The "Do Not Touch" Button!
Join host Vandana as she interviews Maureen Carter, VP Design/UX, Digital Brands, Experiential Design at BET Networks, ( a subsidiary of Paramount).
Maureen shares her fascinating journey from a family with deep artistic roots to becoming a trailblazer in the world of design. Her experiences in the music industry and digital advertising shaped her perspective on the ever-evolving landscape of design, technology, and creativity. Maureen’s insights on the future of design, the impact of digital advancements, and the importance of staying connected to multiple industries are very insightful. This episode also gives valuable knowledge delving into the exciting possibilities of web 3.0, the metaverse, NFT and beyond.
Vandana: Hey, Maureen. Welcome to the Fail Faster podcast. How are you today?
Maureen: I’m great. Thank you so much for having me. Absolutely. I’m glad to be here.
Vandana: Same here. We are glad to have you today. Thank you for joining us. Let’s start talking about you, Maureen. Tell us, our audience, a little bit about you, your background, where you were born, maybe anything that influenced your career, your role today.
Maureen: Wonderful. Well, I can start with where I was born, but it starts before that. It starts generations before that. I am a product of an entrepreneurial and musical family on both sides. My grandfather came over from Barbados with a band to Brooklyn, New York, where my mother’s side of the family were born and raised. My father’s mother, she was from the South and migrated up to New Jersey, Princeton area.
To my mother, my dad was a country boy, even though he was in New Jersey and she was in Brooklyn, New York, so that’s the family joke. Where they were traced, my dad’s a brick mason, there’s architecture, there are people who can build things. On my mother’s side, everyone sews, plays a musical instrument, fashion designers, clothing designers, painters, artisans. I love that I start with that because I say I’m from Trenton, New Jersey, by way of Brooklyn.
I was taking art classes at FIT when I was eight years old with my aunt, who was a graduate of FIT, who had her own design shop where she was making clothes and styling Ruby Dee and Patti LaBelle. I learned how to sew and I played piano, played the violin. I was taking art classes between New York and New Jersey. When I was in the first grade, I drew an amaryllis. My first grade school teacher brought in a plant, a flower, and told the class to draw it.
She called my parents and said, can you come in? She said to my parents, Maureen, the assignment was this, five, six years old. She said, Maureen’s flower looks like a flower. She drew it in crayons in 30 minutes. That piece of work is hanging in my house right to the right of me. It was my first art show. That piece was selected and it was shown at the City Hall of Trenton, New Jersey. I remember having my first gallery exhibit at five years old. I remember the cello and the band and wine and cheese.
I’m running around and people are looking at art. I’ve been an artist all my life. I was just having a conversation with a design student because I’m also an adjunct professor. I’ll come back to that. It is who I am. It’s in my DNA. I don’t do art and design during the day and then I’m doing accounting at night. I have been blessed that my whole life, my talents have been appreciated and nurtured by my family and always, always let me explore. My undergraduate degree is in design.
My master’s degree is in communications design from Pratt. My undergraduate degree is at Hampton University. My master’s degree is from Pratt where I studied package design, illustration, animation, communications design. Since then, I completed during COVID. I have my Yale certificate for business perspectives for creative leaders. We’ll probably get to that because what’s so hard for people to understand is when you come through design and even master’s level in design, you don’t learn some of the operational things about corporate business, throughput, output, operations, human resources matters, having those tough conversations, understanding and managing a budget.
At art school, you do whatever you can just to pay for your art supplies. But then when I’m running a design team in a global media company, I have a million dollar budget. I have to be accountable for how I’m spending that money through training, through continued education, through equipment, through travel, and also making sure that my team feels rewarded. I do field trips, take them to the museum.
We just saw Basquiat. We saw the Louis Vuitton exhibit honoring Virgil. I want to make sure that I stay connected and plugged in and also making sure that the generation of designers stay plugged in. The design is out there. It’s not in your office. It’s not in your house. It is in your house and it’s in your soul, but it’s also in the world. And that’s what really inspires me. So-
Vandana: Yeah. That is amazing.
Maureen: So that’s really kind of how it all got started.
