Dexter Ferguson’s enthusiasm for design and innovative spirit shines through in this latest episode of Revision Path! Dexter has been in the design world for only a few years but he’s already a passionate and knowledgeable voice in the industry. His life motto “Strive for progression, not perfection” perfectly sums up his approach to his career, design, and his hopes for the future. With a background in traditional graphic design, Dexter has navigated the ever-changing trends of the business and is now the Product Designer for Aerial, Airbus’s commercial drone startup service.
Our discussion ranged from career trajectories, design in academia, to his brilliant new startup DebtBennies.com where he’s taking on the student loan debt problem facing millions of millennials. His infectious attitude is matched only by his entrepreneurial drive to succeed, and help the world, on his way to the top!
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Maurice: Alright, so tell us who you are and what you do.
Dexter: My name is Dexter Ferguson and I'm a product designer. I currently am at Airbus Aerial in Atlanta. I'm also lead designer for Tribe in Baltimore and more recently I was a founder of [inaudible 00:00:18].com.
Maurice: Wow. Well we'll get into all of that, but let's start out with what you're doing here in Atlanta. Tell us about Airbus Aerial and what's a typical day like for you working there.
Dexter: First of all, Aerial is part of Airbus and Airbus is one of the largest, if not the largest company in Europe and so they've been around for a while. But we have the benefit of having a lot of [inaudible] where we consider ourselves a start up. We've only been around ... Aerial has only been around for about a year and a half, almost two years now. And so here, what we do is we're basically building a platform that allows our customers to acquire, manage, analyze, manipulate, Aerial data and that could be Aerial imagery from our own constellation of satellites, our own drone vendors, or from our customers. Drone programs that they might have. And they can ingest all of this into our platform and we basically help them reach decisions on the properties that they have to watch over, manage, whatever it is they have to do. A lot of our customers tend to be insurance companies. So we basically help them easily make a decision on whether or not a property that they might have is damaged or needs to be paid out because of a claim. So that's what I'm working on here.
Dexter: Day to day that tends to be meetings with the data team, key stakeholders, collab sessions with the designer here and time to work independently. I think that's a fairly typical for the most part of designers.
Maurice: Now how long have you been there now?
Dexter: So I've only been here since November of last year. So relatively new.
Maurice: And now you're doing that, but then you're also working at Tribe, which you said is in Baltimore. So I guess it's kind of a remote design position. How does that work?
Dexter: Yeah. So I started working with Tribe when I was back home before moving to Atlanta and I've basically been working with them for quite some time on a this platform that we're developing. It's a work from home talent platform. And it was a opportunity that came about because I was basically ... While I was in Baltimore, I was basically looking for ways to meet people and see what the scene is like there and I didn't ... What I ended up tapping into was more of the tech scene. There's a group in Baltimore called the Baltimore Black Techies and it's a good group of people over there and basically just ended up going to the meetups every Thursday, I think it was. And while I was there, I ended up connecting with a few guys and one person in particular had this vision for this work from home platform. And really building a community and a team around that so I ended up working ... Starting to work with them before coming down here to Atlanta and decided to continue that work while I'm at Airbus. So again, that's more on the product side. Which is nice. I get to express myself within the Airbus world and within the Tribe world as well. It's nice. It can be challenging though. A lot of work to try and do it all, but it's a good opportunity.
Maurice: Yeah and for listeners that don't know when Dexter's talking about Airbus, they deal with aerospace. So like planes and drones and things that you'd mentioned before.
Dexter: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. We're basically one of Boeing's biggest competitors. Any time you take a flight, you usually either flying in a Boeing or Airbus plane.
Maurice: That's true. I'm a flight geek so I tend to pay attention to that. I really like the Airbus A320s and the 321's.
Dexter: There you go.
Maurice: Really nice.
Dexter: I think a lot of people like them now with everything going on with Boeing.
Maurice: Yeah, that's true. People are paying attention now. I heard about the 737 Max's being grounded and I think, correct me if I'm wrong here because I heard recently that Boeing is putting out this software update and I feel like this is the first time that I've ever heard of an aerospace manufacturer making such a big public announcement about a software update.
Dexter: Yeah. I'm not really sure the history of things like that and how airplane manufacturers deal with these types of issues, but I know with this one it's such a large issue. The fact that these airlines are grounding these planes, they're trying to make a big deal out of ... Making it seem like a simple fix. So I think they wanna get that across so people don't fear riding on the planes 'cause then if you start having ... If these airlines start having people who are ... Have to take a flight and they find out they're on a 737 Max and they say, "No, I'm canceling my flight. I don't want to go any more". That's not good for anybody. I don't know if it's really as simple as a software update, but I know that's ... I think from my understanding in the goal is just to try to make it seem that way at least.
Maurice: Yeah, I can see them trying to do this to make sure that they not just drum up more public trust, but also trust from the airlines and-
Dexter: Yeah, yeah.
