Jon [00:01:21] I'm really excited to welcome my guest, Rich Tu the V.P. of Digital Design at MTV. He is on the board of directors at AIGA. He's worked with Nike and Coca-Cola. Is represented by the creative studio here in New York Sunday afternoon. And he is also the creator and host of First Generation Burden the podcast. Rich, thank you so much for taking the time tonight.

Rich [00:01:41] Thanks, Jon. I appreciate you coming through to the humble Viacom abode.

Jon [00:01:45] There's a lot of energy here. There's a lot of energy in this office. It's really cool to see people kind of, you know, everyone's starting to leave, but there's a lot of cool people here.

Rich [00:01:54] Yes. Yes. All the cool people are sticking around doing podcasting, i.e. you and me.

Jon [00:02:00] So I want to get right into it, rich, because we have something in common that I don't really find a lot working in the cities that you grew up in New Jersey. I did. You know, Jersey Boys, I mean, for the most part, people would say that I am a Jersey boy. I grew. And you grew up. I was born in Brooklyn. Got it. But, you know, moved at a young age to Jersey. A young age. Ocean County. Age of five.

Rich [00:02:21] Oh, yeah.

Jon [00:02:22] So, you know, grew up in Jersey, went to school there for the most part. But what was Jersey like for you? How did it treat you?

Rich [00:02:28] Well, first of all, shout out to Jersey. I love Jersey. I grew up in South Orange. I was born in St. Barnabas. And I've all I've really known until. Yeah, until after graduate school or like right before grabs graduate school was New Jersey. And I loved it. I grew up in a quaint little suburb. I had a very diverse and and enriching experience as a kid or I grew up. It's weird. I like I feel like I've been talking all day, but now all of a sudden, I've forgotten how to talk. I grew up having like a lot of great times. I read a lot of comic books. I spent a lot of time at Blockbuster Video at South Orange Avenue. Looking a lot of VHS key art. And, yes, spending my time really doing that stuff, being kind of a nerd. And, you know, just kind of dabbled in all the various communities and neighborhoods and what Jersey is, if not anything, it's very diverse. So you and I know you can attest to that. You get to see a lot of different types of people from all walks of life. You could be from, you know, place A or place B, but you'll see like, you know, places X, Y, Z or people from X, Y, Z, no matter where you are.

Jon [00:03:44] You were, you know, on top of being, as you describe a nerd, you you're also a B boy.

Rich [00:03:49] I was. Oh, God, yes.

Jon [00:03:51] How did you get into that? How did you just decide that you were gonna dance?

Rich [00:03:55] A little bit a little bit of background. Me. I was a little bit overweight growing up. Right. And then when I was a sophomore in high school, shoutout to Seton Hall Prep in West Orange Jersey, I decided that I wanted to change my life. And this is over the course of a summer. I started this summer at about 190, 5'6" 5'7". 5'6" and 3 quarters on a good day. Exactly. Depends on what sneakers I'm wearing. And I lost 40 pounds over the course of a summer, so I started junior year with a new body, essentially feeling very different, looking very different. And, you know, I kind of is very unhealthy at the time. Looking back now. But I ran three and half miles every night and then I every night. And then I basically existed on jello and crackers here. That's the unhealthy part. Right. So I basically had a eating disorder and then my friends were like, hey, Rich, we're gonna start this breakdancing thing. They'd seen some videos they had specifically seen breaking the movie, classic with Turbo and Ozone.

Rich [00:05:09] They'd also gotten their hands on a B boy classic underground video called B Boy Summit 97. And that was you know easy rock in AsiaOne. Rock City crew at the time really holding it down. And also, you get to see like a wide swath of different B boy styles, kind of one of those tapes just got around. Right.

Rich [00:05:32] And then they also had like a really amazing battle battle with a style elements versus Ken Swift and and Rock Steady crew. So game changer. And then we just we identified a linoleum floor in my friend's basement in Maplewood, shoutout Chris and also Mike Fiesta that we just hit it there every night. And we spent a summer thus learning how to dance. And it was just one of the some of the best times of my life because obviously the bonding and friendship that's formed through that. But also the the level of competitiveness that you learn at a young age where you're putting yourself on the line a bit different from organized sports. And I think organized sports obviously have their own level of competitiveness, their own benefits. But this was like you have to show out with style. You're with your with your crew. So you're coming in as a group. It's kind of like that Z boys mentality. Right. And you have a very contained moment of self-expression. And also you have to find your moment. You can perform within your contained moment. This teaches you a lot of those parameters. And also, I was always a fan of hip hop music. I was, you know, going back to when I was a kid kid. So all that convergence has made a lot of sense for me.

Jon [00:06:53] I mean, to your point of it being a little bit, it's more competitive in the sense of sports is always because that moment of self-expression, as you mentioned, like it's a level of vulnerability that you're displaying, to people that you don't know. Competing. And I think it sounds like obviously it is a huge influence on you from that point on.

Rich [00:07:12] Absolutely. Actually, going back to that, the level of competitiveness early, I remember specifically at Zulu anniversary, this is 1999. All right. There's also the first battle that I had battled in those organized. That also was in public display also was D.J. by Afrika Bambaataa, which is amazing, right? So I won the first round. But right before I was puking in the bathroom, it was really I was nauseous. Yeah. Just butterflies in my stomach. And I'm a kid, you know, I'm 18 or 17, 18, whatever. Yeah, it was it was wild. It was you. I was in the Bronx.

Jon [00:07:54] I think you've had a continued sort of relationship with a favorite noodle spot of mine on Ani Ramen.

Rich [00:07:59] Oh, yeah.

Jon [00:08:00] I live in Jersey City, so I've seen the walls out of to Newark Avenue. Yeah. You've also worked on a recent one in the new Maplewood location.

Rich [00:08:11] Shoutout to that crew. Luck is real, Cat, Julian holding it down.

Jon [00:08:14] And then also, you went to undergrad at Rutgers.

Rich [00:08:17] I did.