Vandana: Awesome. It’s a great story and how lucky to be born in a family where, you know, you are not only given the freedom, but also you feel proud that you have those genes in you and you’ve inherited that talent and you’re blossoming it with your work. So great.
Maureen: Thank you. Thank you. I’m really inspired by the future of design, you know, like where are we going to be in Web 3.0? Where are we going to be in the metaverse? Where are we going to be with NFTs? And how is that going to move brands forward and how is that also going to affect the bottom line? It’s no longer something that we just look like, that we look at, you know, for fun. We look at it in terms of not just a trend, but a trend in a way that the future is now.
As individuals, we need to speak knowledgeably about it and stay in touch, right? And not just in touch with one industry, but in multiple industries. Because what’s pop culture now, and I consider myself a pop culture enthusiast as a subject matter of expert in design and usability and, you know, building products. I’m a maker. I’m an innovator. I’m a creator. I’m a marketer. And I’m a storyteller, you know, so my team, we have had some amazing, my teams throughout my career, and I’ll take you through, you know, some of my highlights in my career.
But overall, what really gets my jam these days, I had my former boss used to say that all the time, is, you know, things like sustainability, how do we, you know, coming out of COVID, how everyone’s perspective of the world now has changed, right? How does design influence and can influence the future of communication, the future of connection? How can we continue to be curious? How we continue to be empathetic, right? How we continue to show compassion, and also bring joy and understanding into the lives of others.
Right. Because everything is about a collaboration these days, right? You have a rapper that’s collabing with Chanel, that’s collaborating with a graffiti artist, right? And then the magic happens. And then when you go to the actual runway show in Milan, you’re greeted with a ballerina and a heartfish and a rock band, right? And they’re serving everything from caviar to cotton candy. I actually love that. Caviar to cotton candy. And everything in between, right? So we’re living in a world where creativity is being embraced by all, and it’s actually cool.
Yeah. Right? It’s cool. It’s cool now. It’s cool to wear your flow and wear your flair and color your hair purple. And where when I was in design school, that was just the design majors that did that. Right. Everyone else walked around in business attire, because all my other friends were in the business building. And only 10 of us were in the art building in college. So we were the ones that could wear painted jeans and ripped jeans and crazy glasses and crazy. Oh, she’s an art major. That’s why she or he looked that way. Now, you have CEOs of companies coming to work in t-shirts.
Vandana: Yeah. Yeah. Very true.
Maureen: Right? Power. Power to the people. Right? And everyone is woke. Right? Everyone is woke. Everyone is woke in terms of what’s happening in terms of social justice. That’s one part of it. And that is very important. But it’s also just woke around, hey, there’s so many interesting things that we can build and make that the people want. I was just telling a student, and sometimes I get an assignment and it’s like, I need X by tomorrow. And there’s no room for questions. That’s why I run the team. I have to go and say, okay, I know at least what X is and where it’s going to be. Well, maybe I don’t even know where it’s going to be yet.
Maybe I can control where it’s going to be. What does the room smell like? What does the room feel like? Are we sitting in a circle or having our guests sit on the floor? Are we serving champagne or are we serving breakfast? And are we presenting a new brand kit? Are we presenting? Whatever that it is, but I call it the zazazoo and the flair of a brand. And I bring that brand and that soul and you have to be comfortable in that space. So I was telling the student who’s coming from a business background who is leaping into the world now of design as an adult, back to school, I told her, hey, just be.
You know, she’s like, what kind of website do I need? And how many of this do I need and how many portfolio pieces? Just be. If you see a leaf and you feel like picking it up and taking a picture of it, that’s expression. You know, some people bake, some people paint sneakers. So I still paint denim. I have a collab with an artist in Harlem and I still paint with her denim jackets. I’ve been painting jeans since I was in high school for sororities and fraternities and paddles and all this Greek paraphernalia, right? And I’m still doing it.
I said, you know, there are all these creative expression books. I used to do a book called The Creative Companion. There’s so many now that’ll tell you, if you were an elephant, what would the world look like to you today? Or they’ll tell you, go outside for the day on a Saturday with only $2 in your pocket. I found your most amazing street festivals in New York when I do that. And for $1, you can get some freshly squeezed lemonade. And then you have $1 to buy something else. You love it.
