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Raven L. Veal, PhD

How do you define yourself? It’s a question a lot of us will wrestle with at some point in life, and according to Raven L. Veal, PhD, understanding the answer to this is a critical part of design. She speaks from experience, too — as both a design lecturer and a strategic design lead, she definitely did not get to this level of success without understanding her truth at a deep level.

We started off with a brief introduction about her work at Citi Ventures, and then explored her lecture work at the University of Texas and what she learns from her students. Raven also talked about her mom as her source of creative inspiration, and shared her thoughts on design research, future tech, the role of art, moral imagination, and spirituality in designing technology. Trailblazers like Raven definitely let me know that we’re in good hands for the future!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Hi, my name is Raven Veal. I’m based in Austin, Texas, and I am a strategic design lead at Citi Ventures. I am also a lecturer at the University of Texas School of Design and Creative Technologies where I teach for the Masters in Arts and Design for Health program.

Maurice Cherry:
How has 2022 been going for you so far?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Oh my gosh, 2022 has just been an influx of emotions. It’s been exciting. It’s been exhausting at times. It’s been a learning experience for me as far as really just wanting to dive into rest and what that looks like, especially when I’ve been so accustomed to a very fast paced hustle, grind culture context.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
One of my favorite inspirations is Trisha Huey and her Nap Ministry where she says, “Justice looks like a space to rest.” And so I’ve been trying to practice that and lean into that a little bit more. But overall I think 2022 has taught me a lot of important things about myself and others.

Maurice Cherry:
Diving into rest right now sounds so good. I guess, because I’m recording this at the end of a long work day, I’m like, “Oh, diving into rest is… ” I love what they’re doing with the Nap Initiative. I think especially over these past few years, it’s become something that so many people have empathized with over the pandemic.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Exactly. A 100%. I love and just honor and respect the work that she’s doing.

Maurice Cherry:
Overall, you mentioned this hustle grind culture, how have you been managing yourself through the pandemic?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah, so I think one practical thing that I’ve been trying to do is to schedule for myself moments of joy throughout the day. So I will typically try to block off the first half of my day, it is a privilege I’m able to do this, just for heads downtime. And then I’ll dedicate the latter part of my day to meetings.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
But even in between, I’ll schedule, maybe 30 minutes or so for a dance break or I’m a woman of faith. So I’ll set aside some time to just pray or to kind of read the Psalms or just do something that is just, or walk my dog, go outside, get away from the screen, but just really try to schedule those pockets of joy and rest throughout my day. Literally, in my calendar, on my to-do list and make it a priority for me.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m the same way. I’ll tell people if it’s not on my calendar, I’m not doing it. I schedule all the time. I’ll do focus time in the morning. I’ll schedule some time after work, if I have it, and I usually try to make it.

Maurice Cherry:
So I have at least one day, and it’s usually Friday, where after 4:00 PM do not disturb is on, don’t call me, don’t talk, that’s my time. You can talk to me on Saturday, but anything after 4:00 PM on Friday, it’s a wrap.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Exactly. And claiming just that time for yourself establishing that boundary. So healthy. Yes. Yeah. A 100%