Jon [00:08:18] Big, RU

Rich [00:08:19] Yeah, I went to Rutgers undergrad. Like you said, just gonna repeat everything you say. It was Rutgers college. And that was an interesting experience. It was, you know, big college, obviously, right. By like 30000 kids. I think of kids right there. Yeah, exactly. I remember riding that double AA bus. And also, were you grease trucks error post grease trucks?

Jon [00:08:43] I was. I was grease trucks.

Rich [00:08:45] Gotcha. Dude that fat moon. Favorite?

Jon [00:08:48] I had I had a few different spots. Fat cat.

Rich [00:08:51] Oh, yeah, the fat. Oh, you love the fat cat. Gotcha.

Jon [00:08:55] You went to underground. Did a program in psychology, communications, psychology.

Rich [00:09:00] Yeah, I majored in communication and I minored in psychology. It was wild, actually, cause 9/11 happened at the time. And I remember my psychology class in junior year getting canceled because of. 9/11, it was wild times. But that's an aside. I wanted to actually double major in communication and psychology, but then I had a first period class that was brain anatomy. I forgot the name of it was like we had to show up at 8:00 a.m. and, you know, really be on point of that intellectual level as well as, you know, really understanding the brain anatomy and the lot of memorization. I just couldn't handle it. Failed that class. I was like, fine, I'll just. Major, major and minor, like everyone else.

Jon [00:09:45] Throws you off the path immediately.

Rich [00:09:47] Yes. Barrier. Done.

Rich [00:09:49] That's a very hard time of the morning to function.

Jon [00:09:54] So this kind of brings you into in terms of time, you know, 2004 and then inbetween that you ended up working for or doing a piece for Swindle magazine. You know, Big Shepard Fairey piece. Right.

Rich [00:10:08] You have all the hits Jon. Holy shit.

Jon [00:10:11] That's his magazine. Yeah. Magazine he published. Yes. It was big because you had a piece in a Banksy covered magazine.

Rich [00:10:19] Yes!

Jon [00:10:19] How, how do you go from psychology and communication to getting a spread in a magazine doing design and illustration.

Rich [00:10:28] [00:10:28]All fluke! [0.2s] Let me let me tell you, it was [00:10:30]such a convergence of good luck [1.5s] when [00:10:32]I graduated from Rutgers and obviously graduating at a non art with a non art degree. Right. And I felt I cheated myself. [7.4s] My I have a brother in law. His name's Jayson Atienza and he's an in town now currently lives in Shanghai. Also a young gun with the Art Directors Club. He was a creative director, BBDO for years. And I don't know if you remember this from a viral guerilla campaign for The Soprano's for one of the seasons. They did a guerilla campaign where there were fake arms in the back of taxicabs. Just to kind of say like like there there could be a body back there. It was like a viral sopranos thing. And that was one of his, Jayson's and also his writing partner, Frank [00:11:16]Anselmo. [0.0s] So Jayson and I've known Jayson for since 1999, 2000, because his brother Jeff and my sister Celeste are married. And then there's a connection. There's a connection. So there's, you know, three nieces and nephews between us and also shoutout to Zander, Jayson's son with his beautiful wife, Annie. He at the time and now, you know, kind of being young and impressionable and also why. And also seeing in Jayson that he had taken a path that I wanted for myself on an emotional level. He he kind of told me, hey, you should go to SVA and take some continuing education classes, or at least he helped put that idea in my head, right? Mm hmm. And then I took some classes in advertising, which is more of an ideation class. It's pure white paper illustration and also design. And it was over the course those like three days a week. So after I graduated to interned over a summer, then went right back into school. So I never quite stopped going to school. And then during the day, I was either a substitute teacher or I worked at the mall Willowbrook Mall, in New Jersey. So it's that, right.

Rich [00:12:31] And I did that for three years ago. And I was I knew I wanted to be an illustrator because I knew I had that capacity within myself. And I also had that skill set. And then I would go to Barnes Noble or Borders bookstore at the time when they still [00:12:44]existed. And I would go and all the magazines and see who the art directors were in the magazines that I liked. So swindles one of them. Obviously, The New York Times at the time when Steven Heller was still at The New York Times, a great harbinger of new talent. [14.8s] Right. I reached out to him. I reached out to people of the believer because I love the believer. Right. And everyone in between. And to me, a couple and also was hitting of The New Yorker hitting up business.

Jon [00:13:09] You were you were calling them?

Rich [00:13:10] I was emailing them or dropping off physical portfolios. I remember very vividly going to the New Yorker office and getting that kind of semi rejection letter. Right. But then I want to stay on the swindle track. But I remember one time after my third or fourth portfolio drop off with New Yorker, there was a handwritten note in the rejection letter it was like, come back again. And it was the first time that there was a signal of human contact on the other end. I was like, so enriching, right. But going back to Swindle. So Swindle was a project by Shepard Fairey, obviously, and had beautiful covers, beautiful design. And also is that early mid aughts aesthetic kind of west coast. But in that beautiful losers era. And then Roger Gastman also, he was I believe he was more like the editor in chief of it. I'm unsure of what the relationship was there, but he was involved in the nitty gritty of putting stuff together. And he he actually was one of the creators of Beyond Streets, right? Yeah. Was the. Big street art show that actually just wrapped here in Brooklyn or in Brooklyn, so I reached out to them and Joey Parlett, it was I think the art director or designer, he put all the stuff together. He currently resides in Philly, I think, because I think Roger Gastman is in Philly, I might be misinformed. So, they reachout. Hey, Rich, we want to put you want to give you a story about ATSAC, which is about the automated traffic and control system. Basically, if you ever saw the movie Italian job.

Jon [00:14:44] Yes.

Rich [00:14:45] And then they have the hack about like all the lights and shit.

Jon [00:14:47] There is someone in a control room that is controlling all that stuff is making sure it runs.

Rich [00:14:52] Exactly. It's that. So they gave me that story and it was a double page spread. There was no money involved. And I'm like, that's fine. I just want to get my reps in there. And then, yeah. Bang, boom. Power took me two weeks. Now I'm like, wow. Took me two weeks to do that. Holy shit. Like what? What's wrong with me?