Vandana: It’s amazing. So where is your world of design intersecting with digital? Like this, this is amazing stuff. So tell me more about it.
Maureen: It’s all digital and technology. So you know, when I got out of grad school, you know, my first jobs were around, you know, I was at Vibe magazine, building, I was at a music magazine and they’re like, well, we need somebody that knows art and design that can sit with this developer and make the website look pretty like the magazine with photos and colors and not just looking black and white. And I can have some amazing experiences. I got to interview Tupac that’s on YouTube and then bring that content back. So I was creating short form content in 1996, right? And that was digital.
My title was, I remember my boss at the time said, make a title, whatever you want it to be because later this will look good on your resume. I was 26 years old with the, with the digital, we’re not even called the digital team. We were the web team. He was the webmaster of new media technology. And I was the new media creative director. And I created graphics alongside of developer who did code. And that was when people would wait an hour for the pages to load, people would dial up.
And then that journey, right, coming from, so I was rooted in music, I did music magazines, I did record labels, Face Records, Arista Records. I built the careers of Usher digitally and brand-wise. I could do the photo shoot, I could build a website and I could also start their social media. We weren’t even calling it social media. It was like, you’re going to be on AOL.com or, you know, there were about five or six websites that musicians wanted to be on.
I had the artist Pink in my office and I was the whole digital department for three or four jobs. And I was it. So for me now to see that digital, that they’re tech companies, first of all, and that they’re companies that have a whole floor of digital is amazing because I used to be the whole department. And they would give a million dollars for the person to shoot the music video. And they would give a million dollars for the tour. And I would get like $500, right? And I was like, okay, Pink, if you give me an hour of your time, I’m going to have you interview every tween in America and then I’m going to mail them signed glossies of yourself. Social media is born.
She was doing live chats, right? I built usyourworld.com with the creative director of the label. And we, you know, started taking content of him on tour, putting it on the website. This is before Facebook or Instagram or TikTok, right? I had rappers, Redman and Method Man and the Wu-Tang Clan versus, you know, Loud Records come together and play video games and we would just video it and put it on the website, right? So it brings me joy to know that I was at the beginning of this journey.
And then, you know, after I did music and entertainment and record labels and winning awards and enjoying touring and that, I was like, I want to know how good I am. So I hit Madison Avenue in the startup world and I said, I want to know, can I win awards and be that good if I have clients that are banks, that are insurance companies or automotive companies? So I joined, I joined a startup, we were a digital ad agency. So we were under Gray Advertising on Madison Avenue, but all we did were build websites.
And then, you know, I had to learn how to do digital style guides. And we had clients from every, it was based in Philadelphia. So we had every pharmaceutical company, we had Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, GMAC Bank, and then I had Tasty Cake, Campbell’s Soup, and Anthropologie stores, right? So I had all different types of brands. And you know, that’s when the words human factors and focus groups started. So I built, I built one of the first labs where you actually had users come interact with your website.
That’s when you started doing, you know, mind mapping and eye tracking. And you started talking about things like heuristic evaluation. So I built a UX team, right, a user experience team, and they started these things called wireframes. So then I had people that could wireframe and then I had people that would take the wireframes and then put the graphics on, right? And then, you know, you go in front of the CEOs of all these companies, and you would show what we’re going to do for their brand online.
You would show how they were going to increase their brand awareness, their brand culture, their brand value. And we were walking them through what that means from a technological perspective in terms and benefits they can understand. And what clients then loved is I said, hey, by the time we come back in a couple of weeks, it’s not working, we can, we can, we can pivot. Right, right. So what digital offered was, it wasn’t like printing a bound book for a coffee table or putting a billboard campaign up for 2.5 million and a television commercial for the Super Bowl.
We still do all of that and all of that is relevant. But we had a platform that if that didn’t work, we could easily pivot and do something else. Right. And I was able to bring my entertainment experience to Madison Avenue. They wanted, you know, I had Michael Strahan from the New York Giants at the time. He was a Campbell spokesperson. I had the rapper Bow Wow be a spokesperson for the kids for Campbell Soup. And we gave away a house for kids. We did an online contest. Ooh, right.