Maurice: Just wanna make sure that everything is gonna go ... We're not gonna go ... Try to get to much into that part, but I know that that's something that certainly is very prevalent at the moment. Now when you started out, you weren't doing product design. When you started at Northeastern University, you majored in graphic design. Tell me what your time was like when you were there.
Dexter: Yeah, well I really ... So I got into design ... Or my passion for design really started when I was in high school. I took a digital imaging course where I was basically taking photos for the year book and in that course we ended up learning how to use Photoshop. So from the ... Once I started learning how to use that tool, I began experimenting and like a lot of people, you end up becoming the flyer guy at your school anytime there's a party or some type of event. I always ended up making the flyers so I thought, "I wanna do this in college". And I didn't know what this was. I didn't know what it was called. And so I had to do a lot of research and I was looking for schools that had anything from computer graphics to digital imaging is another thing.
Dexter: But eventually came across graphic design, ended up going to Northeastern and at the time, I graduated in 2012 and at the time, when I started it was 2007, it was ... There was no such thing or it wasn't really as common to hear the term product designer. I think that's a relatively new if I'm not mistaken. So graphic design was the main ... That was the buzz word at the time. I would tell people I'm a graphic designer they're like, "Oh, a lot of people, they need graphic designers. That's a hot industry to be in". So for me, that's how I got started. It was primarily print and things like learning typography and gestalt principals and stuff like that. It was great. I really enjoyed my time there. I really thought I was going to be working for those large studios and possibly working for an agency. I really like branding. That was one of my favorite things to do as a designer. And I thought that was going to be me forever. That I was just going to be doing branding projects and be the guy that's on brand new and releasing things on Dribbble every other day, stuff like that.
Dexter: But I eventually figured out that there are more disciplines within design. And print was ... I still enjoy it but there are a lot of things about it that I wasn't really a fan of. I think that it's a bit inflexible. I really do appreciate the ability to integrate when it comes to digital design. So I was able to make the transition. It wasn't necessarily the easiest transition, but yeah, I was able to make it from print and I still do some print design work. And I'm still interesting in branding but for the most part I'm more focused on product design at this point.
Maurice: So let's talk about kind of the early moments of your career. As you mentioned, right when you graduated college you wanted to do this major design agency work and you ended up working for a company called BTE is that right?
Maurice: What was that experience like?
Dexter: So the reason behind that is 'cause I actually was ... The school that I went too, Northeastern, they have what's called a co-op program and you can ... The idea behind it is that you end up ... It's a five year program and by the time you graduate you end up with a year of actual work experience under your belt. So it's supposed to give you this competitive edge and during one of my co-ops I ended up working for Under Armour in their rookie program and that was really my first taste of what it was like to be a designer in a corporate world and be part of a company that has a fairly large design team.
Dexter: And while I was there, as a rookie they expose you to a lot of different aspects of the company. You get to work on these fun, interesting projects. When you're doing the task associated with just the rookie program, but there was another piece of it where you had to also work on projects for the actual department that you part of. So I was part of the brand marketing department and whenever I switched from doing the rookie work to doing the brand marketing work, it wasn't that fun for me. A lot of it, things that we had to do, you always envisioned, "Oh, Under Armour, I'm going to be doing these amazing campaigns and working with these athletes and capturing these photos", and that's not how it actually works in real life. Mostly the stuff I was working on was designing signage for Dick's Sporting Goods and I'm talking signage as in a black background, the name of the product, a descriptor and the logo. And just basically assembling stuff instead of actually creating things. So for me, I sort of realized that I did not want to go back to Under Armour at that time because I wanted to have more creative input and sort of stretch myself wherever I was at.
Dexter: So I decided to work with smaller companies and ended up finding BTE and yeah. I stayed there for quite a while. I stayed there for about six years which I would say, it was a bit too long. But it was ... While I was there it was still a good experience.
Maurice: I mean, six years at a company, that's a long time in this industry. Six years is. How do you feel like you changed as a designer throughout those six years?
Dexter: Well, you know, you say that and for some reason I didn't get the memo. I was still listening to my parents and they always said, "Stick with a company, show that you're loyal. This is all good stuff that people want to see on your resume", and so I was okay with sticking around, but what I didn't realize until later on was that things have changed. And a lot of my peers there, they're moving to companies every two to three years. And I'm still at BTE and so for me, the experience though, it was definitely good early on. I did, as far as the reasons why I decided to go there to have that creative input that I was seeking, it basically had all of that.
Dexter: The only other designer on the team was the guy I was working under. So it was very easy for him to say, "Hey, that's what we have to do X, Y, Z. Come up with some ideas. Build it out the way you want to build it out, execute", and all that stuff. So I really had a chance to try a bunch of different things and also did things that I wouldn't typically do as a private designer. I'm working on marketing campaigns, various email campaigns, I'm going to trade shows around the country, I'm doing audio, video setups and just things that when you're at a larger company, you're not necessarily exposed to. So for me that was a huge reason why I stuck around. But I eventually had this epiphany moment where I realized I'm growing in the sense that I'm learning all these different things I wouldn't typically learn, but as far as my career path goes, I'm not moving in that direction. I'm sort of just stretching but I'm not moving. So I needed to ... I needed a change and so yeah, it took me six years to realize that.