Maurice Cherry:
Now I want to talk about your work at Citi Ventures. I know we can’t kind of go too much into it, but you mentioned you’re a strategic design lead there. Can you talk about what strategic design actually is? What is that?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah. So there are a lot of names for this. I was actually talking to a colleague about this. So strategic design, you also hear business or venture design. Some people say design strategy, but essentially it’s the skill of addressing systemic challenges with innovative approaches aligned across several dimensions.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So you’ll have business viability. That’s the question of, do we have a distinctive sustainable business strategy? You have user desirability, are we adequately addressing the core need of the community? Technical feasibility, so is the proposed solution possible to create and bring to life? And then I like to add a fourth dimension, which is ethical impact. So how well does this approach optimize good and minimize harm and not just on an individual level, but also a societal and environmental level as well?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So the core of actually what I do is research driven, but it’s more so generative and strategic design in the sense that you have to have a really critical and forward thinking eye to provide direction for the team that brings all of those pieces together.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say just a typical day looks like for you?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah, so a typical day at Citi Ventures, it varies a bit, so I may actually be conducting research speaking with stakeholders and one on one interviews. Right now we’re running a diary study on one of our projects. So that may look like making sure that the participants of that specific research study are engaged, analysis, playing back our research findings in creative and engaging ways.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
We also have, I may be participating in a team meeting that day. I’m a part of two teams. So the Racial Equity Design and Data Initiative, and we have syncs where we come together, discuss what we’re working on, and kind of what the next steps are.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And then also I’m a part of the UX Research Team, as well, and we have different meetings where we touch base on methodology. We talk about what’s going on from a current event perspective as it relates to research. And so all of that runs the gamut of a week and I may even touch multiple components of that within a given day.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds pretty busy, like a lot of research, a lot of meetings, but I guess with something called Citi Ventures it sounds like it is pretty kind of futuristic and forward thinking. So that makes sense.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun and I will just shout out to the team because there is an element of flexibility to the day that I feel like is necessary for this type of work. But that also makes it pretty enriching and eliminates some of the burnt outness that you might get from having so many things to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now outside of that work, you mentioned you’re also a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin for their School of Design and Creative Technologies. How did you first get started there?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I first got started last year, actually. The courses that I teach are field work and design. So I taught that in the fall really kind of exploring ethnographic methods of research and design. And then this semester I taught storytelling for presentations. So the context of presenting your work in a meaningful way and you know what?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I just have a passion for empowering the next generation of designers and researchers in this space. And it’s actually in the program that I teach for is specifically design and health. And my entire background is in healthcare, public health, psychology, behavioral science. And I think that design has a very powerful place in that industry and all of the students remarkable.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I teach both medical students. So it’s Dell Medical students and also current students in that program. But to circle back and answer your question. So I got involved in it last year, just as a way for me to kind of give back in that specific way and inspire aspiring designers.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Design and health is a really big field. I think we look at technology, things like wearables and stuff like that, but really the whole healthcare experience, I would say over the past, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 15 years has really been transformed by design, whether it’s actually designing different apps and programs for people to access services or even just making different interfaces and forms and things easier for people to understand.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if people really kind of think about just how much design plays into health like that?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
It really is. And healthcare itself is such a relational industry. And I think that in the past, and sometimes currently now, there’s an over emphasis on the emerging technologies and technology in the space, but everything is to the end of how do we, I guess, uplift and optimize the relationships between patients and caregivers, between patients and providers, between providers and payers, it’s very relational oriented.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And so it’s really interesting and intriguing, the role of design, in building experiences and technologies to support the optimization of those relationships.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’d also say even to kind of build trust. If we just think about over the past few years with this pandemic, so much of whether it’s forms or commercials or any sort of advertisements or things that talk about prevention, washing your hands, wearing masks, et cetera, like that, design has really played a very interesting part in, I think, how information has been spread about COVID.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I completely agree. And that word comes up a lot, trust, especially kind of with the history of certain communities, our community in this space. I use a term like progressive trust, right? You’re not going to be able to get a 100% of trust back immediately, especially if there have been certain groups that have been wronged in the past, but how can you slowly rebuild that? By being reliable, by being consistent, by being transparent about in the design of the experiences that you’re delivering.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So yes, love that word, trust. And I think it’s something that is very pervasive in the industry right now.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been just kind of teaching during the pandemic?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
You know what? It’s been interesting. Okay. So in the fall, my course was completely virtual and I think that has its pros and cons. So I guess the pros are it’s immediately accessible. You can essentially roll out bed and like join a Zoom call and be in the class, but there’s no replacement for that kind of in person interaction, especially when I was teaching field work and design that there was still that in person component, right?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
When you’re doing ethnography, you can do it. There’s such a thing as digital ethnography of course, but really kind of immersing yourselves in the world and environments of those that you’re trying to serve, you have to do that in person.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So I would say it was a welcome challenge, again, with both his pros and cons this year, it’s been a little more kind of relaxed in the sense that we’ve been able to meet in person. So yeah, I’ve experienced a gamut of emotions, kind of teaching in both modalities.