Where you could actually get to stay in this 10 bedroom mansion with you and your family and it would be stocked with Campbell Soup products, every kid’s dream. And you even have a butler. So I was able to know how to work with talent and Bow Wow shot the commercials and we built the site. And then when the family that won, we filmed it all and boom, there you go with digital content. So being on the cusp of all that and helping brands leap into that world, even if even from Aquafresh, Toothpaste, GMAC Bank and clothing brands and helping them how to launch lines and collections and working with.
We had also on Subaru, we did a whole we were a smaller agency. We won the business because we did all we all we bought my CEO of the startup. He bought a Subaru and we all got to drive it and we had a camera in the car and we took it to lunch. We took it to pick our friend. Everyone got to sign up to drive the Subaru around. And that’s what we pitched in our pitch and we won the business. So I loved what in the business in these creative, you know, non-traditional ways. And basically we were doing short form content and, you know, tick tock before tick tock.
Vandana: Yeah, this is so cool. Like you’re actually doing the experience, like bringing these human and digital things to life and then taking it beyond that into events, into launches, physical experiences. Wow.
Maureen: And I call that 360, right? So so, you know, I call myself a 360 experimental creator, right? Because, you know, most recently at BET, I’m building experiences on red carpet that clients are buying that’s creating content for Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook Live, Instagram. I built a bodega on a red carpet. I’ve built a subway on the red carpet. I’ve built a Louvre, a reenactment of the Louvre on the red carpet using digital artists that had paintings instead of Mona Lisa. It’s Beyonce and Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, right? And I’ve created a New York subway station on a hip hop award red carpet in Atlanta.
So I’ve had to learn how to I’ve had to learn how to change my team makeup. Right. So when I started, it was just me. And then I had a lot of tech code and developers. They need developers that really understand design. They need people that are good with words and understanding content. Right. You need editorial. Then you need people that can build sets. It’s not just about going to a trade show conference, right? I knew how to do that.
You learn that in design school, how to build a booth to be at a conference to sell something. But to build an experience on a red carpet where people actually can walk through and feel like they’re on a New York City subway as they’re walking to their seat for a for an award show is a whole different game. I hired a set designer who understands fabrication, who can go, you know, next thing you know, I’m in big box stores buying furniture over the weekend to do a YouTube show. Right.
We had sneaker shows, cooking shows. I’m making aprons. I’m making plates. I am, you know, working with stylists. So one of the things is like you have to make sure that you are nimble and flexible. And this game is forever changing. So I used to not have animators on my team. Half my team are animators because now because we’re making short form content for YouTube and things need to move, right? Everything moves now. So I need people that know after effects, where when I built my first research lab, I had people with degrees in sociology, anthropology and psychology.
Right. You know, now we’re not doing static wireframes and passing them over the wall and design. We’re prototyping the same tools. Right. We’re prototyping through Figma and InVision. And these things are good because when you’re in front of the sales team, they’re like, I could sell that. Where does my ad go? Oh, that’s how it’s going to move.
And that’s when the pre-roll is going to play. And then you’re going to show a couple of more minutes of the video and then another pre-roll. Then they can go talk to Mr. Coca-Cola and Miss Pepsi, Mr. Walmart and Mr. Toyota and make the deal. Right. So digital has become to me and what I’m what I’m hoping. What I strive for every day and my dream and my challenge is digital still in large companies that aren’t based in tech, digital becomes second to television or second to the way we sell cars or second to the way we sell art or interior design or architecture.
And then it’s like, oh, yeah. And put it on the website. My dream is it starts with digital and then that then creates the whole 360 campaign. Right. But you’re dealing with people that they only know how to make television shows for the past 50 years. You’re dealing with people that I know how to build cars. I know how to make the sexiest car come out and they understand a commercial for it. But the website, oh, that’s just the thing you do to get to the car dealership.
