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7 Black Design Leaders You Need to Know (and Learn From)

 


February is Black History Month when we celebrate Black individuals' achievements, contributions, and resilience throughout history. In the world of design and technology, Black History Month takes on a special significance as we reflect on the remarkable impact of Black design leaders who have left an indelible mark on the industry.  


Diversity in design is not just a moral imperative; it is a strategic advantage that fuels innovation and drives positive change. By highlighting the achievements of Black design leaders, we honor their legacy while paving the way for greater inclusivity and representation within the field. 

 

This article will highlight five Black design leaders who have significantly contributed to UI/UX and product experience. These individuals have excelled in their respective fields and paved the way for future generations of designers.  

 


From pushing the boundaries of innovation to advocating for inclusive design principles, each leader has left an indelible mark on the design industry. As we celebrate Black History Month, let us draw inspiration from their achievements and recommit ourselves to fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in design. 


The Significance of Black Design Leaders 


Understanding the historical context of Black product designers in the tech industry is essential. They've faced challenges like limited educational opportunities and biased hiring practices. Despite this, Black designers have played a crucial role in shaping the tech landscape. They have been catalysts for change, breaking down barriers and paving the way for increased visibility and opportunities for the next generation.  


Their impact extends beyond individual success stories; it's about rewriting the narrative and challenging stereotypes. Black design leaders bring unique viewpoints and insights that challenge the status quo, driving the industry to new heights of innovation.


By fostering an inclusive environment, these leaders contribute to advancing individual careers and design evolution.  


Here are some notable achievements of Black individuals in the field of design and technology. Dr. Patricia Bath created a device that offers a long-term solution to cataracts. Marie Brown and her husband invented the first home security closed-circuit television system. John A Burr is credited with inventing the rotary blade lawn mower.  


Other notable inventors include Alexander Miles, Dr. Philip Emeagwali, Thomas Elkins, Frederick Jones, Lewis Latimer, Henry Sampson, Granville T. Woods, and Garrett Morgan, who contributed to advancements in railway technology, modern traffic signals, elevators, and refrigeration, among others. 

 


Diversity is the lifeblood of innovation. Fusing diverse perspectives, cultural influences, and lived experiences creates a dynamic environment where creativity thrives.

Black design leaders contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of user needs, preferences, and behaviors.  


Celebrating the significance of Black design leaders and recognizing their role in driving the industry toward a more innovative and inclusive future is important. 


The Top Black Design Leaders in 2024 


In 2024, we celebrate exceptional user experience and product designers in Africa who have significantly impacted the industry. We want to highlight the contributions of five individuals who have reshaped design and set new standards for excellence. Each leader brings a unique perspective, experience, and passion for design that goes beyond aesthetics. 

 


1. Oluwagbemiga Joshua  

A Nigerian product designer based in the UK who works at Google. His focus is designing products for emerging markets, such as Google Go, Google Station, and Google Pay. He is also an advocate for inclusive and accessible design and a mentor and speaker. 

 


2. Nana Kwabena Owusu 

A Ghanaian product designer who leads the design team at Flutterwave, a fintech company that provides payment solutions for Africa. His responsibility is creating user-centric and delightful experiences for Flutterwave's products, such as Rave, Barter, and Moneywave. He is also a co-founder of Design Lab, a community platform for African designers. 

 


3. Fatima Zahra Idrissi  

A Moroccan product designer who works for Spotify. Her primary focus is designing products that enhance the music listening experience for users worldwide.

She is also a co-founder of UX Morocco, a non-profit organization that promotes UX design and education in Morocco. 

 


4. Chuma Umenze 

A Nigerian product designer who works for Facebook. He is part of the team that designs products for the Facebook app, such as Stories, Groups, and Marketplace. He is also a co-founder of Dribbble Lagos, a local chapter of the global design community platform. 

 


5. Mariam Braimah 

Mariam is a product designer at Netflix. She founded the Kimoyo Fellowship, a design program to teach the skills necessary to become an entry-level product designer at Nigeria's top tech companies. The inaugural cohort in Nigeria selected the top five candidates who received training from lead designers at some of the world's best tech companies, including Netflix, Flutterwave, Twitter, Lyft, and Paystack. 

 


6. Seun Badejo 

CEO and Design Lead at Eximia Design Studio, a digital design studio based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is passionate about reintroducing Nigerians to the true design aesthetic and has spoken about the importance of history and culture in design. 

 


7. Pamela Olomola 

Pamela Olomola is an accomplished Product Experience Leader with over 20 years of experience in digital product design. She is the VP of Product Experience & Design at Trulioo, where she is responsible for innovative solutions to verify the identity of people and businesses globally.


Pamela is also the Founder and President of Brave Achievers, empowering the next generation of Product Experience designers in the United States and Africa. 


Pamela has revolutionized the Learning Experience Design space in IT service management and is a renowned speaker and writer. 


Lessons Learned from Black Design Leaders 


As we explore the journeys of Black design leaders, we discover a wealth of insights and valuable lessons that extend beyond their individual stories.


These lessons inspire aspiring Black designers and hold universal truths applicable to designers at any stage of their careers. 

 


  • Resilience in the Face of Adversity  One common thread among Black design leaders is their resilience in facing challenges. From navigating a historically homogenous industry to overcoming biases and stereotypes, these leaders have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to their craft.   The lesson here is clear: setbacks are inevitable, but resilience is the key to overcoming them. Embracing challenges as opportunities for growth and learning is a universal principle transcending individual backgrounds. 

  • Embracing Diversity of Thought  Black design leaders consistently emphasize the importance of diverse perspectives in the design process. Their journeys underscore the value of embracing different viewpoints, experiences, and cultural backgrounds. Design is inherently collaborative, and success often stems from a collective pool of diverse ideas. This lesson serves as a reminder that fostering an inclusive environment where diverse voices are heard and actively sought leads to richer and more innovative design outcomes. 