Jon [00:15:10] I was it rare form. You mentioned that you did that absolutely for free. Yeah. And I think obviously you recognize that the power it was it was it was gonna be something big for you to have that kind of that notoriety. You could say that you worked for this magazine and you had a piece in it. You also mentioned in that that you were contacting Steven Heller. You know, yeah, I think our critic at The New York Times.

Rich [00:15:32] Absolutely. He gave me my first published illustration.

Jon [00:15:36] I think now, you know, having that experience emailing and sending physical things in and the time that we're in now has changed so much. Yeah. What does someone have to do to get their work in front of someone like yourself now who is sort of in that same position? You know, like it's changed so much because we're so digital in this time. Yes. What do you think stands out from a younger, talented, creative and how do they get it in front of you to see it?

Rich [00:16:01] You know, it's weird. I think don't anyone's ever asked me that question because now I think I would be that really intense emailer. And also I would go to, like, you know, the AIP parties or ADC parties and be like, oh, hey, hi. You know, doing a lot of handshaking and a lot of IRL interaction. I'm like, I want to see the white in your eyes before you shut me down. But now you are right. There's so much content out there. And I think that anyone that's worth their salt of, you know, a curator of creativity that outputs on a professional level. You're obviously looking at things on Instagram dribble, I suppose.

Jon [00:16:43] Yeah, it's still hanging.

Rich [00:16:46] Yeah, exactly. Hanging on. I mean I'm I my personal experience in life is that I am on Instagram and I'm on Instagram constantly either working on my own feet because I believe myself to be a content creator. But you know, looking at other people's feeds and inspiration feeds and kind of getting that sense and you know that alongside looking at various other inspiration blogs, if I want more like case study work so that to get in front of my eyes, if you're a large organization or let's say if you're an agency that's you know, you're we're probably all looking at the same agencies, to be quite honest.

Rich [00:17:23] Right. Because though the world is so small, it's just finding the right moment to identify the right project to bring that level of accountability to the table when it comes to an individual's Mars, like, oh, I like that person stuff. And they're popping off on Instagram. I can reach out. Maybe I can just kind of probe a little bit.

Jon [00:17:43] Start to form a relationship.

Rich [00:17:45] Exactly. Start to form our relationship and see exactly whether it's feasible to even talk to them as a person. Sure. Yeah. Because that that's always like a bit of a barrier for people to reach out to me. That's honestly that's a bit of a bottleneck. I'm not I'm not going to lie. So to to really break cut through to that noise it takes is like a bit of a triple point stance. I think I know that when we met, we met IRL at Governors Island.

Jon [00:18:13] Yeah.

Rich [00:18:13] For Shantell's Chapel. Right.

Jon [00:18:15] Shoutout Shantell again.

Rich [00:18:17] Yeah, exactly. Shutout Shantell Martin. Yeah. Like I know that we had contact each other. We had deemed each other. So if we're DM'n, there's more insight to who I am. If we're DM'n on Instagram, there's a good chance that I'm really just enjoying a conversation there. And I don't always remember the names. I don't always remember the origin of the conversation. Like you and I look back, I think, oh shit, we've talked like a bunch of. Yeah, right.

Jon [00:18:43] So it's almost like Instagram now it becomes this like that's like your contacts.

Rich [00:18:47] That is the contacts. Yes, it's true.

Jon [00:18:49] It's like really good easy reference points. Like what contacts in your phone should actually be.

Rich [00:18:53] Yes. No, it's absolutely true because there is value placed upon the content you put out there. So me, as a visual thinker, there is an intrinsic value. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but there is an intrinsic value that I place. So meeting you IRL and also we're DM'n, I think, oh, shit. Jon's popping off. I love Jon. You know what I mean?

Jon [00:19:14] Yeah. Let's hang out.

Rich [00:19:14] Let's talk like human beings. So that's kind of what it takes. I think that there are definitely some hard no's don't do. Don't DM me and hit me up on LinkedIn at the same time. Don't do that. That is no bueno.

Jon [00:19:29] You gotta give some air and between platforms.

Rich [00:19:32] Yes, exactly. Some air like. Because then that's when the the fourth wall is broken. And I completely understand what your what your personal goals are. But also, here's another pet peeve. Oh, man, please never do this. If anyone's listening, I don't introduce someone to someone and then expect the third party to, you know, like let's say person X and person Y. Person X is introducing me to person Y. But the idea of being introduced has never been vetted to me or asked of me.

Jon [00:20:07] You just kind of get looped into an email.

Rich [00:20:09] Yea get looped into an email where you're left with the responsibility to respond potentially with contributing your own time and effort? Like, don't do that.

Jon [00:20:19] It's like, hey, what was that? Well, what's going are we doing here? Right.

Rich [00:20:23] Exactly. What are we doing here? Because also, you know, when you're in a place where you are curating for brand or curating for something greater than yourself, you have to protect your time and protect your energy. And that's a very that's something I think that works across the board.

Jon [00:20:38] You mentioned a little bit about New York Times being your first commission. Oh, yeah. And you went on to do a bunch of pieces for them, you know, editorial pieces, illustrations. Talk a little bit about how that kind of kicked off with Steven Heller and then. Sure. What that kind of rolled into.

Rich [00:20:53] So back in the dead and if this is still the same thing, but New York Times used to have all their art directors and design directors. It would be available on a one sheet and you could call for that.

Rich [00:21:04] So we'd have a phone number and email. It was very transparent. I was like, those is interesting. I'm not this like a journalism thing or this whatever. Maybe they do it for writers, too. So knowing that because I was one of the learnings I had it associated, like you can just ask for this. I got Steven Heller's phone number and email. Cold called him and e-mail did the thing that I. Nowadays in 2019 it's so aggressive to call someone right.

Jon [00:21:28] Before there wasn't as many platforms that do this on like two thing. You know there was probably a 50/50 chance that they checked one but not the other.

