Where Have All The Black Web Designers Gone?

I have been working in technology of one kind or another now for at least ten years or more (original post in 2009). And as a Black technology guy, I have noticed the staggering absence of black folks in technology and nowhere has that felt more prevalent than in the web design industry. To help underscore my point, in the two years I have been teaching web design at Moore College, I have finally had my first student of color this term: an African-American female student. Wow.

When one takes a little time to peruse the ‘Net and look around at all the usual trendy sites on ground-breaking design (Zeldman, AListApart, Eric Meyer, Dan Benjamin just to name a few), I see no black faces. No faces of color. And let me state, before continuing, I do not believe that any of these individuals or web sites I may link to here in this article are out to purposely make this a reality or in anyway have had a direct hand in creating this absence. Rather, I wish to illustrate that when we look around for bright faces of web design, they’re white, not black.

Most of what I study is looking at constructs and how they’re nested in social contexts. Asking how did this come to be? Why? How? Where is it going? When I ply these same questions to Blackamericans and web design, I am left feeling puzzled and bewildered at the absence of one prominent black web designer. It could very well be that the talented black web designers are all too busy making beautiful web sites and not taking public credit for their work or maybe it’s something else.

When we look around at other sectors of society as to why there is a woeful absence of black folks in participation, that conditions are usually fairly clear. And let me say here that the follow is a hypothesis, a best guest, a starting point of looking at this issue. I welcome concrete feedback.

I do not believe that black folks are absent from web design due to a conscious effort to disengage from it. Most likely it may have to do with socio-economic issues. For blacks who are hailing from deprived urban centers, web design may simply not be on their radar. Not having the money to invest in computers, Internet access (preferably high-speed), and an education that would point them in the direction of design (web or otherwise), all lead me to think that this may be part of the problem. So, when philanthropic organizations are looking to invest money in these depressed areas, are they thinking to encourage blacks to take part of the digital revolution and get involved in the web or is this too off the radar.

With that being sad, I did come across a posting on a web site regarding a web summit/conference, where on the advertising poster, it featured a caricature of a black man along with the words, “Pimp’d“.

Pimpd - SXSW

I found this a “curiosity” as it featured a stereotypical portrayal of an African-American, playing as a pimp, with a fedora hat and a drink in his hand. My immediate thought was not that it was inherently racist (well, that’s not true — actually, my immediate thought was that it was hella racist), but that how many black web designers would be attending this event? My best guess would be not many, and yet they have chosen a sort of “black mascot” to represent the coolness factor of the event. My second thought was that it was inherently racist.

So I put these thoughts out here, as a call to other black web designers. I would be curious to hear your experiences in this industry, on or off the record.

 

Addendum

The web site, A List Apart, has revealed some findings in their 2008 survey. I welcome you to look at the list but for the sake of this post, you can see that just a mere 1.2% off web designers they surveyed were black. Amazing that essentially one out of every hundred people who might attend their event might be Blackamerican yet they feel the best way to promote the coolness of their even is through showcasing a stereotypical portrayal of a black man.

Charming. To the last…

Also, see Jason Kinney’s post, Minorities in Web Design.

32 Comments Where Have All The Black Web Designers Gone?

  1. aethereal@aol.com'Titus Heagins

    Marc…I know just what you mean. I wonder where all of the black “creatives” are in any field. Certainly there are many out there, but they have no presence in the artistic world. I just came from Atlanta, which is really populated with many blacks. But at my photography opening only one black came, as a part of an interracial couple, and before I could finish my conversation and walk over to meet and acknowledge his presence the brother exited the door. I felt like he wandered in by mistake. I know with photography there are so few of us doing serious work creating images that end up on the walls of galleries and museums. Few are pursuing carers in creative arts. But I have to also add that “the arts” is just as racist as the general society and as I am reminded of almost on a daily basis, the idea of the liberal, non racist, artsy type is just a figment of the American imagination!!!

  2. homey57@excite.com'Nick

    Marc,

    Although I’d heard of Hivelogic – Dan Benjamin looks like a neat web author to check out – thanks.
    Regarding the post, there are still a few notable talents to be recognize – first Terry White, the host of Adobe Creative Suite podcast’s, he’s also a teacher with Lynda.com. In addition, I’d mention that Shiraf Pendleton (www.derezzz.com) is a teacher with Moore whose flash class I enjoyed last semester. When I got my Treo earlier this year, I discovered the palmloyal podcast hosted since the early nineties by the technophile businessman Carl Brooks. It was a really welcome discovery to find his podcast; as they are informative on a (very) complicated subject as well as being steeped in his local and colorful accent.
    I think there is a turning point for all people as they interact with computers; when you realize that they respond to code. Tools like wordpress and blogger certainly lower that barrier for entry for more people (and people of color), but I’ve found the most vocal participants of color are on Youtube, which we saw more of through the last election campaign.

