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For MTV's VP of digital design, true team collaboration is a road trip

Tu gives his advice for making a team more collaborative, his proudest moment, and why he normalized taking time off.

Illustration by Anita Goldstein. Image courtesy Rich Tu.

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4 min read

In a new series, we’re asking leading designers across the industry to share their work life advice, design do’s and don’ts, and secrets to effective web design collaboration. Consider it our design take on the Proustian questionnaire, with the aim to give you insight on how top designers work and think about design in a time unlike any other. (And they might just spill a few work-life secrets along the way.)

Designer and visual artist Rich Tu seems to have more hours in a day than the rest of us—at least based on his portfolio, which puts an infinity scroll to good use. Tu is the vice president of digital design for the MTV Entertainment Group, leading digital graphics and motion across platforms for shows like Basic to Bougie, Sneaker Wars, Count my Drip, and the MTV VMAs. A talented illustrator, Tu has collaborated with a slew of clients like MINI, Uniqlo, Truly, Nike, and American Express. He's also the host of the FirstGen Burden podcast, which examines the immigrant experience within the creative community in the United States through long-form interviews. And he spared a few minutes to chat with us.

Here, Tu explains why collaborating as a design team is like a road trip, his proudest moment (which also had a high probability of failure), and why he normalized taking time off within his team.

Editor's note: Since story publication, Tu has started a new role as Group Creative Director at Jones Knowles Ritchie in New York City.

Images courtesy Rich Tu.

What's the key to effective collaboration?

Being receptive to feedback, and having the insight to provide it.

What's the most surprising difference between in-office collaboration and remote?

Remote collaboration has allowed for autonomy in a brand new way, and has opened the door to a wider aperture of visuals and experimentation.

When is collaboration most important?

Always, unless you don’t like your work being seen by humans.

What's your advice for leading a design team?

Speaking from experience holds a lot of weight.

What's your advice for making a design team more collaborative?

Sometimes team collaboration is like going on a road trip. It’s beneficial to have more than one licensed driver in the car. Sometimes you’re behind the wheel, or you’re playing DJ. Both are important to a successful and enjoyable ride.

What's the one quality you always look for in a designer?

Have an opinion. Also, be flexible enough to change your opinion.

What’s your proudest moment?

I look a lot at recent history, but most recently it’s working on the MTV VMAs Barclays Exhibit in Brooklyn during the height of social unrest and the pandemic. It was impossible odds, with a high possibility of failure, but we did something really special as a team.

What was your biggest learning moment?

Getting a dream job, and quitting a dream job (multiple times).

What was your biggest realization from the past year and half of working amid a pandemic?

Working from home, and staycations do not mix. If you want to unplug, really do it.

What’s your work mantra?

This is going to come across as somewhat immature but it’s “WIN”. I chant it to myself when I need to power through something.

What's the best advice you’ve received? (From whom?)

(Paraphrasing:) “A lot of people chase the dragon, but when they grab its tail they don’t know what to do with it.” - designer Mirko Ilić

Who is your dream client?

No such thing.

What's a design you wish you thought of yourself?

The Jurassic Park logo probably. It’s a nostalgic part of my childhood and I have no problem feeling some type of way about a Chip Kidd classic.

What's a design faux pas you’re secretly a fan of?

Stretched type with a hard edge and outer glow. If I could do a club poster version of the book Fucked Up and Photocopied, it would be full of that.

What's a design skill that’s overrated?

KERNING. It’s not your identity.

What's a design skill that’s underrated?

KERNING. For the love of GOD, have an educated opinion on it.

What's the difference between a good designer and a great one?

Good designers want to design for gravestones because they want their work to last forever. Great designers allow meaning to develop over time, as part of a larger dialogue.

What's your favorite question to ask during job interviews?

If I'm interviewing, “Why here?”. If I’m being interviewed, “Why me?”

What's your favorite typeface?

If I was forced at gunpoint, I would say Futura, because of the nostalgia factor with Nike and because I used to work for the Swoosh. It’s the only typeface that I can think of where my first instinct is to immediately move past its utility and disrupt it.

How do you avoid team burnout?

Normalize time off, and encourage people to take the time

Which song do you listen to when you’re the most productive?

It changes a lot, but what I often come back to is “Intro” by The xx. It’s hypnotic and helps me focus.

Which project from the past year most excites you?

My recent collaboration with MINI Cooper. That hits all the feels for me in terms of bringing personal artistry to the table and aligning with my values as a First Generation Immigrant.

What keeps you up at night?

My own thoughts.

What gets you up in the morning?

The gym.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ll be more productive.

Design is?

… a conversation

Design isn't?

… life or death

What’s a question you wish we asked? (And what’s the answer?)

- What do you think the Metaverse is?

- The Metaverse is the convergence of many realities that allow us to exist in multiple spaces as interoperable versions of ourselves. It’s where URL meets IRL.

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