Rich [00:21:37] Yes, precisely. And this was two thousand six to put some time on it. Steven Heller was like he actually answered the phone was like, hey, come in. He actually looked at portfolio's IRL. So I came in and I showed him a student portfolio that I'd put together at my time at SVA as a continuing ed student. And this was still I had only done two years. I did another full year and continuing ed before I went to grad school and he went through it was like, good, good, not good, bad, bad, whatever. Well, he didn't say that, but that was his tone. Then he identified a couple of aesthetics that I know that I also liked. And then we left that meeting and he was like, OK.

Rich [00:22:23] So take my number down and take my e-mail down, which already had. And he said, well, I'll I'll let you know if I have work for you. So the next day he gave me two spot illustrations in the book review. And then it was amazing because he left in The New York Times like six months later after like 40 years, I was like, holy shit. I got in at the end of Steven Heller's run. And then after that, Nicholas Blechman took over the book review. And he was amazing to work with. I did some stories with him and also did some stories with Matt Dorfman and a couple of those other guys and Aviva Michalos. Such a good crew. I'm not so much in touch with them anymore, but I always loved working with them.

Jon [00:23:08] Even though you had heard the tone from Steven Heller. Yeah, like some of these are bad and some of these are good. And then the next day to to still give you you know, here's an opportunity there. Oh, yeah, illustrations. What do you think his reaction was? This guy has got some good stuff. He's also got some bad stuff or whatever it may be. Right. You know, I'm sure there's like that creative feedback conversation that goes on. But what do you think went off in his head that, you know, hey, going to call this kid tomorrow?

Rich [00:23:37] Probably. Well, hopefully he's identified talent, you know, so that's cool. I also think that he probably identified earnestness and a willingness to put in the work. And looking back on it now, it was towards the end of his run. He's probably thinking this is the time to experiment because he did even ask me for sketches. He was just like. I sent him one and then you're like, oh, cool. Publish this. Then the other one needed some work. So I just went back and worked on it. But there was never the idea of a sketch. The Nicholas Bleckmen also didn't didn't bring that mindset either. But then later he did. But maybe there was some element of correction there. From an organizational standpoint. But I think that Steven Heller was just thinking. You know, let's let's give him a shot. He was known to give a lot of really talented illustrators that first shot.

Jon [00:24:31] You eventually go on to grad school. So you had already put in a couple of years at continuing education courses. Then you decide you're going to take a masters in illustration at SVA at this time. I think it's from, you know, from your portfolio. It's fair to say that you're working on freelance projects as well, right? Yes. You're going to school. I'm sure that schedules is hectic. You're working on freelance projects. How do you manage? Like, what's your time like? What do you where do you come out of that process, learning about yourself in terms of time management and how do you balance that for you?

Rich [00:25:03] At the time, I had no time management because it was a two year illustration program and the only accept 20 people a year very competitive and also chaired by Steven. No, not Steven Marshall Arisman, who I love. Shout out to Marshall. Marshall is the God. Johnny Cash of illustration. And also, he taught me a lot of things about myself. What what they really show you there, or at least what I got out of it, was the gift of calling myself an artist, because, you know, they talk about fraud syndrome. I left there being confident that I was an artist because I felt verified and and affirmed by all the great artists that were there, like Carl Titolo RIP, Mirko Ilic. Right. Who is a legend. Victor Cohen, who is a legend. And they would bring in people every week like Milton Glaser, Max Bodie, who was a art director at the near New Yorker, who gave me my shot.

Rich [00:26:03] These are people that just gave you positive feedback, really. I had the experience of positive feedback there in terms of time management. We were always I was always in studio or I was posted up at the George Washington dorms in Chelsea or Chelsea or by Gramercy Park that are currently now the the free hand for that hotel. Right. That that real boogey ass hotel. I'm not going lie. I've had drinks there, which is so trippy, by the way, to be at a place where I used to fry like my eggs in the morning and then now.

Jon [00:26:39] I did not know that was the thing. Yeah.

Rich [00:26:41] Then on the top level this of drawing classes on that on that top tiki bar. Yeah. And then now I paid twenty dollars for cocktail. Ridiculous.

Jon [00:26:52] I've had a coffee there and walked in really briefly. And you know that there was any remnants of a school that used to be or a dorm area used to be there.

Rich [00:27:00] Used to be like a hotel actually on the second floor there's some really great New Yorker illustrations by by Saul Steinberg. Yeah. So anyone who's listened to this peep those.

Rich [00:27:13] You know, it's it's kind of funny, as I mentioned before, the podcast. You've covered so much ground in your career so far. So, yeah, I'm kind of hard. I'm gonna probably skip over a few things, but not to mention you win. Young guns, young guns, eight young guns. Right. So you win that from the art, the cube designed by Justin Gignac of WorkingNotWorking.

Jon [00:27:31] The Cube is so cool.

Rich [00:27:32] Yeah. The wooden cube.

Jon [00:27:33] I've seen some of the more recent ones that made out a clear glass or clear plexi, whatever it is.

Rich [00:27:38] Oh that one I chaired that year that was done by a Grand Army.

Jon [00:27:43] Yeah. I mean, so you've won that. Well you mentioned that you've also ended up in that time working with NPR. Yes. And something I wanted to kind of touch a little bit more. Go in depth that your time at AKA.

Rich [00:27:57] Oh, yeah.

Jon [00:27:57] Which was a lot of working with like Broadway and theater and.

Rich [00:28:01] Holy shit. You've done your research, man.

Jon [00:28:04] You type in rich, too, and you try to find the bits of gold. And I thought one of the interesting, most interesting things that came up was like you did a lyric video for Matilda.

[00:28:12] Oh, yeah I did.

Jon [00:28:13] And like, you know, Matilda was a.

Rich [00:28:14] Shoutout to Bashan Aquart. And also, Jamaal Parham.

Jon [00:28:17] You know, I grew up watching it other. And then you also have done a ton of other shows. You did Macbeth. We're in your office. And you did work with Alan Cumming.

