Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Dear Workplace: Season 3

Falling in Love with Korean Culture with “Kimchi Juice”

Dear Workplace – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

Reimagine how you thrive at work through conversations that matter. Hosted by workplace creativity expert Monica H. Kang, we’ll study the latest trends, changes, and challenges to untangle workplace people problems. We’ll talk with executives, innovators, and experts and visit different industries around the world so that you get first dibs into the changing workforce. 

Tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your preferred platform of choice!

Guest: Julia Chon "Kimchi Juice"

Artist and Archivist

Julia Chon, better known by her artist name Kimchi Juice, is a Washington DC-based artist and muralist. Chon’s work explores the relationship between cultural tradition and its effects on generational identity and the decisions Asian Americans make to form their identities. With a prominent Korean aesthetic in each piece, Chon merges her ancestry and traditions with the contemporary to convey the nuances of the Korean diaspora. As Chon’s work makes its way from canvas to large-scale murals, these intimate portraits take center stage in an urban environment. Her murals can be found internationally and her work has been exhibited in solo and group shows in Washington DC, Los Angeles, CA and New York City, NY. Chon’s clients and collaborations include NASA, Apple, the Korean Cultural Center, and the Phillips Collection, among others. Chon was featured in the HBO docuseries “Take Out with Lisa Ling”.

In this vibrant episode of “Dear Workplace” by InnovatorsBox, host Monica H. Kang sits down with the immensely talented Washington D.C.-based artist and muralist, Julia Chon, also known as Kimchi Juice. They dive into the lively world of Korean American culture, which is experiencing a boom across the globe. Julia opens up about her personal journey from dealing with family challenges to embracing her Korean heritage and making a mark with her art. Her stories are a testament to the powerful role of cultural roots in shaping artistic expression.

Throughout the episode, Julia talks about her unique projects like the Smithsonian-featured kimchi pots and large-scale murals, sharing the inspiration behind them and the meticulous processes involved. She reflects on the importance of preserving cultural stories through art, especially during the pandemic when she started the Korean archives project to document Korean diasporic experiences. The conversation is a beautiful exploration of how art connects communities, bridges generations, and keeps history alive. Tune in to discover how Julia’s work not only highlights Korean American experiences but also resonates with vibrant histories waiting to be told.

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Episode Shownotes

1. Episode Title: Falling in Love with Korean Culture with “Kimchi Juice”

 
2. Host: Monica H. Kang, Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox
 

3. Episode Description:

Today, the Korean Wave has swept across the globe, but for many in the Korean diaspora like myself, feeling truly seen hasn’t always been the case. What’s changed, and how have innovators embraced Korean culture to build thriving businesses? As we launch our new series, ‘Falling in Love with Korean Culture,’ we’re thrilled to begin with the story of muralist Julia Chon, known as ‘Kimchi Juice.’ Based in Washington, D.C., Julia delves into the interplay between cultural traditions, generational identities, and the choices made by Asian Americans to shape their sense of self. Her artwork, featured in cities like D.C., L.A., MN, and Seoul, reflects collaborations with esteemed clients such as NASA, Apple, and the Smithsonian. With a distinct Korean aesthetic in each piece, Julia seamlessly blends her heritage and traditions with contemporary elements, capturing the intricacies of the Korean diaspora experience. Join us as we explore how innovators like Julia are infusing Korean heritage into their work and businesses. 


4. Guest:
Julia Chon, better known as “Kimchi Juice”

5. Key Topics Covered:

  • The influence of Korean culture in the workplace and society
  • The personal and professional journey of Julia Chon as an artist
  • The role of cultural heritage in artistic expression
  • The impact of family and generational legacy on personal identity
  •  

6. Highlights

  • Julia’s unique approach to integrating Korean cultural elements into her artwork
  • The challenges and inspirations behind creating large-scale murals and the Smithsonian-featured kimchi pots
  • Julia’s experiences and reflections on being Korean American in today’s cultural landscape

7. Quotes from the guest:

    1. “Art was therapy for me. It was a daily practice that eventually pointed me toward my career.”
    2. “I paint with joy—bright colors and yellow make me happy. They encapsulate the love for my family and who I am.”

8. Contact Information: Julia Chon (Kimchi Juice) can be followed on Instagram at @Kimchi.Juice.


9. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:

Monica reflects on the power of art to preserve history and identity, urging listeners to engage deeply with and appreciate the varied narratives within the Korean American community.


10. Episode Length and Release Date:

Episode Length: Approximately 29mins
Release Date: April 11, 2024


00:01

Monica H. Kang
Let me start with a question. Are you familiar with what haptic design or innovation means? 


00:08

Monica H. Kang
Well, if you’re like me, maybe not. 


00:11

Monica H. Kang
So much, but you might be surprised. You experience haptic innovation every day. You see, haptic means touch, innovation and used in technologies and everyday products that we have today. Ill give some how you feel when you interact with your screen, the weight, the touch. Thats how haptic designers think about the wearable technology. All of those are influenced. And when you think about it, compared to vision and sound, touch is often out of the five senses treated the least. And that has a direct impact in the world today. You see, according to the World Health Organization, over 2.2 billion people have vision impairment or blindness, which means they are left unable to fully engage with the world. When innovation is only focused on vision and audio. I mean, heres another example. 


01:12

Monica H. Kang
When we go to the museum, it is best often experienced honestly with vision and sound. It is rare that you are encouraged touch the painting. In fact, you were encouraged to not touch the paintings in respect to the artist and to preserve it. But perhaps because of it, what they get to often experience is, you know, the audio or, you know, getting a chance to get the guide in text form which is still not the same if you cant see or hear well. When Keith first recognized it, even though he started his career in fashion and wearable technology, such as how to integrate kung fu movements in the clothes, he realized that maybe he can use his skills in a more impactful way. So he brought his industrial designing skills to build and co found werewolves where they are. 


