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Just 3% of designers are Black—Mitzi Okou is on a mission to change that

After George Floyd’s murder, design organizations pledged solidarity on social media. Where Are the Black Designers? Cofounder Mitzi Okou held them to it.

Just 3% of designers are Black—Mitzi Okou is on a mission to change that

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, in spring 2020, countless organizations pledged solidarity on social media. That upset Mitzi Okou, who had applied for more than 200 jobs before landing one after graduating from design school, in 2018. “Here were all these companies in this progressive field, saying, ‘We’re here for you,'” she says. “I’m like, that’s bullshit because just 3% of the [design] industry is made of Black people.”

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In response, Okou (who eventually ended up at HP) and fellow designer Garrett Albury planned a digital protest, which snowballed into a visual conference in June 2020 called Where Are the Black Designers? With sponsors that included Spotify and speakers like OCAD University dean of design Dori Tunstall, writer Roxane Gay, and Ideo CEO Sandy Speicher, the event pulled in more than 10,000 participants, who tuned in for talks on algorithmic bias, dismantling structural racism in design, and more. WATBD now has a community of 1,600 Black designers who share stories, job leads, and other resources in a Slack channel. Okou, who left HP last year and is now a product designer at Spotify, plans to turn the organization into a nonprofit.

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2021

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D

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