Maurice: Well, I mean that's something really important that you hit on there. This parental advice about staying in once place and kind of making a name for yourself there. I think that especially in this industry with as fast as things move with design and technology, that advice just doesn't stick anymore.
Dexter: It doesn't.
Maurice: It really doesn't.
Dexter: It doesn't.
Maurice: I was seeing something online recently about job hopping and how it was probably some old person said it, but they were saying something about how millennials need to stop job hopping and stay in one place and it's like, "You do realize that regardless of which industry you're in, whether it's media, whether it's design or technology, I mean one technology affects all of this, but also things are changing so rapidly that you have to keep up with the times and that may not be at the place that you're at", you know?
Maurice: If you're at a place, like you say for six years and you're able to kind of grow and stretch yourself that's good, but if you don't feel like you're pushing yourself in your career you gotta go to the next thing. And I mean, I think it's good that you were able to realize that and see that. I wouldn't look at those six year ... and I'm not saying that you look at it as a negative, but I wouldn't look at that as a bad thing. Six years, that is a good bit of time really to just learn a lot of stuff and I'm sure you bring that to what you're doing right now at Airbus and with Tribe.
Dexter: Yeah. That is one thing. It really was on me to learn what I needed to learn to be able to make that transition because early on, I mean if you think about it, if that's my first job out of college then my portfolio, the way it took [inaudible] for me, I feel like this is the case where some designers but for me especially, I kind of build my portfolio in anticipation for getting that next role. Or at least that's what I did at the time. So my portfolio, six years after graduation looked exactly the same as when I applied for the job. And so the type of projects that I had in there were branding projects and just a lot of print and I'm over here chasing a UX, UI role, so none of that's gonna translate and that's not gonna show well to anybody who's trying to hire me for a role like that.
Dexter: So there was a lot of things I had to learn. Even how to present myself to them. I had to take on some self initiated projects and I had to do the actual case studies and learn. Like it's not about showing the final product, I know that was another thing. Early on, it was just like, "Oh, yeah. My portfolio can just be a site full of the end product and the pretty pictures and all that stuff", but it's not like that anymore. If you just show a portfolio like that you will not get the looks that you're looking for. I think it may show well for people that don't know what they really want, but for people that know what they really want, they can see past that easily. So I had to learn to how to present myself and I had to write up the process and really show that I put in the work and also had the understanding of the actual process to really get to a good final product that's informed by something.
Maurice: Yeah. That is ... I'd tell that to designers all the time. About how they need to make sure that their websites is not just a photo gallery.
Dexter: Yeah, exactly.
Maurice: Like you can't just show off, "Oh, I can do these pretty works and things", partially because one, professional mock ups, the kind of mock ups you can drag into photo shop with smart objects, like you can damn near get those for free now. So anybody can have a really nice professional polished looking end result, but if you can't talk about how you got to that result, like what was your methodology, what was the design process like, what was it like going back and forth with stakeholders. If you can't articulate any of that, then you're just like ... I tell people it's like hiring a mechanic. Like, yeah you can go and fix the parts on the car but you're just kind of showing you're a capable set of hands. You're not showing that you really can understand what the problem is and how you can use design to fix it, you know?
Dexter: Yeah. It's funny to me when people submit Dribbble links as their portfolios and stuff like that. I appreciate the amount of work that goes into creating a new post in Dribble every day or other day or however often people tend to do it, but yet there's never any explanation around it. You never know what is it that this persons trying to solve for. It just-
Dexter: ... never know what is it that this person's trying to [inaudible 00:20:03].
Dexter: It just looks great.
Maurice: So when you said you kind of had to learn this process, were you just learning this on your own? Was someone else telling you kind of, "Hey, this is what you need to do." How did you come to that realization?
Dexter: Luckily, you know, nowadays everybody loves sharing things, so there are plenty of resources online. Medium is one of my favorite sites. I think it was a great tool for saying how people would, you know, present these problems that they were solving for, and the process that they went through to tackle them.
Dexter: So, I was doing a lot of reading, I was picking up books on things like The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, and things like that. Basically just trying to understand what is this world of product design, you know? I had an idea of what it was, but I didn't fully understand everything that was involved with it.
Dexter: So, I did have to do a lot of reading. So what made me realize that epiphany moment that I had while I was at BTE was as I was, you know, reading this stuff, and found myself getting more interested in it, and, you know, discovering all these different frameworks that people were using to solve these problems, and, you know, how do you approach design, and how design was more informed by something, versus just the people in the room who, you know, have gut feelings about, you know, about things. It was, you know, instead informed by actual user and conducting interviews and things like that.