02:09

Monica H. Kang
Rethinking how wearable products with vibration and touch could help give navigation and rethink how we engage. But that’s not where he’s stopping. He has continued now currently to move on, to integrate that further in art and lead a movement of how we do haptic innovation. So you are in for a treat. Keith Kirkland is here to inspire you and remind you that new paths and journeys are possible. And we need more of you here in this space to build a better, accessible world for all. You’re listening to dear workplace and I’m your host, Monica King. Please welcome my friend Keith. 


02:56

Monica H. Kang
So very excited to have Keith here to dive into a very timely and important conversation. Probably relates very much to how we even got here. So let’s dive right in. Keith, bring us back to where haptic designing and industrial design passion all started. 


03:15

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, so it started back for me. Coalescing together, let’s say. I’ll save you like the origin story and the radioactive spider. Right. But it started coalescing for me, really. I was in my third degree program. I was getting a master’s degree industrial design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and I spent my thesis trying to figure out how to teach movement learning digitally without a teacher being present all the time. And so I got into the world of haptics, essentially because I was trying to build a suit that would allow a person to download kung fu, and the suit would teach you using vibrations. 


03:54

Monica H. Kang
That is super cool. And to build on that, I mean, actually, what happened to that close? Is it going to be out at some point? 


04:01

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, so actually, I’m actually working on it now. It’s turned into a research project where I’m doing an exhibition where I’m exploring the eight basic stances of praying mantis kung fu. I’m a practitioner for a few years, and I want to see if I can support practitioners with getting the movements properly when their sifu isn’t present. 


04:23

Monica H. Kang
That is so cool. And it raises a question. I know the importance of touch vibration. What we feel bring us back, maybe to the basics, like, what does haptic even mean? Because I think some people might be hearing this for the first time. 


04:39

Keith Kirkland
Wait, wait, so this is such a, you know, so I’ve been doing this for, you know, a while now. You know, like, 2014 is when I get exposed to the word haptic and touch. Right. And so one of the things that I realized was that a lot of people were having a hard time understanding what it was. And so what I did was I actually wrote a rap about it. So if you don’t mind, like, maybe I can just wrap the first verse. A capella. Yes. And then, you know, okay, let’s see. We have a vision of a world that doesn’t need vision. Elevate and touch to the level of sight and sound. And that’s our mission. Research spending today is access tomorrow for all of our children. 


05:22

Keith Kirkland
Look at the spending over the last hundred years spread over each of the five of our senses. Seeing is believing. Yep. Most went to vision. Second went to sound, which is pretty far distant. For over 100 years, money only spent on two senses. And so that song has two more verses, and it’s available on Soundcloud. It’s called tactics. We have a vision produced by two time blind Paralympian mark Heath Price, aka Sonic P. We’ve been doing a lot of work together. And when I rapped that first verse for him, acapella, he was like, wow, this is super cool, because I have some blind references in there. And I wanted to make sure I didn’t say anything that offended the blind community. And so I asked him, and he was like, wow, this is cool. Actually, I also make music. We should do something. 


06:12

Keith Kirkland
And I was like, yo, let’s do it. And so he came with the d, and it was killer. And, you know, I ended up being able to perform it at south by Southwest last year. 


06:21

Monica H. Kang
Wow, that is so cool. No. Thank you so much, Keith, for sharing that and letting us get a chance to enjoy music real time. But it really speaks volume to why I was inspired and excited to have you, because what you have just demonstrated is not only beautifully shared as the song real time, which I think our listeners had a real treat, but highlighting how, if there’s something important that we need to bring change, not only should we go address it, but if it’s not working the way it is, do it differently, do it creatively, find different ways. And from that song that you have just shared, it’s just like, an example of how you tell the story more powerfully, might help somebody who never thought it was important to address. 


07:03

Monica H. Kang
And so let’s dive a little bit deeper, because going back to the five sentences, I think it was the first time from you that I learned and even from this song, from your listeners to realize, yeah, I didn’t realize touch was treat it last. And we’re starting with, as you said, vision and sound. Bring us a little bit more data and perspective into this. 


07:24

Keith Kirkland
Yeah. So the big piece is that if you look at the technologies that we have. Right. You know, if you look around you, there’s probably, like, seven screens that you could reach if you put your hands out. Right. For me, it’s like, I have my watch, I have my computer, my phone sitting there. My television is there. My extra monitor is, like, right at the end of the table. Right. That’s just in this one room. Right. That’s because what we’ve done from visual based technologies is we’ve invested a lot of time and research dollars into materials, into processes, into business models, distributed those technologies, got them widely available and got the cost to come dramatically lower. Now, we see this happening right now in the space of VR. Ten years ago, VR was ridiculously expensive. Now, an Oculus quest two. 


08:12

Keith Kirkland
I mean, I brought my Oculus quest two years ago for $250. Like, you could probably get one cheaper. 


08:18

Monica H. Kang
Now, that’s crazy to think about it. 


08:20

Keith Kirkland
It is like $250. It’s like, it’s cheaper than the cell phone, but over the same period of time we’ve been working on braille keyboards. How much does the braille keyboard cost right now? I think it’s somewhere in the space of $2,500. 


08:34

Monica H. Kang
Whoa, that’s crazy. 