Maurice Cherry:
You’re teaching in Texas in the South, I’m here in Georgia, in Atlanta.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
It is, especially since there aren’t necessarily any, I guess, widespread restrictions or you have to do this, you have to do that. So it’s really kind of up to the professor, or at least in my experience, it has been in terms of what kind of rules or regulations will implement.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I tend to err on the side of caution. So when we were meeting in person last fall, I encouraged the use of mask and that we’re safely distanced when we did meet in person. So yeah. I mean, it’s definitely been a challenge in that regard.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. What do you learn from the students there? What do they teach you?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Ooh, I think they teach me just the need for more tangible and practical modalities of learning, specifically as it relates to design, I’m a professor, well, adjunct professor of practice. So I’m still in industry and then also teaching as well. And when you are kind of in a “lab based setting,” it can err on the side of theory.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And I think the students continuously remind me in their kind of engagements and interactions as they’re actively seeking jobs in industry, or as they’re actively engaging patients as in their residencies or what have you that there’s a need for just very tactical practical education.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Not just theory, but how do we apply this to kind of what we’re doing? How do we apply this to where it is that we’re trying to go? I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned from them. Also too, that there’s just a diversity of thought and then a diversity of learning styles, not everyone learns the same way.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And I think it’s been really interesting to explore creative ways to engage people, how to make design education accessible to different types of learners. As you can imagine, when we’re on Zoom, making sure that you have the closed captioning on, but then how do you engage people who may be easily distracted in that type of setting or environment? So I think that’s the second thing that I’ve learned from the students too.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. I want to get more into your background, including this new initiative that you’re working on now, but I want to switch gears here a little bit. I want to talk about just kind of your origin story. Where did you grow up?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah, so I grew up, I’m a native Texan, so I grew up in Fort Worth, Funky Town, home of the stockyards, but they coming up. I grew up there. My mom actually, she, oh, I love her so much. She’s my creative inspiration. She had me when she was 16 years old. She did an amazing job even in that context. But yeah, she was kind of my introduction to all things creative.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
She’s an amazing artist. She can draw, she can sing, even though she doesn’t do it publicly or anything like that. But yeah, that’s kind of where I grew up. My neighborhood, Stop Six, in Fort Worth, Texas down the street from Dunbar High School. I personally went to Arlington Heights High School. It’s kind of weird. It’s Arlington Heights, but it technically is in Fort Worth, not in Arlington, but yeah, I grew up with myself. It was my little brother and sister. There’s like an 11 year gap there, but yeah, that’s where I grew up and a little bit about my context.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, with your mom being a creative, I’d imagine you were probably exposed to a lot of design and art and everything early on, right?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah. Definitely a lot of art and musically too. So one thing that people may not know is that I used to rap back in the day.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I had a whole bunch of different, don’t ask me to rap, but I used to put together different girl groups. So in high school we had a group called UGQ, so Underground Queens, and if you’re from Houston, UGK, Underground Kings, so it was a ode to them.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
But yeah, my mom, she was young, right? So we were listening to rap music together. We were listening to Lil Kim together just different creative outlets like that. She taught me how to draw. So I would draw with her and my brother and sister are amazing artists, they’re better than me. They’re amazing artists as well.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So yeah, I was always in a very creative space. I have a group of cousins and every year we had what’s called Cousin Camp. So we go down to my aunt’s house, my Aunt Ricky’s house in Pearland, Texas and I would be the cousin that’s putting everyone together to do something fun.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Like, “Okay, hey guys, let’s make a play and let’s act it out.” Or, “Hey, let’s create a family award show and let’s act it out.” Or, “Let’s create a song.” We actually did a remake of Tupac song, what is it called? When he’s like, “All I need in this life of sin, is me and my girlfriend.”

Maurice Cherry:
Me and my girlfriend, yeah.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
We remade that one to like, “All we need in this life of sin, is me and my cousins. So I’m the person in the family like, “Okay, Raven’s always going to kind of get all the cousins and then people together to do something creative.” And I think a lot of that came from my mom and just her just creativity in general. I was really up under her and yeah, just absorbing and observing all that in her.