No, the digital perspective, it’s not just a website. People don’t even go to websites anymore. Quote me on that. No one’s typing in a WWW dot something unless it’s something very specific. And, you know, they are drawn in by the brand stickiness, short form content, something that makes them want to evangelize and be loyal to your brand. I teach a brand craft. I teach a brand class. They want to know that thing, you know. And one of my guest speakers, Greg Hoffman, who was creative director of Nike, he even said, you know, you can build and also I listen to a lot of TED Talk.
I still I go for mentors. I mentor a lot of students. I mentor all my friends, kids that go into school, go into art, design, advertising, because they don’t know what the other kids, you know, and because I take my career very seriously. I take the career of design very seriously. And it’s here to stay. We have to be the four. We have to be there in a metaverse before everybody else gets there. Because the design community is that there’s going to not going to be anywhere to sit out. It’s not going to be a dance floor.
There’s not going to be a stage. There’s not going to be a gallery. There’s not going to be a clothing store with racks with what these clothes look like. So design has to be there first. And we have to think about that, you know, in a futuristic way and making sure that companies know to bring in design at the table at the beginning. So those are my two big challenges. But they excite me and they inspire me because the more meetings I go to and the more data I can share, I’m like, how many people, if I can show you the number of how many people are going to pass that billboard versus how many people I’m going to get for one weekend on Instagram, the numbers speak for itself.
It’s only going to be so many cars that are going to go by that billboard in Los Angeles and a lot of eyeballs are going to see that billboard in New York. But you’re not going to get the millions I got over the weekend at our Basel in Miami. Right. And the, yeah, yeah. And the engagement and then they want to share, they want to be like, oh, you’re here, you know, so now you’re young, cool. And then we get the millennials and then you get all the generate, then you get Y and Z and you and then you bring those generations up in your brand. Right. Because these next generation, they don’t even understand what the word digital means.
It is to them. Yeah. Yeah. You know, like, oh, you’re watching television. They don’t you can’t ask an eight year old, do you want to watch television? They don’t know that concept. That’s a monitor. And there’s something on there that I like, whether it be SpongeBob and I’ll get to a Nickelodeon story, whether it be SpongeBob or whether it be, you know, someone wanting to watch their latest sports event, whether it be live. It’s all streaming and it’s all content on demand.
Right. It’s and they don’t have cable. I’m in the process of building and buying a co-building and buying a new home. It’s partially built. There’s no cable jacks in this house. My, my, my, my, my dad’s like, there are no cable jacks. Where are you going to watch TV? You know, my nieces and daughter, my daughter is a professional opera singer and classical pianist, by the way. So when I tell you I come from music and art and talent, she’s a soprano. None of them. One niece is a scientist.
The other niece is a CIA agent. And I can’t tell you anything else. None of them have cable. Right. So what are the cable companies begun to do? Be inventive. I worked at a cable company, the biggest. I worked at Comcast. I was there when we acquired Hulu. I did the first UI website for Hulu. I was there when we acquired and merged with NBCUniversal because the cable company could no longer survive without content because the content players, all of the networks, they were building their own content and then they started building their own streaming services. Right. So I gave you a long answer to a question that just keeps my juices flowing.
Vandana: No, that’s great. That’s a lot of amazing stuff that you’re you’re getting into. I want to know more about what your thoughts are on Metaverse. Like, who are the big players, in your opinion, who are ready and right to get into that space? I know some of the retailers are already there, but what are you seeing from your perspective?
Maureen: I love this question because I had the privilege of going to Portugal last year to the Metaverse conference with one of my colleagues and friends. She was a speaker and I went as her Q&A fireside chat up front. Portugal is one of my favorite places now. And I tell everyone I vogued in the Metaverse. And, you know, it’s almost an easy answer. Really, the creatives, right? Because it’s another place.
It’s a creative space right now, right? So, you know, I love if you were sitting in my office right now, I have Pharrell books everywhere. You know, there are people like the Pharrells of the world. Like, I use Pharrell as a adjective, noun and a verb. I’m like, let’s Pharrell this thing, right? You know, that means it’s going to be inventive, futuristic, cool, hip and colorful. And you’re just going to want more and more and more of it.