08:36

Keith Kirkland
What we’re seeing is that when we as a society really are focused on and find importance, and usually through profit find importance, we figure out ways to innovate in that sector, to expand the technology, to reduce the cost of that technology, to make it as accessible to as many people as possible, usually. Because, again, business factors are driving these models. More customers, more accessibility. Right? And so that’s where we start is like, right now in the digitization space, we digitize vision. We got that perfect, right. You know, like vision pro, 4k television in each eye, right? That’s how good we figured out how to do vision, right? We got sound down, right? Both spent $50 million in 15 years developing noise canceling. 


09:28

Keith Kirkland
There is a famous conversation that Doctor Bose has with his, I believe his president at the time when he walks in and he tells him, like, hey, we spent $50 million in 15 years is developing noise canceling. And Doctor Bose’s response was, wow, $50 million. If I was the CEO of a publicly traded company, I would have been fired years ago, right? But now, what do we know boast for? We know them for noise canceling, you need to be able to make really longer term bets. And it all starts with building out the base technologies and research and making those technologies available so that they can be integrated into products and services that can benefit people. 


10:14

Keith Kirkland
So when you look at the sight and sound game, and it’s amazing what it’s done so far, because it gives inspiration for the other three sensors to come. But most of the information that we’re consuming right now is digital. Digital basically means audio and visual. So that basically means that I’m going to make up a number here. Let’s say 80% of the information. Let’s be conservative, right? Let’s say 80% of the information we’re consuming at this moment is digital. Then 80% of all the information is being conduced into two senses that were meant to take information. So what do you have? You have a congestion, you have. How many more icons can you put on the screen? How many more sounds can I have you that are different from the sounds that you hear to tell you about a different piece of information? 


10:59

Keith Kirkland
And so what I’m proposing, and I think what a lot of people in the haptic community are proposing, not alone, is that smell and taste are still a bit off from being digitized, they’re being worked on. I know companies that are doing cool stuff, they’re still a bit off, but touch is basically right underneath of sound. Touch and sound are in the same spectrum. So a lot of the technologies that work for sound, I mean, just like infrared light, visible light, a lot of technologies that work for sound can be adopted for touch. A lot of the processes for sound can be used for touch. Right. And we can bring in a third highway into the digital, the superhighway of the digital lane. Right. And now what we get is we get less congestion. 


11:43

Keith Kirkland
Because does all this information really need to be communicated visually? No, it’s because there’s no other way to do it, so we have to put it on the screen because how do you get the information? 


11:54

Monica H. Kang
This is so powerful. No, I really appreciate you breaking it down and making it digestible. And I think I almost feel like part of the gap is we’re not just, we don’t see enough information. Translators and leaders like yourself whose help making it digestible, relatable, help making it human through a song and many other forms, because to your point, there’s just so much lack of resource and education and tools for people to tangibly segment and make sense of it. I understand that was kind of like meta, but like, it’s kind of a key point. And so to your point, bring us now back to your personal chapter. I mean, it’s cool that you and I’m really excited, can’t wait to see the ninja clothes design. And when you have it out, of course bands, as I follow, they’ll learn more. 


12:39

Monica H. Kang
But there was a point you probably thought about, this translates to this whole problem of accessibility gap. Do you remember where that was when that was what was going on? How did you have that haha. Moment? 


12:51

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, so that really showed up for me, you know. So I worked on my thesis trying to build a kung fu suit and realizing that, well, a lot of the pieces are here already, they just aren’t together in a way that would make them all make sense. And of course some of the technologies need to be further developed. And so what I started to look at when I was graduating was like, I want to work in this space. I’m really excited about it. So when I graduated, I set out to create a company that was going to build the kung fu suit. Along the way, I ran into my co founders, Kevin and Yang. And, you know, young was a classmate of mine, Kevin was. 


13:27

Keith Kirkland
I worked on a project with Young and then Kevin and I had worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art together as fellows and their media lab program back in the day. So we had relationships independently with each other, and they reached out to me and was like, hey, you know, we’re going to create a Haptus company. You did Haptas for a whole year, like, you want to just do something together? And I was like, well, I was actually going to create a Haptus company on my own. Feels like it’d be great to have company, right? And so we kind of jumped in it together, and that was like, the origination and the start of werewords. 


13:58

Keith Kirkland
And when the conversation for accessibility, it was always in the background, you know, that, of course, visual based technology and most of the world communicating through vision isn’t really accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. But it was a background thing until, for me, at least, when Kevin had an advisor of ours now, but previously, kind of a guy that he had met who was blind and visually impaired come to Pratt to talk about design. So that was like, the connection where we started to look at, like, okay, what kind of products can we build? And you know, the kung fu Su was just required know too much technology at that time that wasn’t available, and a lot of it is now, but it wasn’t available at that time. 


14:37

Keith Kirkland
And so each of those pieces could have been a startup, you know, and you don’t want to do that. Right? And so what we looked at is, he talked about the challenges that Marcus had getting to campus and finding his way around campus, and he was like, if we could help with this challenge, that would be meaningful. And I was like, yeah, from my point of view, navigation is just a simpler form of movement than kung fu. Instead of three dimensional space in a punch. Right. You know, it’s like two dimensions. You’re on a map. Instead of multiple points all over the body, I need to know where your shoulder, elbow, wrist, fists, knees, hips, all are at one point on the mat instead of millimeter accuracy. Right. Because I need to know if your punch is here or here, right. 