Maurice Cherry:
That sounds like a lot of fun and growing up around a bunch of cousins and everything like that. That sounds fun.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’re growing up, you’re kind of exposed to all of this stuff. You end up going to Texas A&M< University, starting out in undergrad, you majored in psychology and for your master's, you kind of focused on public health. How was your experience there at Texas A&M? Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah. So A&M was an experience. I did want to be, actually become a psychiatrist until I was like, “Oh, I don’t really want to go to medical school or go down this route.” But yeah, it was pretty engaging. I met a lot of friends there, actually met my husband there. He majored in engineering and we met our junior year.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I think the last year or so I took a course in nutrition, I think, it was an elective and my professor, Dr. Joanne Luton, rest in peace. She actually introduced me to the field of public health. And she was like, “Hey, have you ever considered dressing people? Not just on an individual level, but on a population based level.” And that really intrigued me. And so she was very instrumental in me applying to my master’s program in public health.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
She gave me a full ride, essentially Alan Foundation Fellowship. And yeah, during that time too, I got a certificate in Health Systems and Design as a part of the College of Architecture at A&M. And that was also me trying to tap into my creative side and really understand and explore, how can I use creativity in this space to not just affect people on an individual level, but on a larger kind of population based level?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And so that was pretty interesting trying to understand how the design of architecture and space of hospitals, of wellness centers, how that influences health in that way. So I would say overall, my time at A&M was pretty pleasant.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, it sounds like you were kind of early to the game with kind of bringing that knowledge of merging design and health in this way. So it wasn’t something that, I don’t know, was that kind of the spark for what you’re doing now?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I think so. I can’t run from who I am, right? So I’m a creative at heart and I’ve always been trying to, I call it the art of the pivot, how do I, at the same time, support myself and do something that I feel like will make money and keep me afloat, but then it’s also authentic to me?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And so I’ve always been on this quest to try to merge both sides of my brain. How do I integrate the creative part of who I am into this space that maybe is not traditionally seen as creative?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I don’t know when people think about, or here public health, I don’t think people think creative, I don’t know. But yeah, always trying to, maybe it did start there as far as me trying to merge those worlds.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. Now, after A&M you did research work at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston for a little over two years. Tell me about your research work there?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah. So University of Texas Health Science Center. So that was when I did my PhD program and that kind of funneled up into my dissertation in which I was trying to use data driven technologies in that sense, like smartphone technology to assess mental health, specifically among college students.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So obviously, unfortunately, depression is very common among college students. And so I was trying to explore, are there ways of both actively and passively trying to identify for that before it’s too late? And so that’s really what my research work was about. Trying to understand how to leverage some of the geospatial technology in your phone, so you flip it on and it can locate you.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
But there are ways to kind of use some of that data kind of combined with other forms of data to assess whether or not your behaviors are peculiar, for lack of a better term, to alert or notify other people that you may be in trouble or there may be a need.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And also part of that was trying to prototype a potential mobile application that could deliver that type of service as well. And so that’s, I think I have my dissertation linked on my website if anyone’s interested. I wouldn’t imagine, but yeah, that pretty much kind of summarizes some of the research work that I did there.

Maurice Cherry:
Hmm. And so you’re kind of working with tech and design also while you’re doing this research work, it kind of sounds like this was maybe a bit of a breakthrough moment in a way?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Absolutely. I do want to kind of shout out one of my main advisors, Dr. Ross Shegog, and he actually was doing some work on usability research work for a specific technology, and I’d never heard of that before. I never heard of being able to do research in that space. And that’s one of the things that inspired the topic for my dissertation. And so he was pretty instrumental in opening up that world.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Like, “Hey, there are these emerging technologies that are starting to be used in this space.” Specifically the healthcare industry, how do we ensure that they are safe and effective and impactful for end users? And that really inspired me, and intrigued me, especially as I saw a lot of these emerging trends with tech happening in healthcare.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So I would say that definitely served as a breakthrough in helping me to pivot my work and my intention from academia into industry.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious, what do you think about this new class of wearables that are out here as it relates to healthcare or public health? Of course you have things like Apple Watches, but I’ve seen sensory rings, I’ve seen sunglasses, I’ve seen pendants. What are your thoughts on this kind of new class of health tech wearables?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
There’s a lot of conversation around wearables, especially as it relates to engagement, how often people are actually using them, the actual design of them that when you kind of get into the wearables or getting into the fashion space. So being able to design them in such a way that people want to wear them on a consistent basis, so you can get that consistent data. And then also, yeah, the quality of the data itself and what you’re using for.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
There’s a lot of talk and exploration around data transparency and data ownership, consumers being able to own the data that are being used, not just to provide services to you individually, but are typically aggregated in data to inform other things. But we may not always hear about that. It’s called data capitalism. And there’s a lot of research around that just in terms of the ethics of that.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
But yeah, there’s a lot, you just let me know how deep to go, but I think in general it can be useful. I think about, my grandparents, again, rest in peace, and how there could be utility in that sense, especially as a caregiver and you want to make sure that they’re okay.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I can see just from a preventive standpoint, I think Apple Watch is kind of working on things that can prevent certain things from happening, heart attacks or things like that. So I think there’s a lot of utility there. I would just be mindful again, of both the accessibility and then the ethics around the design, and transparency of what you’re doing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I think about my mom, I think probably still wears her Fitbit, even though I don’t know if Fitbit is still in now with Apple Watch? I would imagine it probably is, but I think it’s interesting because now we’re sort of approaching this space where you have these types of wearables across generations, right?