So definitely the people that are in the arts are embracing the Metaverse very openly. It’s a great place for dance and for theater and for art. You have, I think I already mentioned Wu-Tang Clan. That’s one of my favorite groups. They’re already selling merchandise in the Metaverse, right? Because they’re finding that these collectibles and these things that people used to buy. I remember going to concerts. I was a concert head. That’s why I ended up in music entertainment.
I went to every concert. And you have to carry all that stuff, right? But to be able to get your token and your coin from your seat or from the pit, right, enables you to have that piece of luxury and to be in the experience and have a piece of the experience. Right. So so you’re definitely going to see it in arts and in arts and theater and creative and musicians and tours. Right. Fashion, you know, because fashion is all about the future.
Right. So being able to even have even being able to have that exclusivity, you know, you know, that that that Milan is still going to bring, you know, and I’m taking a I’m taking a fashion class in Milan this summer. Yeah. And I’m taking a one day painting class and then I’m going to shop. But always be learning, always learning. Right. That’s that’s just one of my mantras. But so you’re going to see those creatives do it.
Another another place you’re going to see it are on the brands that support that. Right. So the athletic brand. Right. You look at Nike. There’s the sneakers app. They have all these cool app doing collectible posters. Right. You’re going to see it, you know, when you’re thinking of the basketball players and the athletes that have changed style and fashion. Athletes used to have to come off the the buses in in suits.
OK, they’re coming off in the fly sneakers with their name on it and and hoodies that cost more than you and I could even imagine. But I can get an NFT of that hoodie. Right. Right. That’s the latest basketball player wore off the bus. Right. In the metaverse. Now I may watch the game. Right. So you’re going to see big brands like that, like the athletic brands, those type of clothing brands, edgy clothing brands. And then you’re going to see brands and they’re already doing it like the big beverage companies. Right. From alcoholic beverages like your Heineken’s and those for like Coca-Cola and Pepsi and those, you know, we were doing part of our concerts at BET last year.
I’ve been the last almost last decade of my career and Coca-Cola was going to be one of our sponsors in the metaverse for these private stage concerts. Right. We just couldn’t get it, get it done in time. And it was during COVID and we’re still trying to figure out how to get the real people in real life. And that and the metaverse, we had to pick and decide because we had to get back to normal. But now, right, we’re building a team at Paramount, the parent company where there’s a whole floor of how to NFTs, because under the company of Paramount, you have Nickelodeon, Cash Cow for paraphernalia of Spongebob and Thora and Diego and all in between.
And I worked at Nickelodeon for four years. I have some fun Nickelodeon stories. Please don’t let me not tell my favorite Nickelodeon story. You have MTV, you have CBS, right. So you can go to the Super Bowl in the metaverse. Right. We have a whole floor now that are trying to, you know, you have all of the Paramount films. Right. And how do you get a part of being in, you know, how do you get to be in a movie or on a movie set or know what it feels like to be alongside some of the top, you know, A-lister actors and actresses in the world. Right. And and so you’re going to see content then.
So, you know, you got your creatives and your musicians and your artists and they’re already there. Right. Right. Because NFT is another canvas. Right. I’m going to paint on glass. I’m going to paint on wood. I’m going to paint through an NFT on a computer. It’s just the same. You know, then you actually have those that embrace the arts and the music and then dance and then rap and then song and those people that that that are looking for other outlets for their creative expression.
Then you have the brands that support those athletic brands, clothing brands, fashion brands, fashion houses. And then you have, you know, the big bottle brands, right, that, you know, that can they have that money to be able to build an arena and then partner with all those other layers. And then here comes the corporations, right? They’re like, oh, and by the way, this is sponsored by Amex and Morgan Stanley can help you finance and figure out what to do with your Bitcoin.
So everybody’s listening. Right. And then in between you have those powerhouse media global companies like my company, right, where we own heavy hitter content and, you know, we can, you know, let you, you know, explore and and and also, you know, make money. Right. And then the banks, once the banks come and they feel safe about everything and show that, you know, there is some way that that’s going to pull it all together. But some people talk about the metaverse like it’s the future.