Dexter: All of that intrigued me, and so I tried to bring some of that into BTE, and it wasn't really working. So, I just, you know, at that point I said, "You know, I gotta go somewhere where this is ... people understand that there is more of a process associated with this, and people have invested the time, or have already bought into that, and I can really be immersed in it." So, yeah, a lot of reading online, you know, knowing some people who worked at other companies, I would ask a lot of questions about how they would do it. But, yeah, just reading, and then actually just trying things.
Dexter: You know, I said I tried to bring it into BTE, I tried to apply ... When I first learned about atomic-based design, that's a, you know, that's something that's intended for websites, and building out design systems. I actually tried to use some of those tools for a print-based project that I was working on at BTE. Not all of it translated perfectly, but I was able to really, you know, try something new, try a different approach to a, you know, design problem that we were trying to solve, and the end product turned out great. That actually was one that ended up on my portfolio, I was able to write up a whole case study about it.
Dexter: So, yeah, just, you know, actually not just reading, but actually trying to apply the stuff that you're reading.
Maurice: Yeah, we do like a ... I think we have a modified version of Atomic Design with what we do at Glitch, and it differs between the work that we do with our product, which is the editor, and also through some of the graphic design and print products. So for example we've got this large, I almost wanna call it a periodic table, if we're extending this metaphor.
Maurice: We have a periodic table of design elements that we use, and we kinda pick and choose from that to create banners and tiles, but we also use it in slide decks, and we use it on, you know, one-pagers, and things of that nature. So it's all pulling from the same general family of stuff, to make sure that we've got our general kinda look and feel across all our different properties. Then, you know, we sort of take those atoms, and we form molecules-
Maurice: And we form organisms. Very similar to kinda that Atomic Design Methodology.
Dexter: Exactly, exactly.
Maurice: So you're a product designer in Atlanta, which I have to say I think is pretty rare.
Maurice: Yeah, because I think that the schools here largely, and I'm, I mean, I'm pretty sure someone from Atlanta will tell me I'm wrong here, but I feel like the schools in Atlanta really teach a lot more of the kinda practical ... I don't wanna say practical, a lot of the graphic design, web design. Sort of what you said you were learning at Northeastern. That's what they teach, and then people who graduate from those programs tend to go into more discreet design positions, like say they're a graphic designer at AT&T, or they're a web designer at Home Depot or something like that.
Maurice: I feel like the product design moniker is something that is been mostly used by more design-focused companies that are in New York, or San Francisco, or something like that. The people I know out here that are product designers, they're usually working for a company that's headquartered in one of those places. So, I guess the title just sorta carries over.
Dexter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Maurice: But yeah, it's been rare for me to find product designers here, and certainly people will ask me about, "Where are the product design jobs in Atlanta?" I'm like, "I don't know. I could not tell you." It's a different story if you ask me about just regular web design, graphic design. I mean, those are almost like a dime a dozen here, it feels like.
Dexter: Yeah, well, I mean, I feel like Atlanta has this [inaudible] tech scene, and, you know, I've come across a few companies that seem to be, you know, looking for product designers. I know ... I'm in Ponce City Market, and, you know, even within PCM we have MailChimp-
Dexter: They are always looking for product designers. I know Home Depot ... I don't know if you've heard, but Home Depot is ... their whole design team has grown immensely. I don't know the exact number, but when I heard how large the design team was over there ... how much it has grown, I should say-
Maurice: Oh, they've got hundreds of designers.
Dexter: Yeah, it's crazy. You know, of course it's all very ... you know, it's different disciplines, so, you can have a product designer, but you can have 10 UX writers, and 30 UX researchers, and all that stuff. But I know that they seem to be more design-centric now more than ever. You know, companies ... I know there's what? Cabbage, and Cardlytics is in PCM also. So, you know, there are some companies out here.
Dexter: I think more people are ... seem to be moving to Atlanta. I know Bevel, they recently moved to ... or not ... Bevel isn't-
Maurice: They're about to. Yeah, they're about to move here, yeah.
Dexter: Yeah. What's it called? What's his name?
Maurice: Tristan Walker.
Dexter: Yeah, Walker, yeah. Walker and Company. So, I think they're looking for designers as well.
Maurice: It's starting to change, I will say that. I just know even just as far back as maybe two or three years ago, it was really difficult to find that unless you were kind of coming in through a larger company that maybe already had product designers in their general workforce, like a Facebook or something like that.
Maurice: So maybe ... I wanna say that the job market tide is changing, but certainly not the pipeline into that market through an Atlanta design institution.
Maurice: I'm being very ... yeah. If you go to say Portfolio Center, or the Art Institute of Atlanta-
Maurice: Or even if you take a design ... Well, no, that might be a little different if you take a design course at Tech, or George State or something. But certainly at some of these more traditional art institutions, they're not equipping those students to go out and work in a product design capacity. They're mostly working as a copywriter, or graphic designer, at more of these kinda discreet almost specialized type of design roles.