    But the real reason I had to check you back is the Poetic Prophet – check out mOserious’s channel on YouTube to see the “Design Coding” rap. It’s awesome, inspiring and it’s lowering the barrier for people of color in web development. He may be the first black “Rock Star” of Web Design!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0qMe7Z3EYg#

    Looking forward to the class! Nick

  3. webmaster@manrilla.net'marc

    Agh!! Nick! That video is just too much. I will have to site you when I use it next term 🙂

    Many thanks.

    P.S. – let me know if you have questions about this week’s session.

  4. ericlamargray@gmail.com'Eric

    I have been googling this very subject for months and I finally stumbled upon this article. I am so happy that someone has finally addressed this issue. I have been involved in web design for about 4 years now.

    I have put in a lot of hard work to learn about web standards, xhtml/css, javascript, typography, design principles, and even some web development, and I’m finally good enough to start doing some freelance work.

    One thing that discourages me is the absolute non-existence of black web designers. I’m familiar with all of the best designers and design agencies and I have not seen one black face in the crowd. Visit the website of any well known and established web design agency and you will see not one black face on their about us or profile pages.

    I know their may be a shortage of black web designers and developers but to have 0% working for some of the most well known agencies is absolutely ridiculous and inexcusable.
    Happy Cogs, Carsonified, SimpleBits, Purple Rock Scissors, Erskine Design, Kyan Media, Unit Interactive, nGenworks… I can name so many, I haven’t seen one black person.

    Now I’m not calling anybody out in particular or crying racism but I’m just calling it how I see it. I have never been the type to cry about the injustices or disadvantages that black people encounter. I’m not trying to be the Jesse Jackson for black web designers but it certainly feels like a civil rights movement needs to take place in the web design community.

    From my observation whites have a monopoly on web design and blacks are not given equal opportunities. I hope I’m not overreacting because I have no hate towards white people but I’m just baffled by the absence of black faces in web design, and I find it very discouraging.

    I must say that a few white web designers I have corresponded with via email have been really nice and helpful. Jeff Croft, Jason Santa Maria, and Andy Rutledge. Of course they didn’t know I was black but nonetheless they were pretty cool.

    Jeff Croft gives me the impression of someone who is not racist at all and has a little soul. This article really gave me the opportunity to vent and express my feelings thanks to the author. I have some concerns about becoming a freelance designer but web design is my passion and I hope to one day put a black face in the crowd as one of top designers.

  5. webmaster@manrilla.net'Marc

    Eric – thanks for chiming in. I feel you. It’s not about decrying some particular individual or design firm as racist but nonetheless, as people of color, when we look out onto the landscape of web design, there are no black faces. And like you, I find this disconcerting. Similar inquiries into other areas where Blacks are absent usually provides some insight into why. Often that insight is a combination of social, economic, and even political [i.e., racist] explanations.

    I am glad you found this a space to vent your frustration. Hopefully other that feel that need to do so will share their thoughts here.

    Best of luck, man, and keep in touch.

  6. temi.adeniyi@gmail.com'T.A

    Super late but I found your post very interesting. I am a black female working in the digital/web design industry in the UK.

    I am the only black female on my team of all white males. Even at my internships and at interviews, the studios were mainly filled with white men. Those who weren’t men were white women. When looking at agency websites, if staff pictures are up more likely than not there will be no black people any where (as an aside, I recently found wearepixel8 – it’s the only agency I’ve ever seen founded by black people, with actually a reasonably prominent (online) black designer to boot).

    I only have my vague theories based on my experiences of why there is such a lack of black designers or even developers. I am very wary to put it down to racism having been to university and seen for myself that black people are so very thin on the ground on design courses (at my university, I was the only black female on my interactive media course). Plus, I suspect this is largely the situation elsewhere around the UK and perhaps the US too.

    I did not come from a privileged up-bringing. In fact, I would say I grew up lower middle/working class but we did have computers when I reached about 10. I actually got into web-design around 11 just messing around on FrontPage and teaching myself snippets of HTML and the basic structure of it (although I had no a concept of a web-pages real “purpose” in the sense of it being something that was meant to exist online as I still didn’t know what the internet was). I did not have an internet connection at home until about 13 years old but from then on I made websites and designed for fun.

    I didn’t realise I could make a real career out of being a designer that didn’t involve being self-employed until about 17 because I simply wasn’t exposed to what steps I’d even need to take to become a designer in an agency. I think since this is still quite a new industry, there will be a lot of people to this day who don’t understand the path to take, don’t even know there is an “in” or perhaps they have misconceptions about the array of jobs there are within digital media as a creative or what it would be like to work in this industry.

    When I was eligible to go to university at 18 in 2006, there were only about 5 courses in the UK that offered courses directly related to web design that weren’t programming (javascript, c++ etc) heavy and they were all still young – about 3-4 years old. My parents had no clue what it would lead to and I had to assure them there would actually be job opportunities for a start and that they that didn’t pay badly.

