I’ll admit up front that this is really a rant with no direction. But it’s something that’s been eating at me for the past week. And when anything sticks with me that long, I know there’s something that matters buried within. 

So maybe this is nothing more than an attempt to start a conversation, or a spark to transcend what I see as a very narrow, limited response to a nearly timeless issue. And maybe it’s not helpful at all. I don’t know. I just know that for me, at least, these are things that need saying.

For lack of a better place to begin, I’ll start with this:

I don’t want to see another article about racial bias in AI. 

Not. Now.

Why, you ask?

Because when I search for “Racism and UX” or “Racism and Design,” or any variation thereof, nearly every single article Google returns in search results is about bias in AI

What bothers me about that, you ask?

What bothers me is that even when discussing matters of tragically urgent importance — of life and death even — our ridiculous fetish for tech still somehow manages to come first. Far too many responses I’ve seen this past week are either about AI or they’re proposals to build something, as if rushing to build yet another app without involving the very people it’s supposed to serve wouldn’t perpetuate the deep-seeded exclusion and supremacy that helped get us here in the first place.

So that’s a hard NO. No more talk about AI, no app building, no more mindless, exclusionary tech. I really, truly, thoroughly DO NOT CARE about any of this right now. And seeing it as our consistent, primary response to all that’s happened in the past and all that’s happening right now is beginning to make me furious. It’s a low-effort easy, convenient target, a simple talking point, a fairly cut-and dry connection between cause and effect. 

It’s a three-inch curb that’s pathetically easy to climb at this point.

The issue that’s really confronting us all right now, however, is a MOUNTAIN.

Let’s stop picking convenient targets.

Folks, there has to be more to the conversation about UX and racism than AI. There IS more to the conversation, and it’s a hell of a lot more troubled and difficult and uncomfortable; I know that because up until recently I myself, on some subconscious level, have been unwilling to have it.

So these scholarly, self-congratulatory articles about being aware that the people “training” AI systems carry their biases into that training aren’t worth much — until you have different people from different ethnic backgrounds doing that training.

Until that physical reality changes, these articles and the words they contain are meaningless. Empty. Easy.

And I also have less-than-zero interest right now in listening to professional UX and Design organizations (AIGA, I’m looking at you) who have had every opportunity to put this issue front and center for decades share worthless platitudes about how they now “stand in solidarity with Black designers, educators, students—and their families, cultures, and communities—in the condemnation of racism, intersectional discrimination, and acts of violence, including murder.”

Because when organizations like the AIGA —who supposedly represent and advocate for ALL of us — are pressed as to what they’re actually going to DO, the exchange always goes like this:

Questioning the AIGA's efforts to help the Black community
AIGA's non-response to what they're doing to help the Black community

Meaningless. Words.

Appeasing words, as Stephanie so accurately put it.

That talk is cheaper right now than it’s ever been.

Organizations, your “striving” and your “pledging” and your “access” mean less than nothing. We do need your voices — but we need them to be coupled with actions. With concrete, specific efforts. You can be leading this charge in a very meaningful, powerful and far-reaching way. But historically, you’re not. You haven’t.

Over the past several days I’ve gone to several websites of our most high-profile associations and organizations, along with any number of high-profile B2B and B2C corporations. And even those who have specific departments and pages dedicated to their “diversity efforts” are doing little more than repeating the same laundry list of how to hire more diverse talent, how to include marginalized voices, how to serve underserved user bases. 

Let me make something painfully clear here: businesses and corporations — the ones who have the most power, the most reach and the most impact on our daily lives through their products and services — are not going to adopt any of that well-meaning bullshit until they are either:

  1. Financially incentivized to do so, or 
  2. FORCED to do so.

So please, for the love of people’s lives, get over yourselves and your go-to diatribes and proclamations for FIVE F**KING MINUTES and start talking about something that matters. Something that’s closer to dealing with a root cause instead of managing a symptom. Something that’s truly HUMAN.

Let’s start with WHY.

