Breaking Barriers in Design

Lessons learned from a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in the design community

Arielle Wiltz
Modus
Published in
7 min readMar 19, 2019

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OOnly 20.1% of designers in the United States are people of color. Yes, you’re reading this correctly. When you break it down further, 8.9% are Asian and 5.1% are black or African American. By 2040, over half of the U.S. population is expected to be made up of people of color. It has become imperative for us, as designers of color, to both create products and services that acknowledge those diverse backgrounds and recruit individuals reflective of that cultural mosaic into the design profession.

I’m not new to the friction that comes with being part of the ethnic minority. In college, I was the only black person in my design classes, and I struggled to see my identity reflected in the curriculum. I studied on weekends to become a UX designer, often encountering the bias, the micro and macroaggressions, that peers from underrepresented communities face daily — all the while living under the pressure to exceed perfection and fit in with white cis male colleagues.

My mother was a testament to how these issues have spanned industries and generations. “Arielle,” she’d tell me often, “you need to walk better, talk better, dress better, do better than the others in your classroom or office.” Those words of wisdom stuck with me.

Since black designers have had little to no exposure to their own cultural design legacy, they find themselves imitating rather than innovating in order to find acceptance amongst their peers.

My moment to exhale came when I had the chance to work with two brilliant black mentors — Mozart, a project manager, and Rachel, a UX designer. Finally seeing people who looked like me in these spaces, who were able to give me the mentorship and camaraderie I longed for, made me realize that I needed to pass those feelings of legitimacy and being heard on to others. I didn’t know how to start, but when a senior lead in frog’s New York studio posted in the diversity-themed Slack channel, “Who wants to lead these conversations, but in real life?” I didn’t hesitate to reply, “Me!”

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Arielle Wiltz
Modus
Writer for

Arielle is a Senior Experience Designer at Morgan Stanley, formerly an Interaction Designer at frog Design. There, she bootstrapped and founded frogMentors.