Rich [00:28:26] Yeah. There's a Macbeth one sheet here. Well, you know, can I tell you the reason why I still have this way, because it's my first New York Times single truck in at A.K.A. and also in the Broadway space. But because that logo, that creative came together over 24 hours. So I look at that and thinking, wow, that actually looks pretty dope. But also, it's just the scars.

Jon [00:28:50] A little bit of PTSD.

Rich [00:28:51] A little PTSD.

Jon [00:28:52] Being up for 24 hours straight, just sending back and forth revisions on emails and things like that.

Rich [00:28:56] Exactly.

Jon [00:28:56] I want to talk a little bit about the theater because it's you know, it's one of New York's biggest, like, attractions, right. Like Broadway musicals. What are some of the standout shows that you've got to work on?

Rich [00:29:08] Stand up shows well, Matilda for sure. Macbeth for sure. Which we identified and also because Alan Cumming went on Jimmy Fallon and then he holding a playbill. So I see Jimmy Fallon hoping holding up a playbill that you designed is pretty tight, right. That's. That was, you know, super transformative for me. Let's see. Worked on early concepts for Finding Neverland, worked on early concepts for King Kong, the musical. I've no idea what the state of these what these shows are now. We've got to redesign stomp for the 20th anniversary. Oh, yeah.

Rich [00:29:42] And actually, I look at the current keyboard for Silicon Valley or it's like big logo with them, like tagline inside. I'm like, oh shit, is that a stomp thing?

Jon [00:29:51] Reference. Someone went back and like, this is just part of the mood board now.

Rich [00:29:54] Yeah, exactly. Also, because the end in Silicon Valley, you can tell them the ink wells that they didn't adjust them for for like a large scale. So it's not like not true display.

Jon [00:30:07] #typetalk right now.

Rich [00:30:08] Yeah exactly. I would love to leak that but hey whatever fun.

Jon [00:30:12] I think at this time. You know, one thing I notice is that having gone through a program in illustration. Yeah. When you start to work in the theater realm. Yes. Your illustration sort of starts to meet typography and lettering and messaging. You know, you take on this very well. You start as like depicting poetry and things that you have thoughts in your head. But then when you start to mesh it with the work and a.k.a. your illustration, work starts to take form in writing all kinds of lettering and stuff like that. What is you know, why was that the case?

Rich [00:30:44] That's just the way it was. I always grew up or within the design space. I remember looking up to SpotCo and one of my favorite posters, theater posters was John Leguizamo Freak. Right. Which was a beautiful illustration of John Leguizamo, like screaming into the ether, like super trippy, just black light aesthetic. And I'm thinking, wow, they can do that on Broadway. Right. Because I also had the the HBO special. I would just watch it continuously because I was entertained by him. And when I got to a.k.a., I was I love the idea of competing against SpotCo and then being put in the arena. Going back to like B Boy competitiveness.

Rich [00:31:24] And then I met a few really amazing creative zone still like super tight with to this day, like Bashan there ECD. Jamaal who was, me and Bashan, we were co best man at Jamaal's wedding. He's our director of content. Love Jamaal, we were just hanging out a few days ago and you know, we got to make some really beautiful art. So from an evolution of my skill set level, I really look to Bash and Jamaal for a lot of learnings. And also, you know, well, one of my partners in crime over there are Rob Schneider, who's over AKA in the west end right now. You know, I think he just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, which was wild to me. And looking in his Instagram shot showed me how big that a big tall latitude shot up. So I remember I would talk to Marshawn a lot because he is incredibly well versed in the entertainment space and the combination of photography, illustration, typography and what that means. So there's usually your key art image, right? There's a logo.

Rich [00:32:23] The first show that I worked on there was Trip to Bountiful, which which Cicely Tyson ended up winning her Tony Award for, and also had Vanessa Williams, you know, a lot of other great people, great performers, Condola Rashad. And that was a great learning because that had to feel like old and dusty 1920s middle America. But also it was a black production of the show. So that that was a new offering within that space as well. So, you know, you're working with super high end photography, the name of the photographer completely escapes me right now. So I apologize.

Rich [00:33:01] We commissioned a logo that had to feel like that 1920s, you know, railroad train aesthetic and also to speak to that world. And then you you learn the ins and outs of what it means to have your talents name being a certain percentage to the logo. So it's like you learn like what you're what you're 50 50 is or you're 20, 80 or whatever, you know. So that level of specificity and then like where you're taglines go. So every key art expression over there, at least at the time, would start at the poster. So you just crank posters constantly.

Rich [00:33:37] I remember. We were we were working for 48 hours on a pitch for On the Town, you know, On the Town, On the Town as a, you know, Frank Sinatra sailors, New York, New York, right. Where, you know, it's like Fleet Week or whatever the plotline is. And they're just like raging, right. Shoutout to The Simpsons for doing that. Really good ohmage to it.

Rich [00:34:01] So I remember the course of 48 hours. We cranked out like 20 posters that were actually client ready. You just pull in from the ether. You’re just making shit constantly. My photoshop skills went through the fucking roof. Let me tell. I would sit in Bashan’s office and try to trick him into showing me how to make shit. Because I just wanted to see him make stuff. And on my podcast, me and Bashan, because his family hails from Jamaica. I talked to him about it and I would be like. Yo bro, we would be in your office just chopping it up but I just wanted to see you make shit cause it was like watching you play the drums. And that impressed upon me and that communicated itself to illustrator and indesign.

Jon [00:34:13] You you also end up, you know, another big standout project is the work that you did for Coca-Cola and Queen. Yes. Clap for Red.

Rich [00:34:21] Yes. Coke red. Shout out to Kris Merc as well. He's my directing partner on that.

Jon [00:34:26] Big awesome project. And I think at this point, you start to venture like it brings you to Nike.

Rich [00:34:33] Yeah, it does.

Jon [00:34:34] And I think this is also really exciting because as we mentioned, when you were younger being a B boy, I think you have you know, I've also read that you would call yourself a big sneaker head. I mean, I've noticed your sneaker game. So working at Nike. How did that happen? That happened because you end up going to Portland.

Rich [00:34:51] I did go to Portland. This was post AKA. So I think this is I left AKA in 2014 early and then I'm just freelancing at the time.

