactful utilizing the skillset that I have? So, just understanding that, and like I said, I'm very passionate about giving back to particularly the black community and doing what I can to push us forward. I'm the only black person at the Etsy's San Francisco's office and I think that's a problem. I know Etsy's one of the ... I'm not going to say 'best' like I've done the research to that extent ... I know Etsy's pretty good with being diverse and I know that talking to the black community within Etsy, you know they're happy with their progress, but obviously it's like, "How do we do better? How do we get more? How to be more inclusive?" It's about saying, "Never stop." From my time here I want to do as much as I can to help that cause.
Jamil: But like I said, in terms of being outside this, I just want to figure out the best way I can utilize my skills to give back and to just re-change this idea of what a designer looks like. I'm pretty intentional when it comes to not conforming in terms of dressing. I wear what I want to wear. Of course most product companies and tech companies are pretty loose in terms of attire and stuff like that. But I try to first extend not to coat switch, and just be my authentic self.
Jamil: I actually met this one guy in Atlanta who ended up working pretty high up in Coca Cola, but he was just like, "One of the best things I could ever tell you is just be yourself. Don't try to be somebody that you're not and that's how you going to get the most respect in this game." And just trying to figure it out. To be honest, for me, my life is the more you know the more you don't know. So, life in itself Is just a wild, confusing experience. There's only so much that you can know.
Jamil: So, I have a lot more questions than I do answers, but its really just about doing what I can to ... I think Muhammad Ali said it. But I think it might have been a misquote to a black woman who originally said it, but it's just like, "Your time here is really about doing what you can for other people." I think that's one of the key ways to achieve just this idea of happiness. I don't think chasing money, even though I do think there's an advantage to having money and moving forward from that perspective, but I don't think chasing money is going to make you happy. I think its about building those connections and understanding that giving back to a certain extent is like giving to yourself the gift of giving. So, yeah. Hopefully that answered your question.
Maurice: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, I guess this is a good place to wrap things up here. So, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?
Jamil: Yeah, definitely. So, my Instagram which I'm most active on is jamil.design. That's also URL to my website, or you can go to jamilbonnick.com, both work. And you can check out my Dribbble, see some of my visual design stuff at dribbble.com/Jamilbonnick. J-A-M-I-L, B as in boy O-N-N-I-C-K. One of the homies that I was talking about who actually got me out this way, he's an experienced researcher at YouTube. We are both working on a clothing line. Its call A Cruel World. And it's a real look at stuff that's going on in all the messed up stuff, but with a slightly satirical lens. I think the closest example I could say would probably be like Daily Show, where he talks about real stuff but he makes it a little bit more digestible by adding this layer of comedy to it.
Jamil: But that's a street wear clothing line that we're in the process of getting out, and you can check that out a acruelworld.co. But yeah, that's for the most part all the best ways to reach out and get in contact.
Maurice: All right, well. Jamil Bonnick, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I think aside from just all the connections that it seems like we definitely have from you being here in Atlanta, I also really get a sense that having strong community ties is something that is super important to you. Its not only important I think in terms of your career, but also in the work that you want to do and put out there in the world. You want to make sure that you're being impactful in the community. And we need more designers that are doing that. So, I'm glad to really be able to talk with you and to share that with our audience. So, thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Jamil: Yeah, man. Thank you for having me, man. I'm definitely excited and happy to be here and I'm proud of the work you've been doing and proud of your ability and your effort to create a strong black network within the design and development community. I think its very strong work and super happy to be a part of it.