How do you hope to further the accessibility of design to underserved communities through your work at Slack? I’ve been doing office hours for the last four years. There are some folks who are one step away from being hirable, but they need a little more polish, access and information. If you give them those things, then they can be hirable.
I want to prove this with my side project Made in the Future, which is a fellowship program for artists and designers. I’ll be bringing in some of the most preeminent designers and senior practioners together. The fellows will get all expenses paid and the chance to meet all these designers. We’ll have chats and information exchanges. That’s going to be my life’s work. I’m definitely doing some of that work with underserved designers—giving back what I was able to receive.
How has the design industry changed since you first started? I was talking to Tim van Damme at design and workflow platform company Abstract, and one of the things we talked about was how open the design community was when we first started. There were design boards and tutorials that were free to use and people would share them. People knew you were peeking at their code on their websites and they didn’t care. We were able to leave Easter egg messages in the HTML. This was before Adobe was giving out trials. When I was coming up, I was able to play with so much on my own. Now, I’m not sure how that happens for people. There are specific YouTube tutorials, but the software is hard to procure; you have to have enough money for it or go for a free trial. There’s also a lot of gatekeeping today. For any publication or conference, the same fifteen designers are invited. The community is more closed now than it used to be. I would love to turn design back around and make it more accessible for people.
What was the inspiration for your experimental creative studio Tomorrow Looks Bright? I don’t know if it’s an experimental creative studio. That’s just what I put because I don’t know what it is yet. But, I was inspired by two companies. One is MSCHF, which releases a new experimental product every couple of weeks—their website is literally a countdown to the next thing they are releasing. One thing they released was a Nike Air Max shoe, but instead of gel inside the shoe, it was holy water.
The other company is the Madbury Club. I can’t believe they closed in 2018. They brought sneaker culture online. Then, they broke off and became this experimental studio. They did demo videos, art projects, merch and all kinds of cool shit. I was super inspired by that because I love that kind of freedom. We need commercial projects, but Madbury Club never seemed beholden to commercial projects. They just made whatever they wanted to make.
And I began thinking, where are the female versions of these companies? What is the female version of the Madbury Club, a gang of friends who make cool shit and put it out into the world? There are intelligent women who have the same amount of creativity, but they don’t get the same amount of resources or attention. And that’s my inspiration. I think the Tomorrow Looks Bright brand will speak for itself.
What excites you about design right now? I’m not inspired by anything that’s currently going on in the design industry. Technology is homogenizing the design industry, and everyone is designing the same way. The commercialization and capitalism of design have been seeping through.
I remember talking to web designer Dan Petty, and he was saying how all the conferences feel the same, so he decided to stop doing his Epicurrence conference. I know I’m not the only person feeling this way. It’ll be interesting to see if someone will crack the code and break the design industry out of its mold.
On the flip side, there are good opportunities to try something new because people desire openness right now. I’m working on my own thing, and I hope other people are working on their own things. I’ve also seen little glimmers of hope in Dori Tunstall’s work on decolonizing design. Antoinette Caroll is also working on that. That kind of work is the work that people need to be talking about. Designers create meaning for everyone. We shape how people engage with the world and that comes with a lot of power. Having a conversation about that is necessary, but I’m not sure if the design community is ready to have it. We can barely have discussions about gender and race.
Do you have any advice for underrepresented designers who want to work in the tech industry? One of the biggest things I’ve learned is understanding who I am as a person, what my values are and what I will not put up with. Also, I’ve learned that my identity and self-esteem should be wrapped up in my own project, not in a particular job or title, which can be taken away from you. So, when people come into the tech industry, they need to have a healthy sense of self outside of work and people who actually love them outside of work. You’re going to face a lot of tough times, and you need to have a strong support system. Be grounded in something outside of work.