Rich [00:35:01] I'm leaning on a lot of work I'm getting through WorkingNotWorking, or just people, you know, reaching out to me in that immediate space. When Nike first reached out, I was actually freelancing at Momentum, which is part of the McCann group, and they do a lot of great experiential design and experiential work. And I have a few murals at the momentum office shoutout to DC and also Heather they love those guys. So I I had just incorporated and then I'm coming from the courthouse and I'm you know, I took a day off because I just needed to go to courthouse to do some personal stuff and then I get an email.

Rich [00:35:38] This is it's summer, by the way, 2015. I get an email super arm. And it's like, hey, are you interested in working in Nike? Let us know. And I'm like, OK, what is this? So. Yes.

Jon [00:35:49] And this is just like straight up in the inbox.

Rich [00:35:51] In the inbox.

Jon [00:35:51] You have a blank blank at Nike dot com or email address.

Rich [00:35:55] It was like a third party search. A third party search. And then I got the phone call. Never heard them again. I can't remember their name because they immediately put me in the jet stream with Nike people. Then I meet Zach Augustine, who runs the art department there, loves Zach. And also, you know, going back to sneaker head.

Rich [00:36:14] I've been a sneaker head since, since I can remember my most vivid memories involving sneakers and back in Jersey at Livingston Mall actually. Was seeing Vinny from Naughty by nature come out a foot action. They used to be in the Sears wing of Livingston Mall, comes out of a foot action with so many boxes with no entourage. And this is when naughty by nature is poppin. So he's coming out a foot action, a shit ton of boxes. And I'm 12 or 13 years old. I'm at the mall to go to timeout because I still haven't had an arcade. And I just want to play Street Fighter Alpha Two. So I'm just cruising seeing this. I'm like, whoa, that's wild. Then my first pair of sneakers or my first pair of Nike's was Air Force One canvas low's. It's an 11 and a half.

Jon [00:37:01] Down to the material too.

Rich [00:37:02] Yeah. I still have the box at my parents house. I still have that shoe I bought it in seventh grade. I I'm a size eleven currently by I thought I sized up a half size because I thought my feet would grow. They never did.

Jon [00:37:15] I'm still waiting on that growth spurt.

Rich [00:37:16] You and me both brother. But then I just kept buying sneakers constantly. And I was really, you know, early oughts, you know, the SB dunk wave. Getting a lot of Jordans, my favorite pairs of sneakers. My prized possessions is probably Jordan One. 2001 Jordan one royal. That I've actually worn cross country. I've worn it at Nike. You know, it's still in great shape. I've worn it actually here. It's held up. And now I'm not making money back in 2000. I'm I'm working at Borders bookstore. I'm making Jack shit.

Jon [00:37:49] Spending it on sneakers.

Rich [00:37:50] Spending it on, sneakers. Calling, you know, the skate shops in Jersey like Subculture or Division East. It used to be back In Verona or N.J. Skate Shop and Sayerville because they had dunk accounts, SB accounts. I was like, oh, do you have the hulks? Do you have the takahashi's, you have the futuras, do you have the bisons?

Jon [00:38:07] I've always wondered and I like, you know, because like New York is a big sneaker release like location. But New Jersey was never like you'd have to go.

Rich [00:38:15] No, not really.

Jon [00:38:16] Certain places. And like I would say that like my first conscious shoe purchase was Nike Air Force One mid tops. With the straps.

Rich [00:38:23] Oh, gotcha. Oh yeah. Those are uncomfortable I gotta say.

Jon [00:38:27] Yeah, you put the strap on. You really think this is a bad idea, but then when you haven't flopping around it's just like this is also a bad idea. Yeah. But still like, you know, Air Force One iconic sneaker.

Rich [00:38:35] Absolutely.

Jon [00:38:36] And then growing up in Jersey having like almost like a bottleneck of those cool releases that you have to like, go and seek after. We're in your office and you have the foamposites that you worked on. You've touched so many different seekers. What would say is the biggest stand out one that you got to touch?

Rich [00:38:50] I think actually that foamposite the little penny foamposite. Aside from the recent Nike project that I did.

Jon [00:38:56] Yeah. We're going to touch on that as well.

Rich [00:38:57] I figured you want to go in chronological order. So that one probably is the most meaningful because that was pretty much unchanged from initial sketch in pitch out to the consumer. We were we were ideating around the 20th anniversary of the foamposite. And then I was looking through the archives of, you know, some some foamposite content. Then I saw this really dope ad that I presume was done by Weiden and Kennedy back in the day. And, you know, just recreated the typography around that said, "Hey, Penny, show me how to play ball." Turned into an all over print pattern, then kind of pitched it to my business partners and they were about it. And then became the number one shoe. Was ranked the number one kid's shoe of twenty seventeen would hypebeast kids. But aside from that, I'd say some of the Kyrie Irving's I've worked on and shout to Andrew Parkman, also amazing color designer over at the young athletes category. And also, I got to say, some of the people that are there like that I met at the time, Andrew. Right. He was amazing. Leon Witherow, prestology on Instagram. His shit is so dope. He just released the Air Max Alpha Savage. It's a dope training shoe.

Jon [00:40:08] It's hard to keep up now. Nike's game is to the max right now.

Rich [00:40:10] Oh, my God.

Jon [00:40:11] Performance and sneaker releases and models and innovation is insane.

Rich [00:40:14] And the talent. Yes. Thomas Durand, who was a sneaker designer, he just he designed the Giannis freak ones that came out, which is a really good release for them. And also my old boss over there, Marni Gerber. She was holding down for deck two decades plus. She created the first Sheryl Swoopes shoe, the first women's basketball shoe, and she's a legend. So being around those people who are also of shared mind and give you new insight into what it means to be into sneakers and into footwear, because they'll show you anatomy, show you construction, show you like the actual engineering techniques that it takes to create and also to tell the stories. I mean, I walked into my first Nike interview and yeah. I was so excited to even have the possibility. I remember I bought a pair of Air Jordan 13. He got game colorway, color is specifically for that interview and that point, they hadn't been released in a couple of years. So I'm just like, yeah, I'll buy some retro shit.

