There’s a major representation gap in the design industry. Deon Mixon, a Detroit-based graphic designer, wants to change that.
Mixon, 25, designed a board game called Design Eye that teaches the essentials of graphic design through trivia and creative challenges. It’s aimed at students in middle school and high school—when many young people are first figuring out what they’re interested in and what the heck they can do about it. Mixon wants to help more people of color grow into design professionals by engaging with them as kids—when they might not even know what graphic design is yet. For him, the board game is just a start.
Mixon has been drawing since he was around age 4, he says. At first he drew cars (aptly so, his dad works for Ford), and then started drawing anime in middle school. His introduction to graphic design came from his middle school counselor, who told him about the industry and suggested he pursue it. “Once I realized that design was a way to help people get their ideas out, I thought that was something that I’d be passionate about,” Mixon says. “Being in service to others in a creative context. That’s how I got into design.”
Mixon went on to Cass Tech, a prestigious Detroit high school (alumni include Diana Ross, Tracy Reese, and Jack White among many more), and then Western Michigan University, where he earned a BFA in graphic design and first developed the game as an idea for his senior design thesis in 2017.
The board game, which is now seeking support on Kickstarter, is a cross between a few different board games you might be familiar with: Life, Cranium, and Trivial Pursuit, to name a few. Players vie for a role at a prestigious design school called “The Haas” and take on a series of challenges to be the first to complete their portfolio and make their way around the board. Completing the challenges means mastering six foundations of design: branding, print design, package design, environmental design, web design, and motion design. The game also digs into topics such as color theory, form theory, typography, and design history with trivia cards that might pose a design question, or ask a player to pair analogous colors. One branding challenge is to come up with an idea and sketch a logo in less than two minutes.
To test the game, Mixon drove to nearby Detroit Public Schools during his lunch break at Gyro design, a Detroit design agency, and showed it to students ages 10 to 17 (this was before COVID-19 hit). One student at Burns Elementary-Middle School gave the game a glowing review: “I give it a 10/5. This is a game I could play all day without getting bored.” He also tested the game with the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan and non-profit Usher’s New Look.
The students liked the branding and packaging challenges the most, according to Mixon. He hypothesizes that that aspect of design might be most familiar to them: “They’re not aware that they’re surrounded by design constantly,” Mixon says. “But what they come into contact with most is most likely a branded product.” They would recognize a Wendy’s or McDonald’s logo and packaging, he said, but disciplines like experiential design were new. The game was an opportunity to explain that the bathroom icon you see at the airport—that’s design.
Mixon sees the Design Eye game as a launching pad for even bigger ideas: In the future, he says, he wants to start a foundation and scholarship program tailored to creatives of color who want to pursue design. Says Mixon: “I hope, through Design Eye, that the creative world will be abundant in creatives of color.”