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How to be anti-racist in your design process

From a roundtable discussion sponsored by Personify x Humble Ventures


From the Black Lives Matter movement to the inherent bias we’re surfacing in artificial intelligence, we believe we’re being provided an opportunity to pause and reflect on the implicit bias that seeps into how we design experiences. For example — specific to personas, it’s quite easy to make generalizations about a group of people when creating a persona — especially when it’s not informed by first-hand user research.
As a collective, if we can come together to share our experiences, inform others, and ultimately co-create a set of guidelines on how to be more inclusive starting within the innovation process itself, we can create new products, experiences and services that are anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-ageist. These reasons are why humble, in partnership with Personify, are convening stakeholders from across the ecosystem for a 1-hour Pop-Up August 20th at 7:30 pm EST, .


Host / Moderator - , Personify, Entrepreneur, Designer
, Humble Ventures, Investor
, Microsoft, Product Leader
, Capital One Labs, Product Leader / Teacher
, Ascending, Entrepreneur + Community Builder
, Designer Healthy Together
, Founder, CEO @ Goodfynd
, CEO @ Digital Project Masters
, CEO @ Motivate Design

Definition of anti-racism

As , director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, notes in his book
It’s not enough to simply be “not racist.” “The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist,’” he writes. “It is ‘antiracist.’
"To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right -- inferior or superior -- with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races. To be antiracist is to deracialize behavior, to remove the tattooed stereotype from every racialized body. Behavior is something humans do, not races do."

Key takeaways

Acknowledge the reality- racism is a part of our society, anywhere in the world. The people you design for live in this world and are affected by it. Don’t allow it to be swept under the rug. Understand that it may require some self-reflection.
Educate yourself — the foundational key to practicing anti-racism is to practice active listening. Focus all of your attention on ‘seeing’ the other person and understanding what they are saying, doing, and feeling as an individual, not as an ethnicity, race or a group.
Educate others — designers are educators, it’s part of our job. We’re educating ourselves, our process our designs and our stakeholders. Lean in and take accountability to teach yourself and then others. Remember not every organization is steeped in human centered design and thinking about it in the forefront.
Foster accountability — create checkpoints throughout your process — much like the legal, compliance and accessibility checkpoints that may already exist.
Build the muscle — anti-racism isn’t a destination, it’s a muscle that requires time, intention and training to build a new way of operating. Bring the anti-racist lens to how you operate holistically- from the vendors you qualify, to the customers you pitch to the marketing content you use.
Address the disconnects— explicitly call out the disconnects between customer needs and business goals. Bridge these gaps by aligning company values directly to customer needs.
Bring others along — If you’re the only researcher or designer, bring others onboard to become advocates so you don’t have to bear that weight alone. Switch the narrative from a threat to and opportunity to add value.
Pitch the business value — There is a clear case for the ROI (return on investment) in diversity for any business practice, however there’s also the soft magic of building unity around the opportunity to do good.
Authentic diversity — Ideally, you have people that look, talk and think like your customers, represented on your team. If not, make some space and allow in folks that do. At the same time, don’t exploit a specific race or gender for business gains — be authentic because it shows.
Empathy as an advantage — There are so many parallels between anti-racism and user experience (UX) design steeped in empathy, listening — UX professionals can leverage their training to lead the change.
Build familiarity working in the unknown — Give yourself time to identify and explore all possible solutions rather than allowing discomfort of the unknown and poor assumptions drive a false sense of urgency to a contrived solution.
Do your research — understand who your users are with a focus on behavioral and situational knowledge by creating personas amongst other foundational research methods.

Additional resources:

If you’re interested in getting involved and using your design skills to help the Black Lives Matter movement, please check out the following non-exhaustive resources I’ve found for design activism and education.

My gratitude

A special thank you to Harry Alford and Humble Ventures for supporting me to bring this topic to a larger audience. Secondly, thank you to our panelists - you are my peers and your diverse perspectives enrich my life. Finally, thank you to our audience for attending on a Thursday evening and expressing your interest in this topic and support.
I hope as designers we can do our part to make the product and experiences we work on great for people - agnostic of ethnicity, gender or religion.

At , we’re building a better way to create, organize and share user centric knowledge across teams to inspire better problem solving. It’s part research framework, part repository and a way to see your project from a user’s point of view.
Learn more about Personify at
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