15:21

Keith Kirkland
Maybe not millimeter, centimeter. Right. GPS resolution, 5 meters at best. Right. And instead of having, like, issues with latency, it takes you time to cover geographical distances. So it doesn’t matter if my system is 5 seconds long to make the calculation, it’s still faster than you can walk. So what I saw from my personal point of view of why I jumped into the world of navigation and accessibility was, is that I saw the possibility of one creating a product that could immediately have an impact with the technology that was available. And two, I saw, if I can figure this out for navigating someone who’s potentially blind, then I can transform this technology to teach somebody kung fu that’s really powerful. 


16:14

Monica H. Kang
No, thank you, Keith, for breaking that down. And that led you to werewerk. Tell me a little bit more. The product in itself, for those who have not heard or are familiar with how it works. 


16:28

Keith Kirkland
Yes. So wereworks is a haptic navigation company, and the first product we built was a band called Wayband, and it was paired with an app called Haptic. Now, thats available for free at the App Store for anyone to download. So the way it worked is you connected the app to the bin, and you would type in or say where you want to go, like Google Maps, and then you would be gently guided to your destination using only vibrations without the need for any visual or audio feedback. And back in 2017, we used this technology to help the first person who was blind run the New York City marathon without needing a sighted running guide. 


17:02

Monica H. Kang
Oh, my gosh. 


17:04

Keith Kirkland
So, basically, the way it worked was it was essentially a haptic compass. We knew where you are, we knew where the end of the street was, because we mapped that, and we knew magnetic Nerf was here. And you need to go this way, right? So what we would do is we would essentially, like, follow you along, and when you’re facing in the right direction, we give you no vibration. When you turn left or right of the vibration, you get a slight buzz. That vibration would get louder and louder until you got 180 degrees the wrong way, while we give you the loudest vibration we can. And so, essentially, it became a very. Almost like a game of hot and cold, but through touch, where you could feel exactly which way was the right way to go. 


17:44

Keith Kirkland
And we’ve also built this experience directly into the app because the band and cost was a big part of. So we built the band because the band was a better experience. And then we realized that for some people in the blind and visually impaired community, buying a separate band was just cost prohibitive. You know, you’re looking at unemployment rates of almost 70%, and so you get really challenged from a point of view of needing to spend money, even on things that are essential. So we figured out a way that could make the phone vibrate in your hand using the vibrating motors that are built into it so you don’t need a band. And then we made the app totally available for free. So we started off selling the bands for 249. The bands are still available on sale. 


18:22

Keith Kirkland
You can buy one on Amazon, but you can also not need the band. Just use the phone and you can navigate completely free using haptics. 


18:30

Monica H. Kang
That’s amazing. Is the company then nonprofit or for profit? Because I think from the business point of view, people would be also curious, like, how do we do good work but also maintain our balance sheet in accounting? 


18:42

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, yeah, no, definitely for profit. So what we realized is that there’s an awareness conversation. And in order to get access to that awareness conversation, because no one knows what the word haptic means. So it’s like you can’t sell. It’s going to be hard to sell something that no one understands what it is until they can feel it. Right? What’s the best way to feel it? Well, to make it available for everyone worldwide for free. Right. But also, who does that benefit? It benefits people who really needed it. And so we saw a dual possibility where we looked at the blind community as what if we didn’t see them as the main drivers of our economic success? What if they were just the benefactors of our economic success and our drivers were somewhere else? 


19:28

Keith Kirkland
And that’s when we started shifting to work with b two B directly. And now, because the app is publicly available, if an executive from Airbnb or Disney or Google wants to try the app, it’s simply going to download it. So haptics had a marketing issue because it’s great for IP, because you don’t know what I’m designing until you feel it, but it’s terrible for marketing. Cause you don’t know what I’m talking about until you feel it. So it’s like we’re playing with this gap. But the big part of that conversation was it was initiated by, okay, were getting people like, wow, okay, this band is great, but it’s too expensive. I can’t afford this. Is there another way that you can do this so that I can have access to this technology? 


20:12

Keith Kirkland
And it became a waterfall that was like, but wait, there’s a bigger possibility. And meanwhile, simultaneously, the company was being approached by organizations who saw the technology as like potential use cases that they could add to their technology stack to make their work more accessible. 


20:31

Monica H. Kang
No, that’s really powerful. And I loved even like, kind of the funny stories that you shared of like, hey, remember, like, this is needed for literally everyone. Like, how many people get lost even just looking at the map? Even if you have access to all of it? I’m guilty of it too. Like, especially when you’re navigating places like new is like, every street looks the same, and I’m like, sorry, locals, I know you guys can differentiate, but when you’re traveling, it feels hard, and so it’s so powerful, and I love that. And going back to kind of your early chapters, and as you’re sharing it’s all possible because of your background of having the expertise industrial design, fashion design, mechanical engineering. Tell us a little bit more. Like, what does that mean for folks who are listening? 


21:09

Monica H. Kang
It was like, geez, I want to be able to build stuff like that and change the world. Like, what kind of skills do you have to build? What would you say to them? 


21:17

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, so, you know, so, you know, like, so I feel like two different conversations. So first, I’ll do the skills. Cause I feel like my journey is relatively inefficient. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for most travelers. I think there’s faster and better ways to do it than I did it. So the way I think it should be done is that the first thing you need is, like, you just need a really, like, a strong desire and a willingness to want to see a difference happen. And then I think you need a big enough interest in the space to be willing to fall down that rabbit hole and stay in that rabbit hole for as long as it takes to get the objective complete right, you know? And so it’s like. 


21:54

Keith Kirkland
Like, for example, it’s like, when I went into, like, I was very clear that I wanted to do wearable technology. I come from fashion, so my background, mechanical engineering first, and then I became a handbag and shoe designer. I worked for Calvin Klein and coach for a few years in different roles, from technical design to handbag engineering. I left, went back to school, and got a degree industrial design. Part of that degree I spent traveling abroad because I was at Pratt, and they made up this new degree called global innovation design when we got there, and we got to be the guinea pig. 