Here are the facts as I see them:

  • You are never going to build an inclusive product or service or experience of any kind when the product team that built it is all-white (or predominately white).
  • You are never going to build an inclusive product or service or experience of any kind when the management team above that product team is all-white (or predominately white).
  • You are never going to build an inclusive product or service or experience of any kind when the executive team above that management team above that product team that built it is all-white (or predominately white).
  • You are never going to build an inclusive product or service or experience of any kind when the HR personnel or recruiting organization or individual recruiters who hired that executive team or that management team or that product team that built it is all-white (or predominately white).
  • You are also never going to build an inclusive product or service or experience of any kind — or prepare young Black designers and UXers properly for the unequal uphill climb they’re facing in all of the above — when the teachers and mentors available in design- or UX-centric university programs or online bootcamps are all-white (or predominately white).
@uxlizzy1: Where are the Black UX teachers, designers, mentors?

And we are also never going to have the kind of equality that Black people truly deserve until all of this changes, in every profession. So if we’re going to have a discussion, I vote we start with all that.

Let’s start with WHY the voices who need to be heard most — the people whose input and insight and effort are needed most — are pretty much blocked at every turn from joining the party. Let’s start with the reasons why that happens, with the underlying fear of “less for me” that is at the heart of hate, at the heart of racism. 

And let’s follow that why with WHAT.

Knowing what the problem is doesn’t automatically solve it. Knowing the WHY only tells us where to go next; it’s up to us to do the heavy lifting. 

As such, let’s start with pushing harder for Black voices to be seen, heard and included — especially if we’re operating from a position of privilege and have the ability and the opportunity and the leverage to make that push.

  • If you have the power to amplify the voices of Black people who are doing the herculean work of making change happen, USE IT.
  • If you have the power to include the voices and perspectives of Black people as speakers at your conference, USE IT.
  • If you have the power to determine the ethnic makeup of your product team, USE IT.
  • If you have the power to bring more Black candidates to your client for job interviews, USE IT.
  • If you have the power to make sure Black high schools and colleges have the resources they need to teach their students about UX and Design in a way that actually arms them to fight for inclusion and be competitive in the workplace, USE IT.

That one, by the way, is number 1 on my agenda right now. 

Those of us fortunate enough to have the Design and UX communities see us as “leaders” also have the responsibility to live up to that title, to repay that respect and continue to earn that trust by stepping up and actually leading

Not just in matters of UX or Design — but in all matters of PEOPLE.

Now — all that said — I don’t have answers. And historically, I don’t even think I’ve ever asked the right questions. But I’m damn sure trying to start asking them now. 

And the first one is this:

How can we possibly expect anything to change when Black people are practically excluded from nearly every aspect of UX, design and software development?

Without these voices at the table, without them in positions of team and executive leadership, nothing here will change. 

Nor will the effectiveness and usefulness and appropriateness of the solutions we all put out into the world change. Or improve at the scale or breadth or inclusivity and applicability that they should. We will never properly serve the Black community until they play an active, leading role in strategizing, researching, designing and implementing these products and services and systems and apps and sites we all touch every day. Until there are as many Black UXers and Designers leading product teams and driving UX efforts as there are white ones.

And not only do we need Black UXers and Designers at the table with authority to deliver better outcomes; we also need this so that young, aspiring young Black women and men can see themselves — literally — in these roles.

So that they have proof it’s possible. So they can see and believe and internalize the fact that YES, they CAN get to a place where they have equal footing, equal say, equal respect. Proof that it’s possible, and proof that the rest of us white people believe in our hearts that it’s necessary.

No proof, no change.

No change, no proof.

Many of us consider ourselves to be problem solvers. I think that this is a problem we must turn our focus and our efforts to solving. Not just right now. Not just this week, this month, or even this year. But continuously.

Every day. 

Of every week. 

Of every month. 

Of every year.

One of the best ways I’ve ever heard UX described was in three simple words: “Putting people first.” 

I’d say it’s high time we do exactly that. 

So I’m challenging myself — along with every white UXer or Designer reading this — to start doing the work. To start asking better, harder questions. And to start doing the damn hard work of digging at the answers.