And I learned this from Pharrell in our battle last year. He was like, it’s not the future now. Right. So if you’re not already thinking about Web 3.0, I’m thinking about Web 4.0 myself. So if you’re not already knowing what Web 3.0 means and the metaverse means, you got to get with it, because, you know, I’m going to one of my college friend’s daughter’s graduation party tomorrow. I mean, it’s the weekend from college. I’m giving her an NFT as a gift. Oh, wow. So like so like, you know, people are gifting NFT. Right. And some kids want money in Bitcoin.
Vandana: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s and especially in new places like New York, I mean, where else? I don’t know. There are some places like there’s a huge contrast. Some banks are still struggling with just their legacy systems to modernize those. And while others are talking about Bitcoin and blockchain, and it is such a vast, you know, bracket to kind of tap into that. OK, where are you now again? So it’s kind of slowly getting there. But yeah, it still is going to take some more time to bring on the whole world there.
Maureen: Yeah. Yeah. And then it’s going to be the same way it was in the 90s when I started with what we need a website. We have stores, you know, and then look what Amazon did, you know, poor Blockbuster. I was listening to a lecture. Was it Seth Godin or I listen to so many TED Talks, it could be artists, design leads. I was talking to someone about Michael Baruch, who was one of the founders of Pentagram.
And and it was like Blockbuster should have been Netflix. They weren’t thinking about the future. They saw one model that was physical because basically that was really, you know, they said Kodak could have become Instagram. Right. So so I try to look at. What brands now are the Kodak and the Blockbusters and where we need to be, so we’re not going to be behind, you know, so those are the things that that’s the mindset and that that doesn’t have a global relevance. Your thing or your thing or or what’s happening, you know, in China, it’s just it’s it’s a business model.
Vandana: Right, right, right. So let’s talk a little bit. I know we have about 10 more minutes, but I wanted to talk about that Nickelodeon story. And then one more thing is talking about the your role today. Like what is what is keeping you super excited at BET?
Maureen: So my Nickelodeon story is so we the business, the problem was to create an app for kids to consume video. Right. We had a business benchmark goal of consuming more online video because that’s where the dollars are for the after period. So and how to make that fun for kids. So we did the right thing. We partnered with University of Maryland and they had a program in their human factors Ph.D. program where they had kids come after school. These kids were mostly students of the deans and the professors on campus.
It was an after school program where they were business partners to companies. So they had Nickelodeon, they had they had AARP because AARP was going through a rebrand. I remember AARP would be there on the same day we were there and we would sit with them and bring a bag of tricks and it would be styrofoam, glue, glitter, pipe cleaners, shapes of paper, magazines. And we would also on the floor with eight to 10 year olds and say, tell us what you want.
What’s going to be a cool app for you? We went there every week for 12 weeks straight. They became our family and they helped us build this app. We took that research and then went back and iterated against what we were building. I got to work with one of the most brilliant engineers on the team because they wanted to explore. So I wanted it to be this world of scrolling. But wouldn’t it be cool if the colors changed as you scroll? And I remember having a conversation with the former NASA developer. He said, that’s going to be a lot to load if it’s a graphic.
I said, can we make color out of code? So all the color as they journey, created colors, but it was all code. There were no loading graphics in this app. Then we realized kids like to feel safe, though. They don’t want to be in the middle of the ocean. They want to know where the shore is, where their parents are. So we have to make sure we give them some boundaries and some markers in this experience and make sure they’re OK. So we put the graphics up as tiles. And as we were working with our research partners, 8-year-old Bella said, I want to make it rain.
I want to hit something and the glass breaks. I want to hit something and something shocks me. Well, the do not touch button was born. Oh, wow. We created this gooey, sticky, yummy button, right? That pops up as you explore. It says do not touch. And kids love to do everything that they’re not supposed to do. Well, when we took a prototype of that button and we put some funny sounds. So Nickelodeon was heart smart and fart. We put these goofy sounds on the button.
And can I tell you, we couldn’t stop the eight, nine, 10-year-old boys from hitting that button because they were fart sounds, burp sounds, cushy sounds, laughing, sneezing. And we said, hey, you can’t hit the button again until you answer another question. And we knew we had something. So we put that do not touch button in the experience. I had someone on my team who was an animator who I didn’t know. If I was going to be able to keep him on my team and as a manager, I always look for the next thing.