Jon [00:41:14] You eventually make it back to New York and you end up working with XXL magazine. Oh, yeah.

Rich [00:41:20] That was pre Nike.

Jon [00:41:20] That was before Nike?

Jon [00:41:22] Okay. So we're going to talk about this now. Yeah. You know, it's before you go to Portland. Yes. And you have mentioned that this was a big childhood dream of yours, right? It was the freshman class. Yes. 2015. Tell me about the project.

Rich [00:41:35] So if for the listener is XXL, a hip hop magazine, they were at the time when they first came out, there weren't many hip hop magazines that the most the most elevated ones, probably 'The Source' was based out of Boston. And also there were the some of the smaller ones which are still niche like 'Word up Right on'. But it was more like a hip hop teen beat. Right. So XXL comes out and then it's more elevated. It's out. There is hip hop journalism. And also there's, you know, production values, photography. And then they started doing this thing called the freshman class where they would just highlight new rappers. I think Kendrick was one. Schoolboy Q was one.

Jon [00:42:19] I saw Fetty Wap was in the class that you worked on.

Rich [00:42:20] Yeah. Fetty Wap in my specific class.

Jon [00:42:24] Another New Jersey talent.

Rich [00:42:26] Shout out, you know, shout out to Patterson. So Fetty Wap, Vince Staples. Yeah. Dej Loaf. Let's see. Rory. Kid kid, Gold Link, Shy lizzy, Gold Link. So that came about because the creative director of XXL was also the creative director on Slam magazine.

Rich [00:42:50] So Harris Publications at the time and that's actually what got me to to Nike because they that I had done a lot of work and the basketball and sports space as well as like the hip hop youth culture space. So they thought that my my design abilities would translate there. Coming on to the heels of Nike getting the the NBA contract back. But for XXL, Tom Medvedich did shot that cover. Yeah, so much fun. I loved working on that as a dream come true. And they've done a few of those covers since. But I from what I can tell, I think that was actually one of the first times they'd done a cover that looked quite like that.

Jon [00:43:29] You currently work at MTV, you know, like the other day with the cultivator project that we'll mentioned in a little bit. You make an appearance on the actual MTV show. Yeah. What is your being the V.P. of digital design? What is your day to day right now and then how do you just get pulled into these these things?

Rich [00:43:45] These things? These things? So cultivator came about. A friend of mine shoutout Isaiah. Isaiah Steinfeld who is part of the Nike family. And I've known Isaiah for a while. Isaiah just gives me a heads up. He's like, hey, you should check out this cultivator thing. We're thinking about doing this. All right. I don't think he even said we. He was like here check it out. So I checked it out. Send a little note out. Applied, whatever you want to call it.

Rich [00:44:12] And then they hit me back and like, hey, we want to help tell your story through this, this drop. And what cultivator was and is, is it's a city specific drop that uses a group of influencers on a micro influencer level in order to tell their stories through footwear.

Rich [00:44:34] And then, I'm in a unique position where I sat in the org and I existed in the org. And I know how to tell Nike stories.

Jon [00:44:41] You know, the ins and outs of the construction of a sneaker.

Rich [00:44:44] Exactly.

Rich [00:44:44] And I know how to I know what it takes to tell that storytelling. So I know the the buzzy things. Right. And also being in the space I am. Here at MTV and also my experience even going back to AKA. I know to make a photo shoot in order to do a campaign. Right. So everything converged and then cultivator is like, yo, well we like you want to tell the First Gen Burden story, which is amazing. And then they gave me the models AirMax 270 reacts, which is a new model. It's a beautiful model and I really like it a lot. So I was stoked to be on on the the most elevated model side too, of that release. And then they say, yes, and we're like, bang, boom, pow. And then I essentially bring in a lot of my partners at Sunday afternoon and my partners. I mean, you know, friends like Ahmed Klink, J.C., people that have been on the podcasts like Leslie, Tai, Shira, Zipeng, right? Because Zipeng is like super lit.

Jon [00:45:45] Ball of energy.

Rich [00:45:46] Oh, my God loves Zipeng energy. So everyone gets involved. And, you know, we just put together our own campaign. But, you know, make it look super elevated. And then within that Cultivator space, we had to create our own assets. So those assets ended up traveling everywhere on so many blogs, so many places. And then it gets picked up at Viacom because we hit the algorithm super hard. So one of the segment producers on TRL, shoutout to Esteban Serrano, my boy Esteban.  

Rich [00:46:19] He reaches out to Darin Byrne an EP on the show. Then Darren's like, oh, yeah, well, we should we should, you know, show love to our people. So they bring me on to TRL. We talk about the segment. Basically talking about sneakers and I talk more about sneakers in the breakout segment, just talking about stuff we worked on a Nike like couple Kyries, as well as like the foamposites the hey pennies and I'm sweating bullets leading up to it.

Jon [00:46:47] Really?

Rich [00:46:48] Yeah, I'm sweating bullets leading up to it because. A. Same day I have a very high level meeting that I have to be on for right before.

Rich [00:46:58] Right. So I'm trying to schedule like oh, I have to be in this high level meeting where I have to potentially, you know, stand up for some work, you know. So until you always think about what you're gonna say, how you're gonna position it all, also, you have only so long within an agenda. And then I have an hour break. I have to go down to the TRL studio, sit in to makeup. And also I have my talking points because I talked to them, talked Esteban about them the night before. And I'm just kind of working through that script. So I have to be on for that.

Rich [00:47:30] And then what they don't tell you is that or what the audience doesn't really realize is that that's a fully working and functional studio, some multi camera studio, and that has a crew. And to even exist in that space with the lights on costs money. So you better show up with your shit, right? Otherwise you'll look like an idiot, you know? And also people and also you don't want to waste people's time.