Dexter: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, I feel like schools tend to be a little bit behind the ball, especially with how quickly the industry is changing-
Dexter: And also just growing. So, I feel like it's kinda hard for them to keep up and build a curriculum around, you know, product design. 'Cause, you know, they're just not as nimble as, you know, some of these general assembly bootcamp-
Dexter: Type situations. So, yeah, even when I was at Northeastern, I remember they were teaching me Flash-
Dexter: And we were ... yeah, we were learning how to use Flash.
Maurice: What year was this?
Dexter: My professor even ... This was probably 2008 or nine.
Dexter: The teacher even said, "Flash is dying, but this is just the curriculum." I was upset. Why am I learning this?
Maurice: I can believe that. I can believe that. I taught design in 2010, 2011, and they were still teaching table-based design for websites. I had to go to the Dean and say, "Look, I will rewrite the curriculum myself to show them how to use CSS, because you are setting all these students up to fail."
Maurice: They're gonna graduate, and they're gonna have this table-based design, and people are gonna laugh them right out of their offices. They're not gonna get hired.
Dexter: I will say that, you know, even though that the curriculum isn't necessarily product-focused, and you don't learn, you know, about those different frameworks, and all the terms, and, you know, things that pertain more to UIUX design. Understanding, you know, fundamental design principles, I think is still ... it's still very important to be a, you know, just a good designer in general. I think those skills transfer over to at least, you know, the UI space.
Dexter: So, that's one thing that I'm glad I had, because I can ... I feel like it's easier for me to learn the methodologies of a UX designer, than it is for a UX designer to learn to be a strong visual designer, just 'cause that takes honing your eye a bit.
Dexter: I feel like that's a bit of a challenge. So for me, you know, I feel confident as a, you know, a visual designer, and a, you know, UX designer as well.
Maurice: Okay. Talk to me about DebtBennies. What is that? I saw it on Product Hunt, but I want you to kinda explain it to our audience.
Dexter: Yeah. So, DebtBennies is a website I recently launched on Product Hunt. It's a directory of companies that offer student loan repayment benefits. I ended up ... I got the idea from my sister, actually, who, you know ... Actually shout out to my sister, I just found out yesterday she made it into Harvard, my younger sister. She's way smarter than me, and she made it into Harvard NBA program. So-
Dexter: I have to-
Maurice: Congratulations to her.
Dexter: Say that. But, she actually gave me the idea. She sent me an article about a company that was offering to exchange, it was PTO, or, you know, vacation time for student loan repayment. So, I'd never heard of that, and I always wondered why aren't more companies offering something like a 401(k) for a student load repayment? Because as a person who has a lot of student loans myself, it always seemed counterproductive to contribute to my 401(k).
Dexter: Which for me, you know, I see retirement as way down the line, but what I'm dealing with on a day-to-day basis is my student loans. I'd like to put, you know, all the money that I've contributed to my 401(k), and that the company that I work for has contributed to my 401(k). It'd be nice if I could put that toward my student loans.
Maurice: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dexter: So, I actually did some research after she sent me that just to see if there are other companies doing this and, you know, we ended up getting into a little conversation about it, and she said something along the lines of, "Yeah, this is pretty cool, but I wouldn't know where to find these companies." Just from that statement alone, I said, "Huh, this is interesting. Let's see how many companies are out there actually doing this, providing, you know, this type of benefit."
Dexter: As I started digging, I found out that there were, you know, a fairly decent amount. It's small, it's still I think about 4% of companies, is what the statistic is right now. But of course with the, you know, growing debt and all the issues around that, it's becoming more of a, you know, a topic of discussion, and something to consider for a lot of companies.
Dexter: Right now, because it is more of a luxury benefit that you won't find everywhere, the names ... the companies that are providing it tend to be bigger names. So, on the website you'll see a few companies that you recognize, but I decided to basically put that on a site, 'cause I found a lot of online articles where they listed, you know, the companies in the article. But I thought, "Is there a easy way, or is there a place where somebody can always come back to to see, you know, these companies, and any new companies that decide to offer this benefit?"
Dexter: I personally, you know, I see it as a win-win. I'm, you know, advocating that Airbus get a, or consider a benefit like this, because what they say is that for ... of course for the employee, it helps them tackle their student loans. So, it's ... The idea behind that is it allows the employee to focus less on, you know, what's the next job that's gonna bring me more money? Or what can I do outside of my job to make more money to help pay these loans? And focus more on what they're doing now, and be more effective in their current role.
Dexter: For the employer that's of course a benefit, because you have employees that are ... tend to be more passionate about what they're doing, because they can invest those emotional resources that they were putting into trying to tackle this burning of debt into their companies. It's supposed to help with retention and productivity, and things like that. So, I really see it as a win-win, and I wanted to, you know, just build something. I just decided, "Let me just go for this." You know, it was an idea I had, and I usually have a lot of ideas, I put them on paper, and I don't do anything with them, they just sort of sit there. This one I said, "No, I have to do this."
