SEGD Staff Introductions Cybelle Jones, CEO

SEGD Staff Introductions: Cybelle Jones, CEO

Read Time: 7 minutes

It takes a lot of coordination among staff members to keep SEGD running smoothly—and each one is dedicated to you, the 2,200 SEGD members from 35 different countries who gather in 34 local chapters. During February, we would like to introduce you to each of the four SEGD staff. Last week we presented Jennette Foreman, Director of Operations. This week contributor Franck Mercurio speaks with Cybelle Jones, CEO.

FMM
Hi Cybelle! I hear you’re the newest member of the SEGD team. How long have you served as CEO?

CRJ
Since May 2020, so about 9 months. But I’ve been a member of SEGD for over 12 years and previously served as a board member.

FMM
So, you have a fairly long history with SEGD.

CRJ
Yes, I met Leslie Gallery Dilworth, then SEGD’s CEO in 2000 when Patrick Gallagher was President of the Board. She recruited me to the organization because of my experience in exhibition design. At the time, SEGD was the Society of Environmental Graphic Design.

FMM
And, at that time, you were at Gallagher & Associates (G&A)?

CRJ
Yes, I spent the bulk of my career working with Patrick Gallagher—over 28 years. My role at G&A grew as the company grew. I was first hired to lead the design of the Geology, Gems and Minerals gallery renovation for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Over the years, my role evolved from Senior Designer to Studio Director and ultimately becoming Principal and Executive Director. At that time we had grown from 6 people to 150 team members across 4 offices. At the end I was focused on the marketing and management of the team, but my passion was always in collaborations in design, pushing innovation from the physical into the digital and building awareness of experience design around the globe.

FMM
So, you’ve been an active member of SEGD for some time! What’s the draw, for you?

CRJ
I’ve always loved the organization because there aren’t many places where, as a professional, you have peer-to-peer conversations—and these are people you compete with for projects! But there’s just a comradery and a respect.  So many people that I admired, and I felt privileged to become their close friends. You can look at the SEGD membership and see that we have professionals doing groundbreaking creative work at the top of the field of experience design. So, it’s a truly unique and very special community.

FMM
So in 2020, you took the plunge, crossing over from the for-profit world (Gallagher & Associates) to the non-profit world (SEGD). Why?

CRJ
I wanted to do more in the design field. I wanted to have a greater impact. I believe experience design is the trend of the future—how do we communicate narratives or messaging or stories in the physical realm? That’s what we do as a community at SEGD. And it’s now the most important thing, whether you’re dealing with equity in narratives or whether you’re dealing with safety of people due to COVID. It’s all about human interaction and communication and how your design impacts the end users.

FMM
How would you describe your leadership style?

CRJ
I lead with empathy. I care so much about people. If you know me, you know that. I’m no bullshit. I don’t think of myself as a “CEO.” I think of myself as a connector. I think of myself as a talent scout. I try to see someone’s talent and build on that talent. And I think of myself as a cheerleader—very passionate—and I lead with enthusiasm.

FMM
And, as CEO, where do you want to take SEGD?

CRJ
I think we need to be much more of a known entity. So, getting the word out about experience design is a goal; to get more exposure; and to build more business for our members.

And I want us to have more members. I want more people to know about our fields of design. And I say “fields” (plural) because we’re not monolithic. We aren’t siloed. We are design practitioners in a lot of different ways, but I believe our visions are all about design on behalf of the greater good. That seems to be a common thread amongst our community.

FMM
And so, how do you do that? How does SEGD become more of a known entity?

CRJ
We are working to build our membership. That’s a goal: getting the word out to a broader group of practitioners. Focus on outcomes and the ROI for members and partners. We will be doing a membership survey, and we want to hear from everyone about what they love and what needs to change.

We need to evolve. And we need to be more diverse. We have our Racial Justice Commission that has been developing clear goals and strategies and a timeline that we are rolling out next month. This is critically important for our community now and moving into the future.

