Where are the black designers?

Founder Mitzi Okou explains how and why she started the initiative and platform for black designers.

Where Are the Black Designers? is a project that aims to give a platform to creatives of colour and to start a dialogue about change in the design industry. It kicked off on 27 June 2020 with a virtual conference featuring the likes of Naj Austin, founder of Somewhere Good and Sandy Speicher, the CEO of IDEO, and launched with a campaign that let designers create poster designs to promote the event. The founder of the project is Mitzi Okou, an interaction designer at HP, who told us a bit more.

How did you get into the design world?

'I went to music school for two years and realised it was not a financially stable future. I wanted to create solutions for this issue using a combination of art and technology, so I transferred to an art school and it was recommended to me to pursue a degree in graphic design, so I jumped right in it.'

Why did you decide to start the event? 

'I wanted to highlight the work as well as the struggle and experiences that went behind this legitimate question that tech and creative companies were not answering. The question itself has been in existence for decades. It needed community engagement to be amplified, which is why the poster challenge came about. It was a form of protest in the digital space.'

You’ve said the purpose of the event was to talk about the obstacles Black designers have to go through to even be considered as designers. Just how bad is the bias in the design world? 

'I don’t think there’s anything tangible to describe how bad the bias is besides listening to and believing Black designers about their experiences and looking at the small public data that we have to back up what we are trying to say. In order to know how bad it is, companies need to be more transparent about the demographics of their teams, and stop hiding behind their social media accounts and their token Black employees that they post about during Black History Month in order to show solidarity and hide their minimal efforts.' 

We’ve all seen those videos online of products that just don’t function for people of colour – and it’s due to the lack of diversity in the product design and industrial design world, right? 

'Well, when you have a predominantly white team developing a product out of their experiences and biases, I think it is safe to say that you are not going to get a product that works for people other than white people. I mean, look at self-driving cars and facial recognition. Shabi Kashani [a UX designer at Google who spoke at the event] gave a wonderful presentation on the dangers of white biases being implemented into algorithms because of the lack of diversity in engineering and design teams. It’s definitely a must watch.'

Are there any more specific ways someone reading this can help to change the status quo?

'Start educating yourself by watching the entire conference, because people took the time out to drop some knowledge – you should honour that. Look at the work that’s being done in the community and see what you can do yourself. There’s so much work to go around and it’s not really anyone’s job, especially in the Black community, to tell you what to do. The beauty of our present time is that the knowledge of ways you can help is so much more accessible thanks to technology – so take advantage!' 

Watch a recording of the event now on wherearetheblackdesigners.com.

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