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Diogenes Brito, a designer at Slack, writes about his decision to make the skin color of the Add to Slack button brown.

Why was the choice an important one, and why did it matter to the people of color who saw it? The simple answer is that they rarely see something like that. These people saw the image and immediately noticed how unusual it was. They were appreciative of being represented in a world where American media has the bad habit of portraying white people as the default, and everyone else as deviations from the norm.

Though not explicitly a companion piece, design and tech leader John Maeda’s, Did I Grow Up And Become The Yellow Hand? is the perfect pairing. Maeda plumbs the pitfalls of racial inclusion as both a tried-and-true path to greater creativity, and a later-in-life embrace of his own colored identity.

I can now, a decade later, remember how much I simply tuned it all out. I thought back then as well, “This is the way that it is.” And rely on what I had learned to be right. A simple algorithm. Don’t complain. Withstand. Don’t cause problems.

Undergirding both pieces is the tension between race and color. Though I’ve written about those same tensions, what I find refreshing is that in talking about things like the color of an Emoji icon, the discussion moves past mushy things like feelings. Ideas and politics become practical once the pixels hit the screen, so to speak. These two designers both come to the conclusion that identity is not something that can or should be wrapped into the larger wet blanket of ‘universality‘. Identity cannot be ignored. This leads to better design. And a wider gamut of ideas in the marketplace.

© 2006 – 2024 Raafi Rivero.