We are also focused on our emerging professionals. When people learn about our industry, they are excited. It’s very attractive. It’s a great job to have. But not enough people know about it, so we’re really pushing our education side and trying to get more young people to know about our profession.

FMM
You mentioned ROI. What is the return on investment for members, whether new or longstanding?

CRJ
There are the really practical/pragmatic tools that SEGD will continue to build. We need to look at how we provide the tools that members need to keep their businesses going; to make sure that everyone has access to those tools and to thrive and to be inspired.

It’s always a balance between the aspirational and the functional. So, in our “Management + Leadership” series, we want members to share real stories. What people are going through; their struggles; what worked and what didn’t work. What’s it like to get laid off after 30 years in a career? What’s it like to start a new business in the midst of this pandemic? What’s it like to run your business at home with kids?

FMM
How is SEGD keeping its members connected during the pandemic?

CRJ
What people always say they love about SEGD is the community. So, how do we do that in the virtual? It’s not the same, we know that, but we are experimenting with different formats. The advantage of connecting virtually—that we will take forward into the future—is that it democratizes networking. If you don’t have the money to fly to an event, you can just join via Zoom. So, there are advantages and disadvantages, and we will probably continue a hybrid approach in the future when we can be back in person.

FMM
In terms of staying connected, what roles do you see the chapters playing?

CRJ
We’re really focusing on our chapters and our unique geographic regions, because that’s where you get the word out, and that’s how you really connect to a broader audience. It’s the grassroots. And there are a lot of designers and fabricators that need a community like SEGD. So our goal is to build that network. It’s not just in the big city. Our members are everywhere, which is great.

FMM
So, who is helping you tackle all these great projects?

CRJ
I have to do a shout out for the team, because we’re half what we were, and everybody has just gone above and beyond—and is so supportive of each other—and we’ve managed to keep everything rolling!

Our content has just been stellar. I’ve gotten terrific feedback on the programs we’re producing. Our members are on the pulse of the future of design, and we are trying new methods of outreach to amplify this. My focus is to be a champion of that: to get the word out on social media and every platform to promote who we are and what we’re doing. I am also talking to partners and new collaborators to broaden our reach. All together we’re expanding the narrative of our design community.

So, if you’re an SEGD member and you’re interested in volunteering, we’ll find a job for you! [laughs] And the board has been great. They have truly been so supportive of me making that huge transition—35 years as a design leader in a private company to come and then be CEO of a non-profit—that’s a big change.

FMM
Speaking of non-profits, I hear that when you’re not devoting your time to SEGD, you volunteer at several non-profit organizations.

CRJ
I’m involved with four different non-profit organizations.

FMM
Wow! Four? Which ones?

CRJ
One is the Alzheimer’s Association because my mom has had Alzheimer’s for over 10 years. And I’m involved in that in the nation’s capital, which is nice, because we organize the Walk to End Alzheimer’s every year. And we raise millions for research and caregiver support.

And I’m on the content committee of the National Museum of American Jewish History. It’s a former client, and they are reenvisioning their role in the community.

And I’m also on the board of the National Cold War Center.

FMM
And the 4th?

CRJ
I’m the Education and Outreach chairperson for the James Taylor Justice Coalition in Chestertown, MD. James Taylor was lynched in Chestertown, and so, this commission was formed in collaboration with EJI. I’m working with them, and it’s a very challenging thing to do: to get a community to reconcile. EJI has a fantastic support outreach for communities. I am learning a tremendous amount about what it takes to bring communities together around the topic of racial justice. This type of work helps me better understand the importance of the work that SEGD members do as well.

I am a big supporter of giving back to our communities, and I’m a sucker for important causes.  [laughs]


FMM
Anything else you’d like to say about your role as CEO of SEGD?

CRJ

Synergy and collaboration—that’s why I love doing this job now—I get to talk to the most brilliant and inspiring people. Every day I get to listen and learn from someone from a different part of the country or a different part of the world, and I get to hear what they’re doing; their innovations; their projects; the people they’re impacting. It’s unbelievable. It’s the best job ever.

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