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Q: It is possible for someone to enter the field if they do not have a degree in that? If so, any tips?

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Hampton University, often called the “Home by the Sea” on the banks of Virginia’s southern peninsula, has molded several of today’s black art and design luminaries. The name Hampton is even included in conversations about the best HBCUs to attend for those interested in careers as artists, graphic designers, web gurus, and the like. While the specifics of the program are best known by Hampton’s alumni, let’s delve into what makes this department such a sterling example among HBCUs.

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Last month, designer Mary Ann Badavi and I conducted a workshop on service design during UX Week in San Francisco. But less than a year ago, we’d never met and never worked on a project before. We come from very different backgrounds and work in different aspects of design.

How did this happen?


Mary Ann Badavi and I present our Design for Good project. Photo credit: AIGA DC
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As a Black professional, you may know that feeling of being “the only one”. It’s a space many of The Talented Tenth occupy, especially as they continue on in their careers. Some of them try to break out of that feeling by banding together towards a common good, such as supporting social impact initiatives or meeting with companies and institutions to address systemic inequities. Historically, Black communities have thrived around these shared interests, and in turn, have produced some of the country’s first Black major media companies, HBCUs, progressive political movements and politicians, and even its first Black president.

A young Barack and Michelle Obama in their Chicago home.
Source: ©Mariana Cook 1996
A young Barack and Michelle Obama in their Chicago home.
Source: ©Mariana Cook 1996

But when it’s time for Black designers and tech professionals to be included, we become an afterthought — a means to an end when they need a logo or a flyer or something simple done on the Web. And when it comes to being seen as social peers for important initiatives, we are instead regarded as non-factors in the conversation. We’ve seen this when former NAACP head Ben Jealous speaks at Twitter HQ and no Black employees are invited. We’ve seen this when Black lawmakers breathlessly call for more diversity in Silicon Valley yet ignore existing initiatives that are already making progress.

There appears to be a gap between Black design and tech professionals versus Black professionals in other fields. How did this happen, and what can we do to get out of it and bridge the divide?

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