Celebrating black designers during Black History Month and beyond

While studying for an associate’s and then bachelor’s degree in graphic design, Tim Hykes never saw examples of successful designers who looked like him: Not from his professors’ lectures, nor from the working world.

“I use to Google black graphic designers and never got pictures of one creative soul,” he recalled in an interview with ivoh. “Not seeing or having a single name of a designer while I was studying design made me question if it was possible for me to have a career in the field. … it didn’t feel like I belonged.”

Eventually, Hykes joined AIGA Saint Louis, a professional association for designers, where he met other black designers and joined the executive board. He is currently the vice president for the group, and he works as a user experience designer for a nonprofit that teaches people to code and find jobs.

Hykes found his career path but he wants to make it easier younger African-Americans to envision theirs. This month he launched the website, “28 Days of Black Designers,” which features a new profile of a designer for each day of Black History Month.

Designer Dian Holton. A part of a magazine spread on which Holton worked as photo director.

While African-Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they only account for about 3% of the design community, according to a 2016 census by the national AIGA organization.

Hykes hopes the 28 Days project will help those numbers improve.

“The obvious fact is the for-us-by-us model makes a big difference when trying to recruit for the industry. We love to see people who look like us doing the work that we want to do,” he wrote in a blog post responding to the design census results.

The profiles in the 28 Days project includes biographical information on the designers and examples of their work. Hykes curated the list to include equal numbers of new/unknown designers, well-known designers, and designers from history. He also incorporated a broad span of professional positions.

Dian Holton, for instance, is the deputy art director for AARP, while Justin Garrett Moore is an urban designer leading the NYC Public Design Commission. EJ Maxwell is an architecture student, and Ann Cole Lowe was a fashion designer who created Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress.

Designers Justin Garrett Moore (left) and Ann Cole Lowe (right).

For the living designers, the site features Q&As with questions, such as, what the individuals love about their work and how design can be more accommodating to underrepresented groups.

On the latter question, many of the replies reinforced the need for a project like 28 Days of Black Designers.

Ameer Suhayb Carter, for instance, shared his experience talking to middle school students about design careers: “It wasn’t until they asked us what we did when they lit up. ‘Wow, so you can make money drawing comic book characters?’ ‘Wait, so you guys make all the cool stuff on billboards?’ ‘You can learn how to make clothes?!’”

Carter said those possibilities were a revelation despite the school being just blocks away from Savannah College of Art and Design. “A place for them to aspire to, learn from and jumpstart a career in what they might be passionate in, didn’t even exist to them before. They knew about it but assumed it was for rich kids, white people or something wholly unobtainable — until people who looked like them, talked like them, felt like them, said it was possible. And it was real.”

Hykes said that increasing diversity is valuable not just for those looking to enter the field, but for all those who experience design in daily life, which is everyone.

“When environmental designers create solutions for hospitals, there is one area they leave unattended. The ceiling. I’ve stayed in a hospital for two weeks, and during that time the ceiling became my best friend. I guess what I’m trying to say is if you’ve never walked in my shoes you can never truly solve my problems.”

During the first two weeks of the project, the 28 Days website got more than 22,000 page views and positive responses across social media through #BlacksinDesign. Although new profiles will only continue until the end of the month, Hykes won’t be done sharing designers’ stories. In March, he and Antionette Carroll, founder and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab, are launching a podcast, “Design + Diversity.” Hykes says the show “will cover a range of diversity and inclusion topics and dialogue with emerging and legendary designers.”

Hykes is also thinking about ways to grow the 28 Days project in the future. The possibilities for doing so are wide-ranging, such as creating video profiles of black designers next year, or using the same model to highlight LGBTQIA designers or people of different races.

“There will be another project like this in some way shape or form, but I have to develop a strategic model for receiving content and executing,” Hykes said.

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