How did you become interested in digital and UX design, and how did you develop your skills? I’ve always been really passionate about all sorts of design: interior design, graphic design, fashion, architectural design. As a child, I was always designing or redesigning something. When I grew older, I became fascinated with sociology and got a BA in this arena. Still, I tried to keep an intimate relationship with my creativity; I ended up joining a club on campus at UC Berkeley called “Art for Social Change.” This was when I began to think deeply about careers that would allow me to be creative and play a role in dismantling social inequality.
Two years after I graduated from the BA program, I learned about user experience design. I was immediately drawn to the field because it showed me that I could essentially combine social welfare with design. Eventually, I ended up getting a master’s degree in design to hone my skills. It’s been such a fulfilling career path.
How does your knowledge of inclusion and critical race theory help inform your design practice today? My social welfare degree taught me how to recognize, interrogate and challenge oppressive norms, practices and structures. It has made it easier for me to decipher when inequity is taking place, whether institutionally, structurally, interpersonal or internally.
When I immersed myself in the design industry, it was immediately clear to me that there were several ways in which oppressive societal values were being perpetuated by the design world. I realized I could use my knowledge and expertise in social science to disrupt the ways in which we design. When we combine these schools of thought, I believe that we can design solutions to dismantle structures that are harming systematically marginalized communities.
In 2019, you established the Black UX Collective to give a platform to other Black designers. What experiences informed your decision to create the collective, and what has the response been to its launch? The Black UX Collective consists of a Medium page where I write about equity in design, an Instagram page that showcases Black designers’ work, and a Talent Network spreadsheet, which allows recruiters to find Black design talent. I created the Black UX Collective to amplify Black UX designers, product designers, user researchers, content strategists and data scientists in tech and beyond. Too many products, experiences and services are being designed without Black people in mind. Time and time again, I found myself asking: “How did they think this design would be OK?” It was clear to me that there was a lack of Black talent on design teams, and I knew it wasn’t that Black designers didn’t exist—the truth is that most of us experience erasure in our field.
The response to the collective has been heartwarming. I often receive messages or emails from Black designers in tech telling me that they feel seen by my writing or that they landed a job because a recruiter found their information on the spreadsheet.
Tell us about the concepts of the White Default and space-making. How does the White Default affect UX design, and how does the practice of space-making result in more equitable design solutions? We are living under a system where whiteness is the default, the baseline, the norm. When whiteness is the default, the pain points, voices, experiences and needs of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) become an afterthought. As white people enjoy a culture of belonging, BIPOC are continuously othered. This can look like “nude” products that only cater to white skin, such as Band-Aids; facial recognition not being able to detect Black people; or even emojis not coming in dark skin tones until recently.
We have an opportunity to disrupt this pattern through something I call space-making. Through a series of critical race theory prompts inserted into the design thinking process, companies can evaluate if they are designing in the most equitable way possible or simply centering the White Default.
We should constantly be asking ourselves: Who is on the team defining the problem? Who are we centering our research on? Whose voices and decisions are elevated? What markers are we using to decide if a design is successful after implementation?
How was it designing Making the Body a Home, an online platform you’ve designed to help BIPOC process racial conditioning and trauma? We live in a society that, in so many ways, treats BIPOC like we are less than. Over time, this degrading treatment can impact the minds, spirits and bodies of folks in our communities. It can cause communities of color to internalize messages about racial inferiority.
So in 2020, I designed Making the Body a Home as a platform where I create online courses for individuals to unpack racial conditioning. The courses cover a multitude of topics within dominant culture and allow individuals to unpack through a variety of methods such as reading, self-reflection surveys, journal prompts, audio and video meditations, and guides.
Countless individuals have shared how empowered the courses have made them feel. One student shared that Making the Body a Home is beautiful, healing and unlike any content or knowledge they have engaged with in their entire life. That is incredibly powerful.
Are there any inclusive design practices that you feel are overlooked or underappreciated by the industry? I believe the design industry overlooks the concept of intersectionality. Coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a scholar, writer and lawyer who focuses on civil rights, critical race theory and Black feminist thought, the term intersectionality describes how race, class, gender and other characteristics “intersect” with one another and alter how someone may experience privilege or oppression in any context. When we bring this framework into the design industry, we can see that age, race, ability, gender, sexuality, religion, and socioeconomic status can impact how someone experiences a product or service.
People have different needs based on their identities and lived experiences. To truly design equitably, we must consider these needs. We do this by taking the time to conduct inclusive research with systematically marginalized communities and understand how people may be negatively impacted by a product or service.
As someone passionate about inclusive UX research, do you have any tips for researchers? Research is often the foundation of any product, service or experience that is designed. However, being inclusive in the research process isn’t thought about enough.
There are three things we need to be more intentional about when it comes to inclusive research. First, context matters. Researchers need to actively and critically examine the root cause of different forms of oppression in society. We must understand the cause—not just the symptom. This helps us think more creatively and effectively about how to go about research.
Second, collect research equitably. Researchers from marginalized communities should be involved in creating surveys and writing research questions to help eliminate any bias. When recruiting participants, researchers should ensure that they are getting representative samples from different communities.
Third, analyze research equitably. One of the most important aspects of inclusive research is ensuring that people from systematically marginalized communities and people who have a deep understanding of oppression are part of facilitation sessions or are analyzing the research. I have noticed that people interpret information differently if they do not have the lived experience or the understanding of systemic oppression.
What tools do you find indispensable for your design practice? For content design, I use Readable and Grammarly. These tools ensure that my writing is readable, correct and easy to digest, which is important when it comes to accessibility.
For UX and visual design, I use Adobe XD and sometimes Figma. While these products are known for designing wireframes or interfaces for apps or websites, Adobe XD, in particular, has been a really fun tool for me to use when designing graphics.
For web design, I use Webflow. I used Webflow to design my website, and I love it. It allows me to create a website exactly how I would like. There are no major constraints because it essentially lets you code visually. I’ve gone through several iterations of my portfolio on different platforms, and none of them have made me as happy as Webflow.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the most significant impact on how you design in the next few years? Technologies that can automate inclusive design practices will have a huge impact on the design field. Innovations that I think design teams and tech companies should look out for include companies such as Stark, Textio and Inclued.ai.
Stark, a plugin that can integrate into Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD, essentially reminds designers to create with accessibility in mind. It allows teams to check product compliance, examines contrast levels, provides color alternatives and so much more.
Textio is software that brings inclusive language to the content that people create. It uses data science to reveal gender bias in people’s writing and suggests alternatives to users.
I also recently learned about Inclued.ai, a software platform that will help content designers identify bias—against race, gender and ability, etcetera—in their content, including writing and imagery. It has yet to launch, but I’m extremely excited about the concept.
What are some of the best books designers should read to learn about inclusive design? Design Justice by Sasha Constanza-Chock is a book about how design can be led by marginalized communities to dismantle inequality and advance liberation. The book does an excellent job of combining narratives about justice and design.
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble examines the issue of data discrimination and how search engine results and algorithms are filled with negative biases against women of color. These biases not only perpetuate negative stereotypes but also contribute to erasure.
Building for Everyone by Annie-Jean Baptiste walks through how design teams can infuse inclusion into their design process from beginning to end and ensure that systematically marginalized communities have their needs met.