And for as the team to grow, I’m like, hey, you know, your skills getting outdated. Let’s put you in a class. Do you know After Effects? Because there’s going to be more animation. And do you meet, you know, are you good with understanding short form content and packaging? Well, he was really good at illustrations and little small things. So his whole job became making all these cool little funny animation.
When you hit do not touch, you can hit the do not touch button and a laughing cow would come out at you wearing a sombrero. You could hit the do not touch button and a cat and a UFO would fly across your screen. You could hit the do not touch button and dollar bills would fall down from the sky. So now, Maureen, the corporate Maureen, OK, we have to go to up front and sell this app to all of the big brands. So that night at 11 o’clock at night, I made physical do not touch buttons for the whole Nickelodeon team. Just a button for us to wear as we walked around showing our app.
Do you know every CEO company was coming up to us saying we’re touching a button? I mean, 80 year old CEOs of like Wells Fargo, where do I get one of those buttons? And it dawned on me that this button now digital became analog. So now that do not touch button is the button on the elevators of all the Nickelodeon floors. It’s the button on the cruise ship to get water from the water fountain. It’s the button to get your shower before you get into the pool on the cruise ship.
We actually had it on stage at the end of every Nickelodeon award show, the Kids Choice Awards. We slimed the stage. Wow. Justin Bieber and Will Smith hit the do not touch button on stage that me and my team designed. And we slimed the stage at Kids Choice Awards. And now there’s a do not touch app.
There’s a do not touch clothing line. There’s a do not touch room on cruise ships. So and that do not touch button came out of my office. Oh, that we won. We won an Emmy for that app. And I am so proud of that app because that Emmy belongs to eight year old Bella and her and her crew. That’s my favorite Nickelodeon story. And I’m very proud of that.
Vandana: I am so happy that you shared it with us. This is such a fun. What a great way to take it to 360. That is true 360. Right. And then scaling it to every experience, bringing on that memory. Wow.
Maureen: And then look, digital led analog instead of analog and then build a website. Right. So I use that story now to still convince. So why BET? BET is my heart. I said, I’ve been at BET eight years. It is a brand that every day I get to work with amazing and creative people that, you know, we get to bring content to our audience and audience going. We just had a merger with VH1. I’m on the I’m on the CEO’s think tank team where we get in front of him. I represent digital and we get in front of him and we let him bounce ideas around us when he’s bringing in content partners.
Every team in the company is represented and we help him how we’re going to move this company into the future. I can’t be more proud of my team. I am a mentor. I am making sure that they stay abreast of the latest and the greatest. They will tell you they constantly say, Maureen, thank you. I do networking conferences with them. I did a whole design day. I am an adjunct professor at Pratt.
So I bring the classroom into work and work into the classroom. I find talent as an Uber driver. And one of my top photographers was an Uber driver in Charleston, South Carolina. My number one, one of my senior creative directors is an is a reality star on an HBO show where she was the top finalist and she was an accountant. Now she’s senior creative director, building style guide for and platform native toolkit style guide.
I have art directors that are animators and that are really strong in brand, understand advertising and understand also, you know, like I said, who knows what we’re going to build on the red carpet this year? But I guarantee you will be something exciting. Like I said, there was a bodega subway, a actual subway and then a subway stop. We love to do flower and Brooklyn and cultural places.
Hopefully we’ll, you know, I did something with a touch of the metaverse in it. I did a metaverse lounge one year and, you know, you get Lizzo up on there taking a picture, posting it on her Instagram. That’s a win. Maureen will take it. So, you know, there’s a lot more for me ahead. Yeah. And I just look forward to also growing in this field and seeing where my journey continues to take me. Thank you so much for having me.
Vandana: Thank you so much, Maureen. And I wish you all the good luck and lessons as you are progressing on this path of exciting, creating exciting things, exciting experiences, not only for your teams, the brands that you serve and the users of those brands. So what a great impact.
Maureen: Thank you, and you were great as well, and much luck to you and have me back. I want to come back.