  • Community Building  A recurring theme in the stories of Black design leaders is the role of mentorship and community support. Many credit their success to the guidance of mentors who provided insights, advice, and opportunities. This highlights the universal importance of mentorship in the design field. Building a supportive network, both as a mentor and mentee, fosters professional growth, expands opportunities, and contributes to the overall health of the design community. 

  • Leveraging Cultural Heritage for Innovation  Many Black design leaders draw inspiration from their cultural heritage, integrating elements of history and tradition into their work. This practice not only fosters a sense of identity but also fuels innovation. The lesson here is the power of drawing inspiration from diverse sources, whether cultural heritage, personal experiences, or global trends. Designers who leverage their unique perspectives contribute to a more vibrant and inclusive design landscape. 

  • Balancing Passion with Pragmatism  While passion drives the work of Black design leaders, they also emphasize the importance of balancing passion with pragmatism. Design is not only about creative expression but also about solving real-world problems. This lesson encourages designers to align their love with a practical understanding of user needs, business objectives, and project constraints. 

 


Why Diversity in Design Matters for Product Experience 


Diversity in design is not merely a checkbox on an organizational agenda; it is a fundamental driver of success that profoundly influences product experiences.


In this section, we will delve into the critical role of diversity in shaping user-centric and inclusive designs, supported by case studies that showcase the positive impact of diverse design teams on product success.


Additionally, we'll explore how considering different perspectives is paramount in avoiding design bias. 


- Shaping User-Centric and Inclusive Designs 

  • Diverse Perspectives Lead to Comprehensive User Understanding:  One of the primary reasons diversity matters in design is its ability to enrich the understanding of user needs. A diverse design team brings individuals with varied experiences, cultural backgrounds, and perspectives. This diversity facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse user base, leading to the creation of products that resonate with a wider audience. 

  • Cultural Sensitivity Enhances User Experience:  Diverse design teams are better equipped to navigate the nuances of cultural preferences and sensitivities. This cultural awareness becomes instrumental in crafting seamless user interfaces and experiences that consider the target audience's cultural context. This results in products that feel more inclusive and relatable to users from different backgrounds. 

- Case Studies Illustrating Positive Impact 

  • Airbnb's Inclusive Design Journey:  In 2017, Airbnb embarked on a mission to address discrimination concerns on its platform. The company formed an Anti-Discrimination team comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Through collaborative efforts, the team implemented changes such as de-emphasizing guest photos during the booking process. The result was a more inclusive platform, reducing discrimination and significantly enhancing the user experience. 

  • Microsoft's Inclusive Design Toolkit:  Microsoft's Inclusive Design Toolkit is another example of the positive impact of diversity in product design. The toolkit emerged from a collaborative effort involving designers, engineers, and users with various abilities. By incorporating diverse perspectives, Microsoft developed design principles prioritizing inclusivity, resulting in products like the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which enables gamers with limited mobility to participate in gaming experiences. 

- Avoiding Design Bias Through Diverse Perspectives 

  • Understanding and Mitigating Unconscious Bias:  Unconscious bias is an inherent challenge in design, influencing decisions and perpetuating stereotypes. Diverse design teams are more adept at recognizing and mitigating unconscious bias. By having team members with different perspectives, biases are exposed and addressed more effectively, leading to fair, equitable designs that consider a broad range of user needs. 

  • Human-Centered Design Requires Diverse Voices:  Human-centered design, a cornerstone of successful product experiences, necessitates a deep understanding of user behaviors and motivations. Diverse voices within design teams contribute to a more holistic understanding of the diverse human experiences that shape user interactions. This approach ensures that products are functional and resonate emotionally with users from various backgrounds. 

- The Ongoing Journey Towards Inclusive Design 

  • Continuous Learning and Adaptation:  Diversity in design is not a one-time achievement but an ongoing commitment to learning and adaptation. As user demographics evolve and societal perspectives shift, diverse design teams remain at the forefront of understanding and responding to these changes. This adaptability is key to creating relevant and inclusive products over time. 

 

  • Fostering a Culture of Inclusivity:  Beyond team composition, fostering a culture of inclusivity is crucial. Organizations prioritizing diversity and inclusion create environments where all team members feel valued, heard, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives. In such cultures, diversity is not just a goal but a driving force permeating every aspect of the design process. 


Reflections


Supporting Black designers in your organization is vital for the future success of the tech and design industry. To foster inclusivity in design teams, implement diverse hiring practices, provide regular diversity training, and host inclusive design workshops. 


Mentorship programs and sponsorship opportunities are powerful tools for supporting Black designers' professional growth. Create structured mentorship programs, ensure diverse mentorship networks, and advocate for Black designers' visibility in key projects and leadership opportunities. 


To create an environment that encourages professional growth, invests in tailored professional development initiatives, recognizes and celebrates achievements of Black designers, and fosters a supportive work environment that values diversity and promotes a sense of belonging. By taking actionable steps to support Black designers in your organization, you're not only fostering a culture of inclusivity but also contributing to the growth and success of the industry. 

 


YouCreate Africa Bootcamp and Mentorship Program


Looking to start or advance your career in tech? Join the YouCreate Africa Bootcamp and Mentorship Program! Our program offers hands-on experience, comprehensive learning materials, experienced mentors, and generous funding.  


Our innovative curriculum equips you with the mindset and technical skills you need to excel in UX/UI design, technical writing, project management, and low-code development. At YouCreate Africa, we empower underrepresented groups in the tech industry through our practical training programs.  


Join our waitlist now and secure your spot in the YouCreate Africa Bootcamp and Mentorship Program. Start your journey towards an exciting career in tech today! 


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