22:28

Keith Kirkland
So I spent six months studying media design at KL University in Japan in Tokyo, and I spent four months studying innovative design engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College in London and then came back basically for my third year to New York to finish out. And so when I came back, I was like, wow, I miss fashion so much. How can I do this in a way that really resonates with me? And at the time, I had my fashion degree. I had my engineering degree. So fashion and technology made sense to mash together. But when I looked at that ecosystem, I wasn’t excited about all parts of it. Like, for example, I could be making pacemakers, technically wearable technology. I could also be making prison ankle monitor bracelets, also technically wearable technology. 


23:14

Keith Kirkland
I wasn’t really interested from a personal point of view, in hospitals or prisons, I’m glad that we have people who are interested in those works. It’s super important, but from a personal. And this is where it’s like, every person’s path is very your path from a personal side of things. It didn’t resonate with me. Right. And so I was like, okay, where do I really love being? And I realized that, like, all of my life, I love learning movement. You know, like, I started learning kung fu when I was almost 13 years old. I was running. I did weightlifting. I’m no master. I’m no athlete in any kind of way. I wouldn’t categorize myself, right? But I love movement, and I love learning. Started practicing, you know, ninjutsu and kendo and kyudo, japanese longbow archery. I did capoeira. 


24:03

Keith Kirkland
What I’m practicing now for the last six months, right, which is the brazilian style of martial art that’s heavily focused around movement and what feels like dance and music, right? And so I love learning movement. I picked up skateboarding on my 33rd birthday. You know, like, I literally bought a skateboard on my 33rd birthday because they were 70% off, and I. And I’d always wanted one. And when I was nine years old, I kind of knocked out my two front teeth one and decided maybe skateboarding wasn’t for me. I’ve been skateboarding for, like, a decade now. I love it. It’s amazing. But I also had all these injuries because I was self teaching myself. Self teaching myself. I was learning all these self taught movements. I’m watching videos or, you know, seeing photos or images and trying to copy them, right? 


24:46

Keith Kirkland
And, of course, I’m not doing them accurately. And so messed up my knee running two partially torn rotator cuffs when I wasn’t doing pull ups improperly. I herniated a disc in my lower back when I flipped off a scaffold and didn’t land properly. And more importantly, I was getting injured a lot, and the injury would take me out of the movement that I would love. And so I was trying to figure out, like, really, when I bought this kung fu suit, I was really trying to figure out, how can I practice movement in a safe way when I’m alone so I don’t injure myself? That takes me out of the game of movement, because guess what? My kung fu friends, are not my skateboarding friends, are not my weightlifting friends, are not my running friends. So guess what? 


25:29

Keith Kirkland
When I got running injured, lost my running friends because I wasn’t runner. I wasn’t a runner anymore. Right? So, so much of my life was tied to these activities. And more importantly, I got tired of losing community every time I got an injury. Right? And so that was my big premise. But really, the real inspiration was like, I saw the Matrix a thousand times and was like, I want to download kung fu. Right. 


25:56

Monica H. Kang
I love that. No, thank you for sharing that humble journey. But also throughout that chapter, as we’re hearing, the different skills as you have highlighted through your stories, the resilience, the kind of like, you know, dig deep attitude, the importance of just holding into it, the grit. And now I know you’re bringing that even further into arts. You’re doing a very special fellowship program. Tell us a little bit more about it in Kansas right now and why that connects to the special exhibitions that you are doing this year. 


26:26

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. And so, right now, I am the Leonard Pryor fellow at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. Basically, I’ve been brought in under is a funded fellowship. The Linda Pryor Fellow is a funded fellowship that brings in a visiting artist whose work tackles one of the concepts around inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, or sustainability ideas is what we call it. And my work and blind and visually impaired lands me really squarely in the accessibility space. And so a lot of the programming, I’m teaching a few courses meant for social practice. I have a few exhibitions. One is a solo show where I will be exploring more of this kung fu suit idea. And then the other is the tactile art exhibition, where you’ll be able touch all the works. 


27:23

Keith Kirkland
And the goal is, how do we bridge the gap between visual art not being accessible for people with the visual. 


27:30

Monica H. Kang
Impairment and especially with the textile touch artwork I love. In our prep conversation, you highlighted just how, like, you know, until you point it out. It didn’t dawn on me that, like, yes, when we go to museums and art exhibitions, you’re advised not touch the artwork consistently. That’s what we’ve been trained. But to your point, that is limiting access to those who can only see through touch and experience. And so tell us a little bit more about that importance and how you’re trying to address it. 


28:01

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, it’s a very interesting thing. Most of the experience for people who are blind and visually impaired when they’re at the museum they’re basically just. There’s very few things they can directly experience. So, basically, their museum experience is like a narration of their friend, basically me, right? So me and Markieff, we go hang out at the museum marquise, like, okay, well, what’s this? Right? And then I go through explaining, like, okay, yeah, there’s a blue sun in the corner, but I don’t really know if that’s the sun or why it’s blue or why it’s in the corner. Right? I’m not doing your level of art any justice because I don’t really understand it. But that’s the experience of a lot of people who have a visual impairment is through indirect experience. 