Maurice Cherry:
I think it was one thing when they first came out with things like Fitbit, et cetera, or pedometers, for example, that were pretty high tech, but low tech compared to what we would see out of the Apple Watch that can detect your heartbeat or see if you had a fall or something like that.

Maurice Cherry:
Something that I also think about with this as it relates to kind of health tech are kind of, I guess, I don’t know, I guess end cases. And when I say end cases, I’m thinking what happens if you’re using a wearable from a company that has your health data, and then the company goes under? Where does your health data go? Does it just vanish into the ether?

Maurice Cherry:
I’m thinking of like the internet of things and how sometimes I just heard about this company Insteon that used to do a bunch of smart bulbs and things like that. And then the company went under and now people are just kind of stuck with this hardware that they can’t update that no longer works. It’s just obsolescence due to bankruptcy.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Oh, wow. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know. I’m just curious about that. What the ethics are behind that sort of stuff. I don’t know if that’s something that is kind of part of what you think about when it comes to design and health?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah. I think that data ownership is a really huge thing. I even think about companies, it’s not necessarily a wearable, but just 23andMe where you’re…

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, yeah.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
… Giving your genetic data and information. And then they’re turning around using it in clinical trials and oftentimes be, well, most of the times, being compensated for that, but then you don’t either see or know that’s even happening.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And so I think that there’s a lot of both conversation and action around, how do we, again, kind of empower, data empowerment, how do we both make these kind of privacy and confidentiality agreements terms and conditions, more salient for people? So they’re not just checking a box and they know what’s actually going on with their data.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And then how do we follow up and enforce, like you said, what happens if the company goes over? What happens to the data that should be clearly outlined and then communicated back to the consumer. People should be clearly able to opt out if they do not want their data used in that context for, or to opt in, but it should be very clear.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And transparency is a really, really huge thing. I think we haven’t had that, especially in this industry in the past, healthcare itself is very paternalistic. And so I think that, I’m hopeful and optimistic, that’s currently changing and I do see efforts in ways that’s changing too.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve held down a lot of other research jobs and fellowships. I want to talk about your work that you did at IBM as a design researcher. I first heard you speak during last year’s State of Black Design. Talk to me about that?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah, so I love my IBM family. When I was there I mainly worked on the clinical development side, so leading and conducting research to produce insights for that. I also, during my time there, and this is what I spoke about at the State of Black Design conference, but the IBM Racial Equity and Design Initiative. And so while I was there, just worked with an amazing group of talented people, including Nigel Prentice, and a bunch of others, I don’t want to go run the list of the gamut, but they know who they are.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And yeah, just had the privilege of being able to help to lead the development and publication of a leadership guide for design managers. And really that’s kind of looking at how do you help cultivate a culture within the organization for Black designers and other designers of color where they not only want to come here, but they want to stay here.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And so that’s kind of essentially what that guide tries to lay out and provoke and design managers and leaders who read it. But yeah, my time there was, I’m so grateful. Shout out to Jodi Cutler. I think she’s now at HEB. And also Rob Pierce.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I don’t know. I really love my IBM family. I miss them. And I love that they’re continuing the work. My time there was a joy, nothing but good things to say.