No matter how elusive or difficult or uncomfortable they may be.

I encourage everyone to check out, follow, share and amplify the messages and work of the organizations and resources on the (rather incomplete) list that follows here; they’re the ones who have been doing real, purposeful heavy lifting on these issues, and I think they’d benefit from our support. Get in touch and ask how you can help.

An Incomplete List of Resources for the Equity-Centered Designer

A compilation of exercises, frameworks, and thoughts that serve to advance the design field’s relationship with systems that perpetuate oppression. Curated by Isabelle Yisak.

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Black UX Collective

A space where Black designers can discuss their experiences, share their design case studies, and connect with one another. Founded by Jacquelyn Iyamah.

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Blacks Who Design

Blacks Who Design is a comprehensive list that highlights an incredible number of inspiring Black designers in the industry. The goal is to inspire new designers, encourage people to diversify their feeds, and discover amazing individuals to join your team.

If you’re a Black designer, this site’s for you. There are great designers all across the industry. Hopefully this project inspires you to see yourself among the ranks.

If you’re not a Black designer, this site’s for you too 🙂 Reply to a recruiter: Tired of recruiting emails? Instead of hitting archive, reply with a link to this site.

Target your mentoring: Dedicate your lunch breaks towards mentoring people that might not normally get access to you.

Volunteer: Consider blocking off some time to teach design to younger students.

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Creative Reaction Lab

Systems of Oppression, Inequality, and Inequity are by design. Therefore, they can be redesigned. 

Our mission is to educate, train, and challenge Black and Latinx youth to become leaders in designing healthy and racially equitable communities. We’re challenging the belief that only adults with titles (e.g. mayors, CEOs, etc.) have the power and right to challenge racial and health inequities. However, we’re conscious that young leaders and adults alike must collectively design a world centered in equity.

Join us in building a movement of Redesigners for Justice!

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DSX design school X

Founded on the values of equity + creativity, DSX beckons youth and adults to build their agency to affect change, agility to seek out and navigate complex dilemmas, and access to their character and purpose. All within a learning culture of belonging + becoming. Toward this end, we have created a School Model and an Invitation to Design for Liberation.

All tools, frameworks and experiences models we create, from assessment to teaching, or hiring and school site, are created as acts of love and therefore will be open source so that any community, town or city can build a state of the art learning culture of belonging and becoming, rooted in equity + creativity.

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The Equity Lab

We bring artists of color together to create narrative-driven media that investigate the intersections of identity, connection, and healing. Every project explores that elusive, culture-defining balance of community, futurity, and resistance.

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Guide to Allyship

An evolving open-source guide to help you become a more thoughtful and effective ally, a created by Amélie Lamont.

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228 Accelerator

228 Accelerator fuels the scaling of radical and transformative ideas in schools. Using our signature equityXdesign process, we start at the root of our problems: our relationships. When transformed, these relationships — whether between students and teachers, between students and their learning, or the complex relationships between adults — can accelerate the reconciliation and repair needed close gaps and reconcile disparities. 

Over the past decade, school designers, education reformers, thought leaders, and philanthropists have invested significant time, effort, and financial capital in creating transformative educational experiences for underserved communities. But these problems still persist — not because of a lack of knowledge or effort, but because what underpins our beliefs about one another is stained by years of segregation and fear. These beliefs shape how we work together, how we design, and how we build the social architecture of our schools and organizations.

We need a new conceptual system and belief framework to undergird the design of the next generation of equitable schools and organizations. 228 Accelerator’s mission is to empower a new generation of school designers to then build a new generation of schools that put equity at the center of their work. We give them the time, network, and experiences to design radically new and better ways of working together, learning together, and living together.

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Design for Equity

This group is a discussion space for leaders who are passionate about designing products, services and experiences for inclusion and belonging across multiple industries. 

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People of Craft

People of Craft is a growing showcase of creatives of color and their craft in design, art, & more; an Initiative by Amélie Lamont and Timothy Goodman.

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POCIT (People of Color In Tech)

Telling the stories and thoughts of people of color in tech.