Dexter: So I just put it out there, and making it on Product Hunt, 'cause I follow Product Hunt, was a huge accomplishment for me. Even though it didn't get a whole lot of traction, I think it's only at 17 uploads right now, but that's cool, you know? It was more so being in action, and taking those steps to get it done.
Maurice: I think that's a really good thing if companies would start to offer more things like that, 'cause you keep hearing so much about the student loan crisis, the student loan bubble, all of this. But, you know, I think a lot of that has come from the fact that the primary focus for a lot of us, I'd say maybe, you know, 30 and younger, or something like that, was that, you know, you go to school, you have to ... that's the path, go to school, get an education. You end up racking up all this debt, and then you get out in the workforce and you're like, "Oh, I have this job that I'm basically ... I basically have a job to pay off for school."
Maurice: You know, it makes it hard for you to really just contribute and be a functioning adult in the world. To take off work, or to spend on leisure things, you have to think, "Oh, well I gotta balance this with, you know, with student loan payments and stuff." But, I think that's a great idea that companies are starting to adopt that as a perk. I mean, that's really something.
Dexter: Yeah. Fortunately ... So right now, again, only certain companies are offering this, and a part of the reason ... one of the challenges behind it is that the taxes. I think you still get taxed on that contribution as income-
Dexter: Right now. But, the government is trying to pass a bill that basically makes it tax ... I guess you won't get taxed on it the same way. It won't be taxed as income, and that will allow more companies to take advantage of this type of benefit. So, hopefully things will change soon, and we'll see a uptake in the companies that adopt something like this. But, so far the response to the ones that have created this benefit or implemented it into their companies is been really positive.
Dexter: So I'm really hoping more companies consider it, I think right now it just makes a lot of sense. Yeah, the student debt thing, that's a whole ... we could have a whole nother podcast about this, and me and you could probably go on for hours, 'cause it's [inaudible] that really ... it's a issue that really, you know, it really bothers me. Yeah, I just ... DebtBennies is basically my way of contributing to a solution.
Maurice: So you've been here now in Atlanta for a few months, of course working at Airbus, taking in the city and everything. Have you gotten a chance to experience the Atlanta design scene in any way? Has there ever been anything about the city that's kind of appealed to you as a designer? I'm just curious to know that.
Dexter: So, I haven't had a whole lot of time to take in I guess the design scene. I'm slowly, you know, figuring out I guess Atlanta and the make up of the city. But I will say it is noticeably different from Baltimore. There's just a lot more activity, there's a lot more going on. There's no shortage of events, you know, [inaudible] tends to host a lot of things. The meetups here, there tend to be more design meetups.
Dexter: I know back home, I said that I joined the Baltimore Black Techies, which is more of a tech meetup, and I was one ... initially the only designer there, and then I think there might have been one or two other designers that joined that meetup. But that was because that's all I could find. You know, I didn't find too many design meetups there, but here, you know, there are a few design meetups. I've been to one, I think Design Systems meetup is one, and just the different events seem to be catered around design-
Dexter: But with this entrepreneurial spin to it, which is nice. There's a lot of entrepreneurs here in Atlanta it seems like-
Dexter: ... which is nice is a lot of entrepreneurs here in Atlanta, it seems like. So I kind of like that. It seems to be this whole thing where you just take advantage of the skill, or hone your skills as a designer to basically build something for yourself, which seems to be the general theme of a lot of them. So yeah, I'm starting to figure it out. I definitely ... I went to ... Where'd I go? I went to Revery, and you can tell. The people there, it's a different crowd, and they're creative in a different way. And not necessarily ... Because I tend to feel product design is very, is more for business and corporations. And then there's this other side of it where you have a lot of creative people expressing themselves through music, and actual art, and designing T-shirts and things like that. So yeah, I'm starting to see the different types of design that show up around the city.
Maurice: Nice. Nice. For people that are listening, Revery is a virtual reality bar. Now, what advice would you give to somebody that wants to follow in your footsteps? They're hearing your story right now, what advice would you give them?
Dexter: So I think one thing I would say is always a strive for progress and not perfection. What happens a lot of times for me is I tend to get caught up in the details, the fine details that don't necessarily matter, and they prevent me from making actual progress. Like I said, I could come up with a lot of ideas. I write them down on paper, and then I think of all the things I need to bring this idea to life. And I'll get caught up in things like ... As a designer, I'll get caught up in things like branding. Like, "What does the logo look like? The logo has to look perfect. Now how do I apply that to the business cards and the website?" And that's before I have anything else established. That's before. I've conducted all the market research and things like that.
Dexter: So for DebtBennies, again, why this is a huge accomplishment for me is because I set up these guardrails from myself and I said "I'm going to get this website out. It's not going to be perfect. It's not going to have everything I want in it, but I'm going to get it out there. I'm going to see what the response is like, and I'll iterate." That's the beauty of what we do as product designers, is we have the opportunity to iterate. And so the goal was to make progress, don't get caught up in the branding. If you see the branding now, it's very simple. It's just a very simple word mark. I didn't try and come up with any logos. I just said, "Let me throw something out there that looks professional enough where it can at least get somebody's attention, but it doesn't have to be the final thing." know.