Maurice Cherry:
How is your work now as a strategic design lead different from your earlier work as a design researcher?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yes. I think my work now is a lot more generative in the sense that it’s almost before we even have a product or something to create, it’s really more about the problem finding and the problem scoping.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Whereas my work at IBM was more so evaluative research. So we have an existing legacy platform or product, how is it currently working? What can we do to improve it? And now it’s like, “Okay, here’s this larger issue, what aspect of the issue are we trying to solve?” So I would say that’s the main difference kind of going from more evaluative design research to more generative research and strategy

Maurice Cherry:
In your opinion, what role does art, spirituality, and the moral imagination play in the design of future technology?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
On a personal level I believe that the greatest innovations in society kind of stem from internal and cultural transformation. And one of my personal beliefs is that our inner world shapes our outer world.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So in other words, who we are as people, our world views, our character, what we define as right and wrong, all of our biases, both good and bad, that influences what we choose to bring into the world. And so, because of that, I think that introspection, or introspective research, is a critical part of design and should be a required part of the process.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And this can look like I’m recalling Dr. Lesley-Ann Noel. She has this really amazing exercise to help teams identify their positionality and core elements of their identity. So your race, ethnicity, your socioeconomic status, your marital status, and how that shapes how you work together, both what’s present and the gaps.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
But in addition to that, I’m also a woman of faith, and I grew up in the church, primarily Baptist, we’re here down South. So my belief in God is a huge part of my identity. And because of that, I strongly believe that design is very spiritual, in the way that you’re taking something intangible and materializing it.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So two other things that I’m exploring are the power of art and then moral imagination as it relates to design. Now with art, a lot of designers actually come from the art world, and art itself is so powerful just for expressing who we are and then also who we aspire to be, individually and culturally.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And I think we can also learn a lot from artists. I think about how storytelling is such a huge part of design and you have Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe. He’s so profound in the way that he tells stories.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
What if we were to take, not take in an extractive stance, but be inspired by the way that he tells stories and use that when we’re designing? I think about digital ethnography and what we could learn from photographers Gordon Parks, who said, “With the eye sees is its own what the heart can perceive is a very different matter.”

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So that’s what I think about in terms of art and how we can integrate that into the design process as a way of both understanding who we are and our identities more, and then also being aspirational in who we want to be.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And then with moral imagination, I think that in and of itself is just our ability to look beyond profit, to understand what we’re designing affects the values, the beliefs, the behaviors of society. How do we imagine the greatest good. How do we define that good?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And so, yeah, I’m really interested in exploring how do we do that? Both applying moral imagination to the process and the way that we design, and then also to the output in what we design.,

Maurice Cherry:
That’s fascinating. Wow. How did you sort of, I guess, work to kind of create all this, is this just like a culmination of your work? You mentioned being a woman of faith, how does this all sort of come together?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Oh gosh. Yeah. I think it’s just me trying to be who I am, growing more into who I am and allowing, not compartmentalizing my life, and just trying to be fully me all the time. And so when we talk about inclusion, even when we talk about there’s a lot of conversation just around ethics and the initiative that we’re working on right now is around racial equity. And one thing that I find myself asking a lot is like, “Whose ethics are we talking about?” One and then two, I guess, what would it look like to put love at the center of design?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
There’s a lot of critique right now around design thinking and human center design. I think a lot of that, for me at least, kind of boils down to this prioritization of profit over real human needs and environmental needs, but what would it look like to really center love in our design process?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And a lot of talks about the ethics and equity, to me, it boils down to that and really unpacking what that is and then what that looks like for everyone and everything involved.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And yeah, that’s something, it’s a question I’m still exploring. I do not have it all figured out, but it is something that I feel like I’m pulling on more and it’s tugging at me more too.