28:44

Keith Kirkland
And so, without proper access to the artwork in some way, it can be really challenging. And now, like, a lot of people will write descriptive ads about what the painting is that’s very accessible. It’s fantastic. It adds a layer that people with a visual impairment in, particularly, can tag in to the experience. Right? You can even add, like, an audio recording that explains, you know, some of the process. But the idea of the artwork being only visual and totally visual, that puts a barrier between something, between the art and someone with a visual impairment. So the goal of the exhibition, really, that I was creating was like, can we have a conversation? What we. You know, because we all understand the museum narrative. Look, but don’t touch. 


29:30

Keith Kirkland
It’s so ingrained in us that even when you can touch stuff, you have to put big signs that’s like, you can touch this. You have to have a person that’s like, yeah, it’s okay touch this. Like, you need so much affirmation touch stuff in the museum, because, like, again, everyone knows not touch the Picasso, right? Everyone knows not touch the Rembrandt. We know. We’ve been taught. So it almost. In this way, it almost like this exhibition, one is a way to serve as a lens to highlight how inaccessible art really is from a non visual point of view. But also, too, because every artist. What’s the goal of every artist who creates a work? Engagement, right? You want your work to be responded to. You want your work to be remembered. You want your work to be engaging, right? 


30:26

Keith Kirkland
The definition of engagement is multi sensory. So it’s like the minute you have. You have your painting and you add a level of touch, you’re already more engaging because you’re bringing in a different sensory perspective that now has to focus in on your exhibition, right? And so it’s like, when you think about it, what you want is attention, right. And if I can look at you while listening to someone else, you don’t have my full attention. But if I’m looking at you while listening to. While feeling you, while smelling you, while tasting. Right. You know, it’s. All of those senses are. Now. It’s like, this is 100% the experience. Right? Now, most things don’t have the ability to embody all of those pieces, but I think most experience can do a better job at. 


31:10

Keith Kirkland
Because I feel like everyone gets the visuals good and like, oh, we’re done. And it’s like, there’s 300 million people in the world who can’t see your stuff, and that’s people living with severe visual impairments. Like, we’re not even talking about, like, the fact that, like, glasses are a accessible technology, and most people without glasses, you know, like, have a hard time seeing period, right? So when you’re not wearing your glasses, like, that becomes temporarily inaccessible. Right. So the idea is that, how do we show in an inspiring way, like, because you don’t want to come, like, you gotta be accessible, right. It’s more. It’s like, how do you get people to be accessible? You show them that they can make more money being accessible than they can not being accessible. And everyone will be accessible. It’s very simple, right? 


31:59

Keith Kirkland
Money is a big driver. Capital is a big driver. And I think the power of business, the power of product, the power of design in particular, is that we can use that to drive particular types of changes that we want to see. And I think I love that part of this work. 


32:14

Monica H. Kang
And it brings back to the powerful observation and the real, tangible story you shared, like, just how much money and time it took, even for noise cancellation. I mean, now I’m gonna, like, think about that every day. And the reminder of that, like, why are we not speaking, spending that type of attention to all these other key elements, that is not only going to beneficial, of course, for most, to our community of people with disabilities, but truly everyone. And I think it’s always a humble reminder. I mean, now we use voice activation. You know, I speak to my googles. What the alexa is like, that all started because of accessibility. And I think most people don’t even remember that and how it got started. And I think it’s so key, as you have pointed out, when people have this. 


32:58

Monica H. Kang
This notion that, oh, this is just for a small puppy. Excuse me. Have you done. Done the research and data? And I love that you’re bridging this, too. As you said to all different industries, art, you joked and you mentioned about how maybe I changed my career too often. But I think it still brings a really key point for those who are out there who’s like, hey, maybe this is inspiring me for a second and third career and really making a meaningful life. What would you advise it, and what will you share? 


33:26

Keith Kirkland
Yeah. So one, okay, so if you’re interested in haptics as your next life, welcome. We need more people. You know, I end my song with my oldest. Be told that it takes the village my haptic signals in the sky come and find me if you feel it. And I really mean that. Like, you know, the way you build industry is you build it together. You have all these people doing their little parts and little pots. And even though we’re sometimes even competing, the collective competition drives the market upward. And so I feel that just jumping in and to begin is amazing. If you’re interested in haptic space, you want to start, take a look at what is being communicated visually right now, or audioly that could be different. You think about things like driving. I met the haptic designers at BMW. 


34:16

Keith Kirkland
Like, they have a whole team that, like, how does the window button feel versus how does, like, the mirror button feel? And, like, how does, like, there’s a whole team that’s designing those sensations so that your eyes spend maximum time on the road and not looking at your knobs to find them. 


34:34

Monica H. Kang
Wow. 


34:35

Keith Kirkland
There’s a whole art to this whole piece of it. And so I feel like just jumping in on some of the research that’s available. There’s a lot of free research. Academia is a great resource. 38, 42 something million free research papers. I’m there all the time. A lot of stuff in the haptic space there. And then, I think ultimately, too, tagging in and just experimenting. Arduino is really easy to learn. Building IoT devices is very accessible. You have companies like Sparkfund and Adafruit where you can order components from that have sheets on them that show you how they all work. And you can do very simple things. 


35:12

Keith Kirkland
Like we did one time, we built an ultrasonic distance detector that would send out a signal, bounce it off the wall, detect it back, and then play a haptic based off of how close the person was. Wow. And what it did is it allowed our runner. I mean, were just playing around with technology at the time. We didn’t know what were going to use it for, but at the time, what it did, or later on, what it did is when our runner needed to run the marathon, we got the map information. We couldn’t help them dodge other runners. That’s not our technology. So he was able to use this piece to detect other people in front of him, and he got the vibrations on his chest with people, and he got the vibration on his arm about the route. And so. 