Dexter: So strive for perfection ... I mean strive for progress, not perfection. If your lack of perfection is causing inaction, if you're not able to move forward on something because you're so caught up in, "Oh, if this isn't quite right," or, "Oh, I don't have all the pieces yet," then you're doing yourself a disservice. Because even before DebtBennies, a perfect example was my portfolio. I would get so caught up in having my portfolio be perfect, and have everything it needs to have. I would always ... I would complete a case study. I would put it up there, but I wouldn't make the site live because I would then start looking at other people's portfolios and other designer case studies and things, and it would kind of show me what I didn't have. I would kind of focus on the things that I didn't have versus the things that I did have in my portfolio.
Dexter: And for me, that means I had this website that nobody can see, and I'm basically wasting all this time. I'm working at this company that I know is not the right company for me at the time, and I'm not promoting myself. Even if the portfolio isn't perfect, if I'm out there, at least somebody can see you know what's going on. They can see the progress. They can see the changes. But the fact that there's nothing there, it basically made me invisible to the people that I was looking to get noticed by.
Dexter: So again, I have to learn, and it's still something I'm working on, but I really strive for progress and action and moving forward versus perfection. Because striving for perfection will slow you down, and it really just ... It prevents opportunities from presenting themselves because you're just ... Like even this, man. When I saw the opportunity to speak with you, I automatically thought, "Man, what do I need to know? What do I need to ... How can I prepare for this? Should I push this to a later date?" All these things that show up just immediately, that if I let it, it would've pushed this interview to possibly June because I would have always thought there's more that needs to be done for me to be perfect. But I think even now, I'm making progress, I'm going through this interview with you, and I think there's still something that somebody is able to take away from this, even if it's not perfection.
Maurice: Oh, I think so. I think so. And I'm really glad that you said that because you would be surprised how many people that I'll reach out to to be on the show. And the first response ... And this is not to say that they should automatically say yes, but the first response is usually an emphatic no. Because they're like, "I'm not where I want to be in my career yet," or ... It's some thing, or they feel like they're not good enough yet. And I'm like, "No, I want to talk to you exactly where you are in your career right now." Because for me, I mean I've done almost 300 of these episodes. To me, I want the variety of having people at every different stage in their design journey, from the people that are students to folks that are just starting out, to mid career, to professionals, to icons. I want everybody along the spectrum so people can kind of see where they fall in. I don't want it to just be the folks that are at the top of the industry. Like to me, that's boring. I want folks throughout the whole spectrum.
Maurice: So I hope folks that are listening, when I reach out to you, don't say no automatically. Say yes. I want to talk to you for a reason. I wouldn't have reached out to you if I didn't think that you would be good to be on the show. So when they talk themselves out of it, and I never try to like force anyone. So when they say no, I'm just like, "Okay." I've never tried to like twist their arm about, "Oh I really want you to be on the show. If you don't feel like you want to be on it, that's fine. But the chances of me coming back are like slim to none. I'm just going to be honest." Because I have other people I can reach out to, and if you're not interested in, I don't want to ... I don't feel like it's supposed to be ... And maybe I'm a bad podcaster by saying this, but I don't feel like it's supposed to be my job to force you to come on my show. If you don't want to come on, just don't come on. It's not that big a deal to me.
Maurice: Now on your website, you list three things. You list what you're reading, what you're drinking, and what you're watching. So I'm going to put you on the spot here with a little bit of a, kind of a lightning round.
Maurice: So first off, what are you reading?
Dexter: I just ordered a new book. I haven't actually started yet, but it was a book that I got. I found doing research for DebtBennies. There's a guy ... I'm going to get his name wrong. I want to say his name is David Carlson. He just released the ebook about student loans. That's something that I ordered and will be diving into, but haven't started it yet.
Maurice: Okay. What are you drinking?
Dexter: Still a lot of [Zestea 00:48:41]. Zestea is the, that's the hometown tea right there.
Maurice: Oh really? That's from Baltimore?
Dexter: It is. It's actually, yeah, it's from Baltimore. I got exposed to it when I was working at Under Armour. They carry Zestea. They carry a lot of Zestea. It's a highly caffeinated tea. They call themselves the high octane tea, all the rush without the grind. The flavors are pretty good. And for me, it just keeps me going. A lot of my friends, they joke that I'm a narcoleptic because I just ... I could fall asleep anywhere. So having some tea that has a lot of caffeine, but I don't get that crash that I get from coffee, is pretty nice. So, still drinking the Zestea for sure. I got Airbus to basically buy some.