Maurice Cherry:
Speaking of this kind of pull, you talked about, a little bit earlier, this new initiative that you’re working on and it’s something that’s new, separate from your work at Citi Ventures and separate from your teaching work at the University of Texas. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yes. So Nexar Creative, so it’s essentially a learning studio for world changing designers, and we’re really trying to reimagine design education by engaging current design professionals across the globe in these virtual arenas and our arenas are shaped around design skills, service design, strategic design, UX Research, many of which are increasingly in demand.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And then afterwards, those who complete the program will receive NFT certificate. That’s like a non fungible token that really signifies that you’ve done the work. And so our first arena is around the discipline of strategic design. So in other words, applying design in order to increase an organizations innovative and competitive qualities, especially when you’re thinking about systemic challenges, like a healthcare education, a climate change, and this year’s challenge theme was how might we reimagine maternal care for Black mothers and their families?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And for our inaugural cohort, we had nine Black women from across the globe like Tanzania and Nigeria, France, England, United States really kind of both learn a strategic design while trying to tackle and kind of approach this challenge in a very responsible and ethical and a compassionate way.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So that’s in a nutshell what we’re trying to do. It’s an eight week fully remote challenge, really trying to reimagine an online course, make it really engaging in that way. And yeah, super excited about it.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. At this point in your career, how do you define success?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Oh, man, I love this question because I’m often revisiting this question. I would say when I was younger, success was very much, “Okay, how much money am I making? Do I have this and that?.” Very material? And I think now I’m trying to measure success by my growth. And then also too, how much I am able to love and serve those around me?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
One of my favorite scriptures is that perfect love, cast out all fear. And so this year I’m trying to love, it won’t be perfect, but I’m just trying to love and serve as much as I can and be fearless in that, be really bold and fearless in loving people as I learn what love is to people.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
So for me, that’s what success is, kind of comparing myself to myself last year to this year. Am I growing in love? Am I growing as a person? Am I growing in the way that I’m able to serve other people? So I would say that’s how I’m defining success right now.

Maurice Cherry:
If you could sit down with your teenage self, you could sit down with the Underground Queen herself, what would you want to tell her?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Oh my goodness. I would tell her to put out her solo album.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
That’s the first thing I would say, “Put out the solo album. You got skills.” But secondly, I just, I know this is super corny, but just to really be yourself and I, oh my gosh. Every time I heard people say that I was like, “Ugh, can you give me something else?” But it really is true. I feel like I’m returning, even in the process of success and growth, a lot of that is returning kind of to myself. It’s a lot of unlearning.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And so, yeah, I would definitely say like, “Really be true to who you are. Don’t change for anyone or anything.” Well, change is necessary, but don’t change for negative reasons or what have you. Just try to be as authentic to you as you can be.

Maurice Cherry:
And to kind of flip it a bit, for people that are listening, what advice do you want to give them? If they’re listening to your story and they want to follow in your footsteps or they want kind of learn more about strategic design and stuff, what would you tell them?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
I am super open. If you want to ping me directly, I’m available on LinkedIn. I’m also on ADP list if anyone wants to chat that way. But yeah, also I would say just get a head start by kind of Googling up strategic design and also too, just find ways if you can, in your current work or in volunteer opportunities to integrate yourself or start thinking about those more generative questions, questioning in a productive way, the direction of the products or the experiences or the things that you’re working on. Just as an initial start to understanding that specific discipline.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What do you want the next chapter of your story to be?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Ooh, I would love ideally to be, well, one I, with the organization I’m a part of now with Citi Ventures, I’d love to help support the initiative that the Racial Equity Design and Data Initiative for that to really be impactful both to Citi itself, and then also externally.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Two, I would love it if I could really take what I’m trying to build with Nexar Creative and impact many different cohorts with my passion and mission to cultivate world changing designers.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
And then lastly, I’d love to be a mom. I’d love to just start building my own family and really leaning into that building of community around myself. So I would say that’s kind of where I’d see myself in five years.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Well, just to wrap things up, where can our audience find out more information about you and about your work and everything online?

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Yeah. So I’d say the easiest thing to do is to go to my website, ravenveal.com and then that should link you to everything else, all my social media, an overview of the projects that I work on, all of that. So hit me up there and would love to chat.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Raven Veal, I’m going to thank you so, so much for coming on the show. One, I think, for just illustrating the work that you do. I can really tell that you have this kind of innate passion for it. And also with it coming at such an important time, I think just in human history. It’s super important to hear about design researchers and strategic design doing this kind of work.

Maurice Cherry:
But also just showing that this is a path that’s possible for someone to take. You had mentioned kind of before we recorded about people being able to kind of create and sort of recreate themselves. And I think what you’ve shown definitely throughout just telling your story is how you’ve been able to build yourself up to be the expert that you are today.

Maurice Cherry:
So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Raven L. Veal, PhD:
Thank you. Appreciate it.

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