Non-profit design advocacy agency Where are the Black Designers? (WATBD?) has announced a year-long partnership with digital product studio Ustwo, which aims to facilitate connections for Black design talent through networking events for designers, new and established, and recruiters.
WATBD? launched in 2020 and has been helping to forge digital connections between Black designers, recruiters and allies via Slack. With around 10,000 members in the free-to-access space, WATBD? offers both, “general welcome networks” and channels “specific to locations or disciplines”, says its head of marketing and creative partnerships Roshannah Bagley.
From the offset, WATBD?’s focus has been on UX, UI digital and product design – making Ustwo a good candidate for its first long-term partner – but the initiative is open to designers from any discipline.
After years of strictly virtual contact, WATBD? has begun to organise in-person events in various cities, including LA, Houston, Portland and London, to allow people to build on the relationships they have made virtually. Bagley met the Ustwo team at the first London meet-up in September 2022, which led to conversations about what a collaboration could look like.
Although WATBD? has previously been supported by brands like Spotify, Google and Adobe, Bagley says that these partnerships were on a short-term basis and helped to spread awareness through free virtual events. Bagley believes that WATBD?’s first long-term partnership with Ustwo, – a company that is “not just global but also has multiple outputs and it really invested” in diversifying the design space – can help “put them on the map”.
Ustwo New York managing director Gabriel Marquez says there will be both “soft and hard outputs” of the partnership, explaining that the impact report will be one of the “main deliverables”. Once the partnership is complete, WATBD? and Ustwo will devise the report, showing what they have achieved in terms of “recruitment, referrals, knowledge sharing and mentorship” in that year, says Marquez. This will give both organisations a chance to “reflect on what they’ve done and what changes they’ve made”, Bagley adds.
One of the main purposes of the initiative is “to bring people together and connect them with the Ustwo team through events and experiences”, according to Bagley. The design industry is “powered by networking and connections”, says Marquez, and so it benefits from having a “sense of community”.
While people often focus on “the atomised deliverables”, such as getting people into jobs, Marquez recognises being able to “support people once they step into the opportunities created” as one of the most important things. He explains that this is because of “extraordinary misrepresentation at the leadership level”, which means finding ways to support the Black design community through other channels.
In a bid to increase reach, WATBD? will be taking over Ustwo’s social media accounts intermittently during the partnership to showcase some of its community. “In general, the creative industries are very capital-focused but there is so much talent outside of that”, she adds. WATBD? hopes to reach people outside of cities through both in-person and virtual events.
Data collection is another focus of the partnership. While the US is further ahead in its research into industry diversity, Bagley says that as people of colour are often grouped as BAME in the UK, very little data exists on Black designers as a standalone demographic. A key aim of the partnership is to carry out more specified research to improve and update industry data.
Diversifying design is “a global issue”, says Bagley, and although the UK and US have different focuses, it is “absolutely key to have both sides involved”. Marquez describes the partnership as a “cohesive single commitment rather than a localised initiative”, as both Ustwo New York are equally involved.
The partnership is due to kick off with dual launch events on 27 April 2023, in both New York and London. The events are not just for designers but WATBD? are keen to have “decision makers” in the room, “from recruiters to creative directors”, says Bagley.
Though the current focus is on the next 12 months, both Marquez and Bagley hope to continue working together in other capacities should the partnership be a success.