35:51

Keith Kirkland
Cause they were far enough apart, he could read them as different. And so the technology ended up going into something, right? So I think that, like, just playing around and experimenting, take something that you would usually use a light for and change out the light for a haptic motor and just see what happens. And then I think the other part is that, like, imagine, for example, you’re, like, buying a bottle of wine. Hey, what kind of wine do you want me to pick up? Right? I’m like, oh, yeah, get something dark, but, like, bold, kind of earthy, maybe a little bit sweet. You could probably figure out a good wine to pick in that category right? Now if I said, hey, what’s the quality of that haptic experience that you just had? We don’t have the vocabulary that was built out. 


36:38

Keith Kirkland
I mean, we do, right? Writers use it. Literature. It’s like, I had a rough day. Are you slimy? Son of a. You know, like, we have all these tactile words built in haptically into the language that are visceral. They’re actually so visceral that there’s research that’s been done that, for example, if you give someone a resume, same resume, two different clipboards, one weighs 5 grams, one weighs one kilo, and you give it to them, they will rate the candidate that has the heavier clipboard as having more gravitas. Wow. If you meet someone and you give them your warm cup of coffee to hold for a few seconds while you bend down and tie your shoelaces, they would naturally think of you as a warmer and friendlier person. 


37:31

Monica H. Kang
Wow. 


37:33

Keith Kirkland
There’s research. But here’s the thing that’s really interesting, too, is that the heavier clipboard, you’re not rated as more intelligent. You’re not rated as warmer or friendlier. The quality of text changes based off of the quality of the actual materiality of the object. So gravity is being considered. So gravity is the function in your brain that shifts, but not, oh, I think this person is nice. You rate them equally in niceness or warmness. But now this clipper was warm and heavy. I’m pretty sure that you think this person was nicer and have more importance. And you’ll feel this right when you get a business card and it’s like, super cheap paper. What do you think about the person that gives it to you? Oh, no, really? Right. You see, but do you see how fast that fell? Right? 


38:24

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, you almost didn’t even have to think about it. Like, that’s the power of touch. If we can tap into that, you have the power to almost instantly communicate information without having long lines of text that you have to read along the screen or audio that you need to listen to in a linear fashion. So each of the senses has its strong suits. Vision is great at massive amounts of data absorption. Sound is the fastest sense. Vision is much more multidimensional than sound can be. Right? Sound is very linear. You have to wait till the end of the sentence to know what I’m going to say. But touch has qualities of both. It’s faster than vision and it’s more multidimensional than sound. 


39:11

Keith Kirkland
So if we designed experiences instead of what needs to go to vision, everything and okay, make a sound thing to it, if we just looked at the sensors and said, hey, we have access to sight, sound and touch based off of the experience that we want to create, what elements make sense to go best in which places. And right now that’s not really the case. That’s not how it’s being designed. It’s kind of being like, here’s the visual thing. Okay, make an audio thing that matches it. Okay, make a haptic thing that matches the audio. 


39:39

Monica H. Kang
Keith, where can we see you in the next 510 years? Where would you like to be in the future? 


39:44

Keith Kirkland
Yes. So one thing I’d like to do is topic education is a really important mantle that I’ve taken up lately. It was really interesting. I realized at my time when I was in day to day operations at werewolves, that if were wildly successful, I would have nowhere to go to hire haptic designers. I’m exaggerating. There are places to go. They just all would have phds and probably cost me 100, 4150 thousand dollars a year. And so when we look at research effectiveness and also to be really clear, most of the people who get a degree in haptics, they have a degree in human computer interaction. Haptics is a part of that bigger space, right? 


40:31

Keith Kirkland
So I’m not sure if there’s a you go and you study only haptics and you walk out with a degree in haptics, the same way you can go and study graphic design and only walk out a degree in graphic design, or you can go and study music and only you go study trumpet and only walk out with a degree and trumpet, not even music right. You know, that’s how specific we get with sound. Like, you can focus one part of sound and have a four year degree experience in it. Right. What I would love to build is I would love to build a four year degree undergraduate program for haptic design and haptic education. 


41:03

Monica H. Kang
Wow. 


41:04

Keith Kirkland
I think that I learned the word haptic at 33 and I was able to make a really large impact over this last decade. Hasn’t changed. But I learned mechanical engineer at twelve, I learned artists at six. And what could I have done if I didn’t learn this word basically until like the, you know, the second, third of my life? And more importantly, what can the world do when people are inspired who are going into industry now and undergraduate? Because that’s our future, right? Even if they’re not haptic experts, if they know what the word haptic means and they’ve seen applications of haptics, all of a sudden that becomes a viable opportunity to present as a solution to explore when they get, and they’re working at companies like major engineering firms or major tech giants or major pharmaceutical companies. How did Adobe get into companies? 


41:59

Keith Kirkland
They made students learn it and gave it away cheap. And then the students took it into the companies. Right. I’m not exactly sure if that was Adobe’s plan, but that’s how I brought Adobe into like, my spaces where it was like, wait, you guys aren’t using illustrator? You can say, no, we’re not doing this. You know, like, it was a push from the top always, but it was almost equally a push from the bottom because that was my expertise. If I have to go back to hand drawing or use something different, you need to pay me more money essentially to do the same work. Right. So industry adapted. 


42:32

Monica H. Kang
Thank you for sharing how. We need a systematic change. We need a way of reforming. And I think your story of just the reminder of, like that word, lack of awareness, lack of understanding, and the fact that like, probably for, like I said, a lot of listeners, they might be hearing this for the first time and learning about it for the first time. And so we hope that we can help amplify and be of support in that journey and mission you’re doing. Keith, thank you so much for inspiring all of us. We dove into so many different areas and you shared so many wisdoms. What will be your final piece of wisdom you want to share with our innovators, no matter where they are in their journey today? 


