Jay Workin’ on the Next Generation of Designers

Jamal Collins at Fresh Fest 2022. Photo courtesy of Imago Dei Creative Labs.

Jay Workin’ is a designer and creative media consultant from East Cleveland known for his work at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and elsewhere. He has been extensively covered by local news for his endeavors and for staying connected and engaged by using social media to turn young people on to design and the opportunities that lie therein. We talk about designers versus artists, AI putting designers out of work, and the blueprint for getting your young designer started.

JIMI IZRAEL: You know what? I feel like Andy Warhol was a designer, making you think he was doing some artful shit versus, like, say, a Keith Haring. Andy Warhol made you believe that he was doing art by just embellishing different kinds of conventional pop-culture design.

JAY WORKIN’: Yeah, I feel like everybody starts off as an artist already anyway, intuitively by using crayons and watercolors and things like that. A designer is more of a technical problem solver.

JI: You’re mainly known for your ability to work with young people. How do you pull out the inner designer of a young person?

JW: I don’t think you can. I guess you could just give them the tools, and they have to pull them out of themselves. Everybody’s not gonna make it. That’s one of the things I had to come to grips with. I used to be heavy on that; I am, like, really trying to pull ‘em out. I think they are already designers. You’re just giving them exposure to it that this does exist and that you can’t do it, and then you gotta see if they gonna do it or not.

JI: So you’re not working with kids now?

JW: It’s like off and on. I’m a contractor, so I’m not, uh, continually working with kids all the time. I’m more like a consultant, and with the Creative Kids Group, that’s specifically centered around the young kids, getting into introducing them and giving them some awareness to, of the arts. I did some programming with St. Luke’s Foundation and I did some programming with Harvey Rice Wraparound School. I’m working with PNC Fairfax Connection, and I have classes open for kids on Thursdays, and Saturdays, but most of that demographic has been older people.

I did some programming with King Kennedy Boys & Girls Club in that Central area. I’m not as consistent as I was with the Boys & Girls Club, but I still work with them. Also, I speak at colleges. I’m able to talk to all of different ages and different ranges.

JI: Have any, have any of your young students gone on to become designers?

JW: Uh, not yet.

JI: In a working-class town like Cleveland, how do you convince young people that you’re giving them a skill they can eat off?

JW: I show it to them. I actually pull up some salaries and say, look, this is, this is what you can make. I had designer Aaron Sechrist (aka OKPants) come in there and have him talk to them, and I’ll brief them before he comes in and say, “make sure y’all ask him how much he charges.”

One of the things I think is that I really don’t hold back no punches when I talk to kids. I speak, I guess I don’t know if it’s because I’m a father or because I don’t hold back on anything. I give the real hardcore truth on every level, from college to graduation to working with a racist manager, if you got that situation.

JI: So, I’m thinking I wanna become a designer, but then I got AI over here putting designers outta business. The AI work looks amazing. How does the designer save himself?

JW: What do you mean?

JI: I mean, with all this other stuff going on with Canva and AI.

JW: The answer is to package up your intellect. You can’t replicate that. So you gotta be smart. You gotta be intellectual, like on a higher level, like really understanding how to build something and use it to be able to work in. I think that’s the key. Like, we are all unique individuals. We all got our own type of, um, uniqueness about us is really able to capture that uniqueness and be able to tell it and be able to showcase the world and find your place in it, bringing the market to you. If they got that question or they need help with something, you know, I’m here to do that, and maybe my website don’t say that, but thankfully we got ChatGPT, and I’m gonna fix it.

JI: ChatGPT gonna put ME outta business. (laughs) So, pretend I got, like, an eleven-year-old son and one thousand dollars in my pocket. What do I buy him to get him started? Give me the blueprint.

JW: You get him a refurbished MacBook Pro. If they have an iPad, he could contact the Apple Pencil; they could do all their dirt on there like that too.

JI: What’s up in 2023 for you?

JW: Probably like a five-hour lecture series on personal branding, creating content, marketing yourself, and being a visionary creative. Working with East Cleveland Loiter project. Doing some more with that, my man, activist Ismail Samma. I’m creating some content for the Lead Safe initiative. I’m still plugging away at PNC Fairfax Connection—there on Thursdays from 11 am to 1 pm, and Saturdays, I’m there from 11 to 1, too, talking a lot of like strategy. I think I’ve been in the game long enough. I saw what was missing, and I think once you kind of can identify yourself and package up your intellect and you won’t be able to be outworked by AI.

JI: The Loiter project is an East Cleveland community building program that includes an arts and culture component that you steward—is that fair to say?

JW: Yeah, we got a marketplace, we got the arts and culture spots, we got farms and we are working on sanctuary homes.

JI: What are you doing exactly for the Lead Safe initiative?

JW: I work directly with the CEO and I’m, like, part of the marketing team. Storytelling as far as any videos, any pictures of anything that’s going on with the last day. Some external stuff, some internal, some stuff you might see maybe on the website and stuff coming out soon. I work as a consultant bro, like doing podcasts, video, video editing and all that stuff. So that’s kind of one of my many hats.

Jamal Collins at Fresh Fest 2022. Photo courtesy of Imago Dei Creative Labs.