Rich [00:47:59] And I'm very conscious now because I'm conscious of the time that I have. I don't want to waste their time, you know? And then Kevin Kenny, who's the host, the one of the hosts, super awesome, love Kevin. You know, he he's super gracious and super generous and cues you up. So and I'm not there. And I've had some elements of media training before. So we have a good bounce back and forth. And I'm just happy that I was able to give them a segment they could use.

Jon [00:48:29] It looked natural. You know, I know the feeling of when you you know, you have a sweater, you have a shirt on, you're just sweating under that. But I gotta say you look like you've done before.

Rich [00:48:38] Oh, sure.

Jon [00:48:39] You know, and they had all the sneakers there. All of the things that you've worked on. And, you know, props. Props to that. I mean, I would imagine the lighting. It's got to be really hot, but it came out great.

Rich [00:48:51] Oh, thanks, man. I appreciate that. Yeah, I was I was actually really excited by the segment. But also the magic of editing. Editing does so much.

Jon [00:48:59] That shoe you that you work that you worked with Cultivator is also inspired by your podcast. First Generation Burden. Could you tell a little bit more about that project and how it started?

Rich [00:49:11] Sure. Oh, the First Gen project. So First Gen started when I was back at Portland in 2016. It was the summer 2016 when Trump and Hillary were really going at it. A lot of the rhetoric from the Trump side was super toxic about immigrants specifically. And also the conversation. It was just hard to listen to, you know, an emotional level and the spiritual level, familial level, because my parents came here from the Philippines in the late 60s and I'm thinking I want to do right by them. So it's a burden, right? There is that burden to me. And I feel strongly about that narrative. And I launched that podcast with the first episode with Ahmed Klink hailing from Lebanon by way of France. And we did that in a hotel room. Didn't even sound good. We recorded it months earlier because I just wanted to have a podcast. I know to make content what I wanted to work through my feelings at the time. And then Trump gets elected and then I'm thinking, OK, you know, now is the time to release this. I'm going to call a First Generation Burden because one of my home girls, Anastasia in Portland, she's like, oh, yeah. There's a show called Master of None. They talk about the idea of the first generation burden. And it it just resonated with me. And there's a double meeting of the burden on child and also the burden on the immigrant and also the burden of doing right by your family and also the kind of Vibe at the time.

Rich [00:50:41] You know, the burden of being the other.

Jon [00:50:43] The political climate.

Rich [00:50:44] The political climate. And over time. Over the course of four seasons, preparing for a fifth, we have three episodes in the tank. Now the ideas coalesce itself. And also this found a lot of different platforms or a lot of different places I've picked up on it. And it's really just a casual conversation. It's not like that. It's not unlike this.

Jon [00:51:05] You know, I listen to a bunch of them. And one, it's obviously always amazing to learn from other people that are not in the same situation as you that come from different cultures. To be able to gain those experiences and learn through them? But also as a result of this conversation, what have you learned in just like starting a podcast? Like what have you kind of been able to grow as now podcasts, as a design director? What have you come away with it? Oh, man.

Rich [00:51:30] Time management. Actually, I know that going back to that, the time management thing, it's editing, long form storytelling.

Rich [00:51:39] Also, there are you know, you look at your numbers, you look at your metrics, and then I realize that the conversations that are, that feel natural, conversations where you can tell that the two people like each other, those episodes do well. The episodes that I've had where I or I know that I've felt I've had the forced conversation out, those do less well.

Jon [00:51:58] A little awkward start to get things rolling a little bit. And then you just sometimes I've been that see where they rise a little bit of just like coaxing to. To relax and let their guard.

Rich [00:52:09] What about the editing for your side? Because for me it looks like I'd like a buzzsaw sometimes and I'm just like especially those painful interviews. You're just like, oh well.

Jon [00:52:18] I got to give a shout out to my boy Kevin. He is an audio engineer and he has helped me. Basically since it started. So he's been a huge help for me because. Yeah, you know, it's like you're venturing into this medium that you have absolutely no clue what you're doing in terms of audio. Right. But you you know, obviously not tell a story and trying to figure out like.

Rich [00:52:39] Likewise, this is actually the way to do this is an amazing interview experience right now I'm actually very impressed.

Jon [00:52:44] I appreciate that. Wherecan people find that. More of First Gen Burden.

Rich [00:52:47] Oh, sure. So

Rich [00:52:54] Also, we're on Spotify, we're on Apple podcast, stitcher. Basically anywhere that you find podcasts and yeah, we have 34 episodes in the tank. Four Seasons. Fifth coming very soon, hope to launch by 2020. And also there's some really interesting colabs coming down the pipe that I can't quite talk about just yet. But it's gonna be exciting. First Generation Burden. But Google first generation burden because this will come up.

Jon [00:53:25] And where can people find more of Rich Tu.

Rich [00:53:28] You can find me, my web site. If you want to look at some art and stuff and my Instagram handle is @rich_tu. Also on Twitter. But I'm not so active on Twitter.

Jon [00:53:41] Well Rich. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.

Rich [00:53:44] Thanks, Jon. This is amazing. Thanks for coming by.

MTV VP of Digital Design Rich Tu on B-boying and his love for Sneakers before landing at Nike and MTV

On episode 2 of Wellfed, I stop by the MTV offices to talk with the VP of Digital Design, Rich Tu. We discuss his passion for hip-hop, sneakers, and creating amazing work. Before MTV, Rich worked with companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, XXL Magazine, NPR and many more. Rich and I both grew up in New Jersey and it was great to share stories about when we were younger and how we ended up in the big city today.

Also listen to:

Episode 3 with Jacquelyn DeJesu Center, the founder and inventor of Shhhowercap

Episode 1 with Eric Friedensohn aka Efdot about finding his style and going independent as a designer

Design Director Rich Tu and his Nike Cultivator collaboration.
Design Director Rich Tu and his Nike Cultivator collaboration.
Design details of Rich Tu's Nike Air Max colorway for the Nike Cultivator program.
Design details of Rich Tu's Nike Air Max colorway for the Nike Cultivator program.
Design Director Rich Tu on set for XXL magazine Freshman Class issue.
Design Director Rich Tu on set for XXL magazine Freshman Class issue.