43:09

Keith Kirkland
The biggest piece of advice that I felt like I found, I grew up in a really poor city and at the time. I had always felt that in order to make a difference, I had to, like, get out. You know, I had to, like, go to school, go to college, get out of my area. And I remember I was 16, and I was telling this story of empowerment through getting out. And someone told me was like, you need to learn to be the storm where you are. If you can’t make it where you’re at right now, you can’t make it anywhere else. Don’t look at, like, out there as your escape. This is, like, how you prove that you’re worthy of out there. It’s not the other way around, you know? So for innovators everywhere, be the storm where you are. 


43:51

Keith Kirkland
Use the resources that you have. Work with the people that are interested in working with you. Get the job done that you can get done today, worry about tomorrow. What you can’t get done right now. I’m sure there’s a billion things that you can’t do right now that if you use your resources right now, you could do. So focus on what you can do and know, because, like, I feel like so many times, it’s like people are on the sidelines. They’re watching you use your resources now. And then when you get to a certain point, they almost self select into the experience. Like, I’ve had full on. Like, I had an investor who was a friend of mine that just was like, hey. 


44:27

Keith Kirkland
I was complaining to her about how I couldn’t raise any money to run, help the person who was blind run the marathon. It was a month and a half before I spent five months raising money, had no money. I’m like, we have Discovery Channel following us around. We have all this stuff going on. There’s going to be no race because no one will give me the money to even try. And I was so just deeply frustrated. And she was like, you know, I’m always wanting to invest in your company, right? And I was like, no. And then she was like, yeah. And I was like, well, how much you want to invest? And she’s like, well, how much you think you need? And I was like, I don’t know. I think I could do it with $50,000.02. 


45:05

Keith Kirkland
Days later, we had $50,000, and a month later, a blind person ran a marathon. 


45:09

Monica H. Kang
Wow. 


45:10

Keith Kirkland
But I wasn’t trying to get money from her. I was just sharing my grind every day, and she was my friend, and it was the authentic sharing, and at some point, she just jumped in because that was the experience that she wanted to have. And I’ve had that happen multiple times. So it’s like be the storm where you are the people that can have access to you, that they see you grinding. And like, when you get to a place where they feel like either they can help or that you’ve proven enough to them, they’ll jump in on their own and they’ll open up doors that you couldn’t imagine. 


45:41

Monica H. Kang
Wow. Wow. Keith, thank you so much for sharing that. I mean, thank you for your leadership. Thank you for all that you do. Thank you for inspiring all of us and innovators to remind them also the humble perspective that start where you are, use what you have, remember the people around you, and don’t forget where you started because I think you’re absolutely right. I think often we share that quote success stories. I left here, I went there. What about going back and honoring where we started, recognizing that’s actually a key component that helps us who we are. And so thank you so much. Final question is what’s the best way our fans and listeners can stay in touch with you? 


46:22

Keith Kirkland
Yeah, you can reach out to me directly. Www. Dot linktree. I mean, well, it’s l I n k t r e e k e I t h I u s. So that’s www. Dot linktree. Keith, you can find all my contact information there. The link to the soundcloud so you can hear the rap that’s way better with the beat on it. And also, too, if you happen to be around and interested in this haptic world, please drop me a line. I’m so excited to build this, like, this army of tactile revolutionaries. 


47:00

Monica H. Kang
And we’ll say, hey, we knew Keith way back then and we’re just excited to manifest that future into reality. So, Keith, thank you so much for joining us listeners. Thank you again for joining in for another conversation at Dear workplace as we’re continuing to navigate, ask the tough questions, challenge the norm, and reimagine how we thrive in the workplace. Your host, Monica. And we’ll continue to ask more questions next week with another story. So come back. We will be back here and bring another amazing story. So thank you again, Keith, we’ll see you later. 


47:33

Music
We have a vision. We have a vision. We have a vision. We have a vision. We have a vision of a world that doesn’t need vision, elevate and touch to the level of fight and sound. And that’s our mission. Research, spending two days access tomorrow for. 


47:50

Monica H. Kang
All you didn’t know, you’ll be in a treat for some live music with Keith right, which speaks volume to his passion and his drive to want to lead innovation. And I appreciated his last reminder in how we can rethink about growth. Don’t try to just say I made it out there, but what are you doing where you are with the resources you have? I think often we say that I didnt have enough resources, money or the network to succeed. But as Kee says, the best innovation and impact starts where you are with what you have. So start there. Help people solve a problem and see what you can do. You might be surprised what you can do and how many people’s lives you. 


48:43

Monica H. Kang
Can change for good. 


48:45

Monica H. Kang
Thanks again for tuning in for another conversation. This is Dear Workplace by InnovatorsBox. I’m your host Monica Kang, and I will see you again next week with another story. 


48:56

Monica H. Kang
See you soon. 


49:05

Monica H. Kang
Thanks again for joining us. This is your host Monica Kang at Dear Workplace and I’m so glad you are here. This show is possible thanks to our amazing podcast team who has worked with me at InnovatorsBox Studios. Shout out to audio engineering and producing by Sam Lehmart, Audio Engineering assistant by Ravi Lad, website and marketing support by Kree Pandey, graphic support by Lea Orsini, Christine Eribal, and original music by InnovatorsBox Studios and writing, interviewing, podcasting, directing and all that jazz by me, Monica Kang. Share us your feedback and suggestions as we continue to look to improve and answer the questions that you have about the workplace. Have a great day and I’ll see you soon. 

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