I’ve studied communication and design before starting a career in tech. Like thousands before and after me, I was trying to figure out what being a designer meant, what my mission was. I moved to London, attended an exhibition called “Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?” and just like that I had the answer in front of me: Ken Garland’s manifesto, First Things First. Making something meaningful and genuine became my personal quest, and this is what has been guiding me ever since.
I wanted to get a chance to tell my best friend and I’s story with depression. Furthering the – relatively new – conversation about Black Women and mental health seemed crucial to me, and having Adobe’s stamp on it sounded like an acknowledgement. I was also hoping to find other Black Women who needed a space where they’d feel seen and heard. In this sense, the program was a chance to reach more people.
I spent this last year helping my friend go through a rough patch in her life. She’s been severely depressed for years, and by July 2019, she had reached a point where it was unsafe to leave her by herself. We processed a lot of her traumas throughout that year, all of which seemed rooted in racism, sexism and classism. We knew she wasn’t alone in this case, and it was sad and infuriating. I wanted to take all those feelings out of me while telling my fellow exhausted black women “You’re not alone. I’m sorry, and I love you”.
I’ve actually struggled to use my voice. I was afraid that tackling political subjects would deter employers and clients (which in itself is sad). I also felt unqualified. Why would *I* have something special to say? Then I realised remaining silent worked against what I wanted to do with my skills and who I professed graphics designers to be: not pixels pushers but translators of concept and ideas. I had the power to amplify messages. And while we were fighting for my friend’s life, I got the sense that I had a duty to speak on it.
How to turn a year of hardship, heartfelt conversations and overwhelming emotions into a small project and what purpose would it serve? These were the biggest questions I had in mind when I started. I decided early on that I wanted this to be both a testimony and a love letter to Black Women. And because I wanted these pieces to reflect what we had experienced, I immediately pushed aside any graphic treatment that would be one-note, overly pessimistic or sad. None of our days had been just one colour. It was a cocktail of emotions, and I wanted my palette and shapes to acknowledge that. I wanted to offer a candid look at the hurt while celebrating and comforting those who know what it’s like.
I was most excited about the thought that I would get to tell our story and that a big company like Adobe was willing to sponsor me to do that. So it was even before the project in itself had started! I also got really excited looking at the final grid, as it felt like a full-circle moment.
My three main challenges were time management, concept and medium related.
Conceptually, it was crucial to both tell our story accurately and find ways to build bridges between our experience and the bigger picture. I kicked off the project by talking to my friend so we could agree on what we wanted to address. I then researched studies and articles that tackled the issue. Guilaine Kinouani’s “The language of distress: Black women’s mental health and invisibility” was especially helpful.
Medium wise, Instagram offered a simple, predictable square format coupled with the possibility of creating a dialogue between all 18 pieces. I based my content structure off of the way it would be displayed. The left column is a direct testimony of our experience; the middle one is about the range of feelings we went through, then the right one deals with the systemic pattern at hand. With each row focusing on one aspect of our journey, the entire grid tells an intricate story that everyone can consume one image at a time or by section.
Now, time was definitely a challenge. I wanted to have everything done in two weeks, with only one week of production. This implied carefully planning out my days and tracking my progress, so I knew what I was supposed to do at any given time.
I think they’re fundamental, especially in the context of a pandemic. I felt incredibly lucky to get booked on something, let alone a project so close to my heart when a lot of my other missions had fallen through. If you’re a young creative and you’ve started freelancing, it can make a world of difference to get both sponsorship and a seal of approval from Adobe.
And a key aspect of this program is the community: I got to discover so many great artists thanks to the fund. Getting to know your peers, getting advice, seeing how others approach their projects, all of this is such a valuable experience when you’re still early in your career, I think!
I’d primarily encourage people from underrepresented communities to apply. We have a lot of stories that we usually don’t get to tell. We’re often paid less, and we are overall less present in the field. Design Census says black designers are only 3% in the US, while we are less than 2% in the UK according to the Design Council. Design is all about shaping the world, bringing new visions to life, amplifying messages. We need as many unique perspectives as there are humans on this planet.
Getting sponsored made a world of difference in how I approach my work. First, it allowed this project to happen, which I’m so grateful for. But it also confirmed that wanting to make something meaningful and genuine can be a viable career path. I realised I had what it takes to speak up about what matters to me and that some people were willing to listen.