How did you discover your passion for design? I grew up on comics and video games, so I’d say I’ve always been excited by the intersection of storytelling and digital worlds. As a kid, I learned how to use design tools to make zines. In college, I was hired to work as part of a concert venue’s staff, and I designed many posters for visiting artists. I was continually seeing how digital and design tools could be used to tell a story, evoke an emotion and move a community. Design can be used as a tool beyond aesthetic, and as a part of a greater ecosystem of making experiences that betters people’s lives.
What personal experiences or circumstances have most influenced your work or style? I’ve often found myself in spaces where I have felt othered. I grew up in Palo Alto, the suburbs of Sacramento and Portland, Oregon, all places where I was usually the only Black person in a room. Experiencing that othering on a daily basis led me to explore Black artists who were creating their own worlds with their art. In college, I took classes in Africana and gender and sexuality studies, and discovered Black artists who rooted their work in Black feminism, Afrofuturism, queer theory and Black liberation. These bodies of knowledge have helped me understand that design cannot only be about visual aesthetic, which is often dominated by a Eurocentric design canon. Design is also an incredible tool for telling stories. My style of design is centered on storytelling, curiosity and decolonizing design practices. I’m often asking, “Who are we designing for? Why are we designing this? What is this meant to say? What is my responsibility as a designer in telling this story?”
You’re also a poet. How has poetry guided your understanding of visual communication? Poetry is its own kind of magic; it infuses stories with a kind of dance. Poetry, like design, is also constantly asking me to act with intention. There’s a “why” behind each line, and nothing is said without meditating on the impact. Visual communication asks us to show up with the same motive, to move us towards creating with purpose.
As the creative director of design and user experience, how have you visually connected yet differentiated the brands for Somewhere Good, a family of offerings including social and wellness platform Ethel’s Club and 24-hour visual channel Form No Form? Form No Form and Ethel’s Club have strikingly different visual identities, but they’re both rooted in the core values that Somewhere Good upholds: to center people of color, spark joy, and care for both ourselves and our communities. A large part of Somewhere Good’s mission is for people of color to be celebrated, as we’re often navigating spaces where we’re made into “the other.” I wanted the visual system of each brand of Somewhere Good to have its own interpretation of taking up space.
The Ethel’s Club brand is playful, warm and eclectic. It’s meant to feel like you’re coming into a home you’ve always known, but with a modern take. You can drop your shoulders in his home, you feel at ease here, and you’re guaranteed the company of someone who sees and celebrates you. The art direction evokes Black and brown joy, whether through the bright color palette, eclectic copy, or icons inspired from Black and brown hair. In comparison, I nicknamed Form No Form “your chaotic good big cousin of the internet.” Form No Form’s mission is to highlight the power and dynamism created by artists of color. The brand system reflects this through strong type, unapologetic colors and colliding geometric shapes, all that mean to suggest strength, dynamism and evocation.
How do you use design to exhibit or support Somewhere Good’s goals of “centering people of color through community, arts and culture” and “[celebrating] emerging creators”? Black people and people of color are often told to quiet or dim themselves. I wanted the visual system of Somewhere Good and its brands to be a direct act against that. The design systems are all rooted in the mission of taking up space with people around you who are invested in building new worlds. So I asked myself what that could look like across design. How can the colors evoke celebration? How can the interactions of the user interface create an experience of ease and play? As a Black, queer, nonbinary person, I rarely see myself in brands’ missions or visuals. Somewhere Good’s mission is to not only center, but also celebrate people of color, and it was essential to me that the visual system upholds that mission across every visual touchpoint.
What does community mean to you as a designer? Community is an ecosystem of many parts that asks for each of us to be committed to each other’s vibrance, well-being and care. Design, as a method for telling stories and creating systems, can be a direct tool for community building if done with intention and care.
What is one challenge that the design industry needs to address in order to remain relevant? It’s been long known that the design industry has failed to support designers of color, and I’ve noticed that the solution many turn to is to simply hire more Black and brown designers. The design industry needs to understand that it is not enough to hire designers of color if the environment we are not coming into is not made to support us. I want design leaders to do more of the work to redesign the systems they’ve made. Are companies offering direct support and resources to their designers of color? Who are we heralding as the exemplars of design in our design history of industry? Are Black or brown designers taught in our design schools? Are we doing the work to decolonize the design canon? That work is not meant to be comfortable. It’s meant to entirely recreate the systems of harms that have been designed.
Whose work do you love and look toward for inspiration? I’m constantly inspired by album artwork and music videos. Lately, I’ve been heavily inspired by the visuals of musical artists Kelsey Lu, serpentwithfeet, Sudan Archives and Tierra Whack, as well as digging through the archives of vintage dance hall and funk album records.
What is the most exciting work in design that you’ve seen recently? Anifa Mvuemba’s 3-D fashion show for her brand Hanifa was absolutely stunning. Not only were the fashion pieces incredible and the 3-D modeling of the pieces both innovative and captivating, but I was also moved by how Mvuemba launched the experience on Instagram Live, inviting an entire global community into a digital experience. That intersection of fashion, digital community, 3-D modeling and culture was breathtaking.
What advice would you give to creatives who are interested in creating or fostering inclusive spaces within the creative industry? I believe that any action around inclusivity needs to center not only the voices, but also the leadership of those who are left out of the spotlight of creative industries: particularly Black and brown trans, nonbinary, queer folks and women. We can’t keep recreating the wheel of designing inclusive spaces that are led by non-Black or non-POC. We’re witnessing how those spaces have failed time and time again to actually create sustainable change. I hear a lot of language around “inviting people of color to the table,” and creatives of color are noticing this behavior in companies’ sudden surges of interest in our work. These types of responses are disingenuous, and carry no actual investment in the perspectives, actions and theories that creatives of color spearhead. I have no interest in being in a space where I have to be invited to a space in a rushed, secondhand thought. I have much more interest in creating tables of my own.
The creative industry needs to be asking what they can do to invest in the leadership of creatives of color, especially trans, queer, nonbinary and women creatives, who have long critiqued the industry for its lack of inclusivity and support. Creatives invested in inclusivity must ask themselves, “How can we uplift and support the work that Black and brown creatives have long fostered? How is our space invested in Black trans and queer leadership? How can I decolonize my understanding of creativity, imagination and design?”