Maurice: So funny story about Zestea. So for people that have been listening to the show for awhile, they know that I also used to have a tea podcast that I did through all of 2015. I called it the year of tea. And so everyday I would review a different tea. They would be short episodes, like five minutes or less. And the goal is that you'll find out about a new tea in the time it takes you to brew a fresh cup. And I remember Zestea sent me some samples. I think they were like just starting out because I looked at it recently, I was like, "Oh, this is not the same company." They sent me ... This was like, I think they were just starting out, around 2015 or so. They sent me three samples, and I reviewed them. And I thought they were ... They were mostly pretty good.
Maurice: I mean, I like to drink highly caffeinated tea too. The tea I drink now is actually from Celestial Seasonings. They have this brew called Morning Thunder that's like a mix of black tea. It's a mix black tea and roasted yerba maté, which I've been drinking yerba maté for a long time. It's another one of these kinds of ... It doesn't have caffeine, but it has some compound that has caffeine-like that gives you energy.
Dexter: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Maurice: I don't know if it's as much as Zestea is, but that might be something worth trying out. I used to drink this other tea. The company doesn't exist anymore, but it was called [Radioactivitea. 00:00:50:54]. Corny name, I know. And the tea was done in this method called CTC, which is cut, tear, curl. And so the tea looked like instant coffee grinds almost. And you brew it up, and I mean it'll get you going all day.
Maurice: Its ... Yeah. It's something else.
Dexter: I might have to look into that.
Maurice: Yeah, look into that. So lastly, what are you watching?
Dexter: Everybody's always on this Game of Thrones, and I've actually never watched ... I've watched one episode of Game of Thrones.
Dexter: So now I'm in the process, since I guess the new season's coming out or whatever, so I'm starting to watch that. And yeah, that was one. I'm kind of ... I guess everybody likes it, so I'm only excited because everybody likes it, but I'm not really ... I'm not really that into the idea of just sitting there and watching Game of Thrones. I tend to like watching shows that are a bit lighter. There's a show on Netflix called Final Table. It's cook-off between some of the greatest chefs around the country, I mean around the world. Man, that show ... I get so motivated. Like once I watch that, I'm ready to get into the kitchen, whip up a good steak. I love watching that show. I would say that's one that's like kind of my favorite right now. I actually finished it recently, so that's why I'm moving to Game of Thrones.
Maurice: Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work would you like to be doing?
Dexter: That's a good question because I struggle ... I struggle with that one only because I feel like as a designer, our trajectory is always toward a creative director, and I have a hard time seeing myself in that role where I'm not doing the actual work of design myself, I'm more like delegating and sort of, you know, directing it. I don't know, it's hard for me to see myself as not a contributor, but that is ultimately what we tend to be moving towards. I really am having a hard time. I've always had a hard time answering that because at this stage right now, it just doesn't really appeal to me.
Dexter: But I think it's probably one of those things, like once you're in it. Because I did actually end up talking to somebody who made that transition to a creative director and I asked them, "How did that feel, not being able to do the design work yourself?" And they actually loved it. They said that they almost felt like they had more control over the design because they're now ... They're just not the ones doing it, but it's still their vision. So maybe it would work out great for and I would love being a creative director.
Dexter: But as far as I guess career path goes, if I'm thinking about working for a company, that's what I imagine at some point. But things like DebtBennies and working for [Tribe 00:14:13], that may change everything. I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and so the idea of working for somebody else doesn't necessarily appeal to me either, working for somebody else for like the rest of my life. It'd be nice to have something on my own and build something that I'm really proud of. And so maybe it will be DebtBennies, I don't know. But either way, I think it'll always be something around design. It really does have to be something that I'm just really passionate about, that I think makes a difference. And right now, again, DebtBennies checks a lot of those boxes for me.
Dexter: So I'm not really sure. I can't say with confidence what it may be. But yeah, I guess we'll see. We can reconnect in 10 years and do another interview, you know?
Maurice: All right. Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?
Dexter: My website is DexterFerguson.com. I did just pick up the domain UxDex.co, so that also takes you there. That's my portfolio. You can contact me through the contact form on there. I also have ... I am not a fan of social media, so I actually don't have a IG account. I don't have Facebook or a personal Twitter, but I do have a Twitter for DebtBennies. That's just @DebtBennies. And I'm on LinkedIn, just Dexter Ferguson, and you'll see product designer.
Maurice: All right, sounds good. Well, Dexter Ferguson, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. First, I think I really liked what you had to say about striving for progress, not perfection. As you detailed your story about how you learned about design and high school and started kind of going to college and learning it, and then really kind of seeing where your career has gone since then, I could really tell that this is something that you have a passion for. And I hope that while you're here in Atlanta, that the city inspires you, whether that's entrepreneurially through DebtBennies, or whether that's professionally through these meetups and such. I don't know, I see a bright future for you ahead. I just want to thank you again so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Dexter: No, I appreciate it. Thanks a lot. This is, first of all, a great platform. I'm happy to be a part of it and able to contribute at this point. So thank you for the opportunity.