Last year during Black History Month, I published a post commemorating 10 influential black designers from past to present. And while I thoroughly enjoyed putting together that list, I wanted this year to be a little different.
Rather than publishing a static list for you to peruse once, today I'd like to share with you 8 black branding & design experts you should be following right now. Get these creative, innovative folks in your timeline, and you'll enjoy the rewards all year long.
Dana James Mwangi
"Creatives can do good business." That's the headline on Mwangi's website today, and this mantra captures her holistic approach to web design, branding & entrepreneurship.
If you're worried you're not creative enough, or your ideas are just too far-fetched to work, Mwangi has something to say about that. Her words are inspiring and certainly ring true if you work in design or any creative field.
Here at Lucidpress, branding is a Big Deal, which makes Mwangi's Brand Journal eBook a must-download. It's an editable workbook that makes it easy to think through (and document) your brand story.
Sound like a lot of work? Get pumped with her list of 4 motivating speeches to jumpstart your day, and follow Mwangi on Twitter for a daily dose of creative inspiration.
Timothy J. Hykes
Tim Hykes is a UX designer and frequent speaker at design conferences including Adobe Max, Design + Diversity, and AIGA. In fact, he's become a leader in AIGA, the largest community of design advocates in the nation. Since joining as a membership chair in 2012, Hykes is now the president of AIGA's St. Louis chapter.
He's also a co-founder of the Design + Diversity conference and host of the companion podcast of the same name. "The Design + Diversity conference explores proactive ways to make the design industry more diverse," says the conference's website. "This is the only conference that focuses on diversity issues in the design field. This event provides a platform for constructive conversation among those who design, innovate, and lead."
Particularly prescient is his 28 Black Designers series, which spotlights one designer each day of Black History Month. This is the project's second annual run, and if you want more vivid visuals and folks to follow, that's where you'll find 'em.
"I've chosen design as a career because it allows me to express the fullness of myself in a way I don't think I would be able to any other way," says Danikqwa Rambert in an interview with margins. She describes how her interests in business strategy and fine art work together in her career as a graphic designer—a combination that's serving her well.
You can see these two sides play out online in her work. By day, Rambert is a designer at Studio Rainwater, an award-winning studio in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to the work she's done on that team, she participated in a one-night exhibition last year with a piece titled "100 Black Lives" in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Finally, she runs her own embroidery shop where she sews and sells handmade patches. Peek inside the lookbook for Hearts & Soul PVD to get a feel for her detailed embroidery style.
A self-taught artist and designer, Hassan Rahim has developed an enigmatic style and dark sensibility that's landed him work with clients like Nike, Urban Outfitters, Warp Records, and Marilyn Manson. According to an interview with Eye on Design, his big break came when a skate brand noticed his designs on MySpace and reached out to offer him work. He was 17 years old.
Raised in Los Angeles, Rahim now works in New York City where he founded his own creative studio, 12:01. About the name, a footnote on his website states "AM NEVER PM" and an irreverent assurance of versatility. You can get a good feel for his work on Tumblr, especially record sleeve design and packaging.
Antionette Carroll sees design differently. In a world where everything has been designed—including systems of inequality—we can use design as a system to create a more equitable world. In her powerful TEDx talk (Carroll is a 2018 TED fellow), she introduces this concept and challenges us to find ways to intentionally redesign our communities.
In line with this mission, Carroll founded the Creative Reaction Lab, a nonprofit that "educates, trains, and challenges cities to co-create solutions with Black and Latinx populations to design healthy and racially equitable communities." She calls this new form of creative problem-solving Equity-Centered Community Design.
Locally, Carroll serves as the President Emerita of AIGA St. Louis. She is the founding chair of AIGA's diversity & inclusion task force. Along with Timothy J. Hykes (who we introduced earlier in this list), she's also a co-founder of the Design + Diversity Conference.
Jewel Burks has the distinction of working for some of the biggest brands in the tech industry, from Google (where she interned at age 19) to Amazon (where she's currently a team lead). Even more impressive is the fact that she founded and sold a tech startup called Partpic, a program that uses visual search algorithms to streamline the purchasing of manufacturing parts. All of this and she isn't even 30 yet.
A graduate of Howard University, Burks has thought a lot about representation in the tech industry. In an interview with Design.blog, she explores how her identity has impacted her business. It's a sobering reminder of the hurdles that remain in the way for people of color who work in technology.
Burks is currently a board member for Goodie Nation, a nonprofit that supports innovative problem-solving in underserved communities. "The big thing I want in starting a business is to make a difference in my community," she says on her website. As one of Forbes' 30 Under 30, she's off to an incredible start.
Nakita M. Pope
Nakita M. Pope is an experienced branding strategist with nearly 20 years in the industry. She holds the fabulous title of Chief Chick at Branding Chicks, her boutique branding agency. Branding Chicks specializes in women-owned businesses and female-centric brands. She works with them to narrow their focus, boost their confidence, and clarify their messaging so it resonates with their audience.
For nearly ten years, Pope has been a professor of graphic design & advertising at The Creative Circus, an advertising school where students can build their portfolios. She's also a board member of AIGA Atlanta and a member of the AIGA National Diversity & Inclusion Task Force.
"I love the strategy of design. I love how designers think and solve problems visually," she says in an interview with 28 Black Designers. "As I've morphed into a brand strategist, I realize just how much strategy I was already doing as a designer and how that is what makes the difference between design that is simply aesthetically pleasing and design that is smart and achieves an objective."
Dian Holton is the Deputy Art Director for AARP. When she isn't designing and overseeing creative work there—such as AARP's The Magazine and TheGirlfriend—she also creates compelling window displays and mannequin styles for The Gap. Her vibrant, fresh design sensibility makes her portfolio (and her social media feeds) a visual delight.
A graduate of the Yale School of Management, Holton serves as the Mentoring Director for AIGA's Washington, D.C. chapter, where she oversees a mentoring speaker series with a local high school. This month, she published a list of 24 Things You Didn't Know About Gail Anderson, a design & typography legend we included in our list of 10 influential black designers.
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Check out Holton's awesome Daily Digits series, where she photographs numbers made of daily objects (like flowers, hair pins and gummy worms). The project just surpassed 1,000 posts, and we can't wait to see what's next.
Wrap-up & recommendations
We hope you enjoyed our round-up! Of course, a list like this only scratches the surface of all the amazing branding & design experts out there. If you're interested in discovering more talented designers of color, we highly recommend subscribing to Revision Path, a podcast that showcases black graphic & web designers.
Finally, a big thanks to the African American Graphic Designers group on Facebook for being a constant source of inspiration and for introducing me to many of the folks on this list.