Black History Month spotlight: advice from 10 accomplished black designers

To celebrate Black History Month, we asked accomplished black designers: “What advice do you have for black/underrepresented designers?”

Deepak Kanda
February 12, 2020
Inspiration

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history. To celebrate, we want to spotlight black designers in a field where they are underrepresented, but contribute greatly.

We asked 10 designers to share a few words of advice for current (and future) designers of color. Here’s what they had to say:

Catt Small, Product Designer @ Asana

“Always remember that you have power and agency in every situation, whether you're a tenured or new designer. You control your destiny; as a designer you can make a major impact on not only products and brands but also culture and society.”

– Catt Small, @cattsmall

Catt is a product designer, game maker, and developer. She is currently helping people work better with Asana. She started programming interactive games around the age of 10 and has been going ever since. In her spare time, Catt makes awkward video games, writes, and draws comics.

Dorian Dargan, Human Interface Design @ Apple

“Remember that being the only one in the room can be an advantage when doing creative work. Your authenticity is the source of your unique power - don’t let anything stifle it!”

– Dorian Dargan, @doriandargan

Dorian is an experience designer & producer — currently on the Human Interface Design team at Apple. Before joining Apple, Dorian worked at Oculus/Facebook to reimagine immersive storytelling in virtual reality, led product at YouNow, a pioneer startup in the social live-streaming space, and ran multiple small businesses. Dorian graduated from MIT with degrees in Economics and Urban Studies & Planning.

Kristy Tillman, Head of Global Experience Design @ Slack

“You will undoubtedly encounter many challenges in your career as a designer. People will underestimate you, they will ignore you, they will be committed to misunderstanding you, but remember that you are more than any one job, company, manager or individual. Focus on finding your own unique voice, never doubt your own value and continue to build resiliency.”

– Kristy Tillman, @KristyT

Kristy currently serves as the Head of Global Experience Design at Slack. As the first in the role, she is building a team whose mission it is to lead the transformation of built environments, workplace experience, culture, and programs through the use of design and technology to make Slack employees, partners and visitors’ lives more pleasant and productive. Prior to this role, Kristy built and lead the first Communication Design team at Slack, as the Head of Communication Design.

Fisher Adelakin, Ex-Intern @ Tesla & Slack

“Always be designing, no matter what it is. Creativity should be expanded upon so design anything and everything you want from shoes to furniture to apps to faucets.”

– Fisher Adelakin, @tmidao

Fisher is an interdisciplinary designer and engineer. They run a creative studio called kemi where they build and design things that ranges from furniture to jackets to generative art to apps. They've worked at Pinterest, Tesla, and Slack and currently work in open source compliance.

Temi A, Director of Design @ Blinkist

“You deserve to be here & occupy this space. Your voice and identity give you a vital view on the world and designing for the people in it. Keep inspiring those who need to see that we're here too.”

– Temi A, @idwithheld

In a career spanning over 10 years, Temi's experience has ran the gamut of digital design — from stints in digital advertising to product design and now design leadership. These days, Temi is the Director of Design at Blinkist. Their award-winning team combines the talents of product designers, graphic and brand designers and UX researchers to realise Blinkist’s mission of inspiring curious people to keep learning.

Ayoola John-Muyiwa, Founder @ Blademy

“As a black/underrepresented designer, you must value your work and yourself even when other people don’t. Do your best design on every single project; stay focused, underpromise, overdeliver, and don’t be afraid to charge clients based on the value you provide.”

– Ayoola John-Muyiwa, @AyoolaJohn_

Ayoola, also known as AJ, is a Nigerian-American entrepreneur, designer, and digital creator. AJ is the founder of Blademy, an online learning community that prepares black millennials for in-demand careers in tech, design, finance, and entrepreneurship. AJ is also the Digital Program Manager at Chevron, where he leads a team of Software Engineers, Designers, and Data Scientists on a journey of digital transformation.

Dillion S. Phiri, Founder @ Creative Nestlings

"As a young black creative you have to constantly be up-skilling yourself. You have to understand the business basics, relationships and also the emotional capacity required of getting into the design world. Create a solid network around you."

– Dillion S. Phiri, @dillionsphiri

Dillion is a father, social sculptor, coffee enthusiast, freelance UI/UX designer, entrepreneur and founder of Creative Nestlings — a creative network and digital platform democratizing how young African creatives connect, get found, get paid, learn and grow.

Mariam Braimah, Product Designer @ Netflix

“Don't code switch. There is  power in your perspective and how you do things. It's what distinguishes you from your peers, so don't ever change or stifle it to fit into your environment.”

– Mariam Braimah, @mbraimah_

Mariam is currently a lead product designer on the TV team at Netflix. Prior to that, she lead global mobile & desktop sign up efforts that helped shape and drive customer growth & acquisition in key international markets. Outside of her day job, Mariam founded The Kimoyo Fellowship, launching in 2020, a formal design program aimed at facilitating the cross-pollination of design thinking, knowledge, and shared experiences between tech industry professionals across the African diaspora. Prior to these roles, she headed a cross functional research and design team at public data tech startup, Inflection, and studied History of Art & Architecture at Harvard University.

Hasque, Designer @ Instagram

“You are in control of your design career. Try not to make any excuses for your shortcomings.”

– Hasque, @Hasquatch

Hasque is currently a senior at RIT majoring in New Media Design and also an incoming product designer at Instagram. He loves exploring side projects that help and bring communities together — Cofolios and Blacks Who Design to name a few.

Kevin Hawkins, Senior UX Designer & Team Lead @ Booking.com

“Amazing mentors are easier to find than you’d think, just reach out. Also, sharing your thoughts publicly as you learn is an invaluable treat to others.”

– Kevin Hawkins, @KevinHawkinsDC

Kevin is a UX Designer, startup advisor, and community events organizer that works at Booking.com in Amsterdam. He has worked on projects for companies such as PwC, EY Cybersecurity, Walmart, Uber, Gap, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, and more. During these projects, he has launched products for over 450 million users, managed community events on 3 continents, and contributed to patented development inventions. His experience as a freelancer and working in UX within large corporations has helped him to discover new techniques for achieving global scale and setting the vision of businesses using design thinking for efficient pivots.

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Deepak Kanda

Social Media Manager at Webflow. And yes, my job is more than just sharing cat gifs (not really).

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