A Black Designer Manifesto


Black people work to enhance the experiences of our community consistently. We fight every single day to design a world where we are seen, heard, and loved. Space-making is an iterative design process, and that is what UX design is about at its core—making space for users by improving usability, accessibility, and desirability.

Jacquelyn Iyamah, “Black People Have Always Been UX Designers”

We’re Black year-round, but hey—a little fanfare during Black History Month never hurt anybody. So, let’s talk design and Black people. A chunk of us work in design, UX or otherwise. As with other marginalized groups, we’ve had to carve out a (sometimes uncomfortable) space for ourselves here. And there are a few things to keep in mind with regards to the daily maintenance of this space.

I. We love ideation—just not if it’s ignorant. The ideation phase: where designers can release the vice-grip they have on reality and ascend to a higher plane of imagination, armed with the knowledge that no idea is a bad idea. Eh, we can’t agree completely. Biases (i.e., associations, personal beliefs, and stereotypes) bleed through ideas. Even the tiniest assumption can put a whole brainstorming session—and most certainly a whole design—at risk. So, we pledge to do our research (even if it’s not reciprocated) and inform any ignorance we come across.

II. We absolutely refuse to be anyone’s DEI coach. Contradiction? Maybe. We’ll call out ignorance when we see it, but doing so on an org-level is not in our job description as designers. DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is a term that’s been flung around left and right in recent years, but more often than not, it ends up shoved into the hands of the nearest person of color like a relay race baton. Sometimes we’re cool with it. But we withhold the right to hurl the baton back at you.

III. We look out for Black designers. (This one always seems to ruffle a few feathers.) Look, we’re all for equality. Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean we ignore the needs of ALL lives. We just recognize that Black lives—and in this case, Black designers—are historically more in need of attention, support, and guidance. To fight an oppressive system, you must create an empowering one to match it. (Case in point: check out Blacks Who Design and Where Are All the Black Designers?)

IV. We advocate for the edge case. Edge cases have a bit of a reputation for being thorns in the side of an otherwise “perfect” design. The best design processes plan for and tackle them in stride, but in other cases (especially where empathy is lacking) they end up shoved to the side. As members of a marginalized community ourselves, we understand what it’s like to have our needs come second—or not at all. So, we vow to elevate the “outliers” and encourage a solution that includes them.

V. We embrace the fact that we are not a monolith. “Black” can mean many things, come from many places, and contain countless experiences. Not every Black designer will agree with this manifesto, or more generally, with each other. And that’s okay! Jacquelyn Iyamah writes in her piece ‘Black People Have Always Been UX Designers’: “As we find commonalities in our experiences, we emerge with an understanding of the central problems.” It’s this empathy—in conflict with the system that seems to paint us with one broad brush—that empowers our practice as designers. Claim that power. We are not your token hires.

About the Manifesto

At first, I struggled with finding a good through-line for my manifesto. I didn’t want the theme linking my values to just be “me.” After all, most manifestos are written in first-person plural (“we”). So, I began to think about what communities I’m a part of. I’m a Black woman first and foremost, and there were plenty of things I’d already heard about or experienced from the tech industry based upon those demographics. That’s why I chose the discuss design through a Black lens.

Credit: Gear Patrol
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About the author

Kumari Pacheco