    Perhaps their attitude is similar to other black people, who are more comfortable with traditional careers because it seems more familiar. I know a lot of black people who do not think of creative careers as lucrative and secure and as thus they’re written off. They may see a job in web as even more risky than a job within something based in traditional media such as advertising (where we are especially lacking creatives already anyway).

    Ultimately, I think the issue is one of awareness; I think perhaps if awareness was raised early regarding the careers in creative industries there might be more of us realising that it’s a viable option that can provide clear paths of progression, usually a very good salary and often a pretty cool and fun environment to work too.

  7. akom.t@gmail.com'Akom

    I am actully black African Web Developer, to be specific Ruby on Rails. I tell ya, is tough out there. The people in the industry think black people are not good programmers or logical people. They think you are just, charity case and they don’t support your skills to evolove and they patronize you. I am from the UK and this society is still stuck in the past that as a black person you’re only supposed to do their dirty jobs. I think is time that all us black people should support each other.

  8. Marc

    @Akom. Yes, it is still a major obstacle for us to overcome. I feel though that if we continue to enter into the field as well as organize as a support group, we may be able to overcome these challenges, God willing.

  9. Pingback: Minorities in Web Design - Jason Kinney

  10. zakiya.cameron@gmail.com'Zakiya Cameron

    Hi Marc!

    Thanks for this insightful post. I am a student at a state university in California and I am in the process of opening a non-profit organization teaching elements of wed design to inner city youth (Compton).

    I’d love to pick your brain on the matter a bit further, if that’s alright.

    If so, please email me… so that I can email you. 🙂

    Thank you.

  11. saintjaved@hotmail.com'Javed

    This is awesome. I’m so glad I found this article. I am a web developer and I am African American (let’s just say African but not American, I’m from the Caribbean). I have also noticed with web development companies there seems to be an absence of black web designers/developers. I thought it was just me that noticed this. Right now I can’t help but think I picked the wrong career for myself but I love web development, I love the coding and the design. We are few in numbers but we should stick together and come up with our own company.

  12. marvineason@gmail.com'Marvin Eason

    Adding my hat to this discussion as well. I had to google this topic as I am wondering the very same thing everyone else is – where are all the blacks in web design? I live in the san diego county, finished my degree here in web development and design, and there are tons of web design jobs in this area. But I have yet to even have so much as a call back (well I take that back, there’s been one but lead to nothing).

    I have a portfolio site (I’m going to redesign it, as it’s obviously not working) i’ve redone my resume, etc. Just about everything I can think of, to no avail. It’s frustrating. I have had some freelance clients here and there but nothing to sustain my life on.

    And then one day I decided to glance over the about us pages of the agencies I was applying to and saw zero black people and it got me to wondering about this very topic..and thus, here I am. Sigh.

  13. kenric.nextiva@gmail.com'Kenric

    marc,
    or anyone else who might see the post.

    the best thing we can start to do is to start putting out those names of people who are in the industry.

    if you know any web developers please refer. i am looking for a web site developer that can develop apps as well. I will need to be hosted, so i am looking for connections to for full development and server hosting. please help if you can.

  14. stopfirsthousefinancial@gmail.com'Anna Lynn

    My husband is a black front end web developer. He’s self taught and has been doing it for 9 years. It’s true, everywhere he has worked, in this field, he has been either the only, or 1 case one of two, black developer/s within the company.

    But aside from the fact that there are hardly any developers around… we’ve run into another issue as well.

    My husband was recently let go from the company in which he worked for the past 4 years. Now, he was one of 7 people who was let go that day and he was part of a 3rd round of layoffs. But… in the time that he worked there, he was the lowest paid developer their. He was constantly passed over for promotions in favor of other developers who’s skill set was no where near his level of expertise. His skill set should have earned him the title of Sr. but they kept him as Mid-level. It crossed our mind several times that this might have been racially motivated. Can we prove that? No. Could even inquire? No. Because of course, bringing something like that to anyone’s attention would have made him look like he was “playing the race card” and I’m sure that wouldn’t have boded well for his career.

    In addition to this, 2 days ago, he interviewed for a job at a company, and I’m 100% convinced the fact that the reason that this particular company, passed him up based on his race.

    They gave him a test in JavaScript before hand. It was something he did from home. The recruiter stated that they were very excited with the results. They felt he had very strong skills in JavaScript and called him in for a face to face. Well, according to my husband, the first thing the guy who interviewed him said, when he saw him, was “Oh, you’re ____?” And it went down hill from there.

    They asked him to do something using jquery. Now, according to my husband, most developers, strong in jquery or not, don’t have all of the syntax memorized. So he did take a few seconds to look up something for the syntax. But the second he went to do that, the man said “Clearly, you’re struggling.” He said no he wasn’t, found the syntax, finished the function which worked perfectly. But the man stopped the interview anyway.

    My husband did go on to explain to the man that the function he wanted him to create in jquery would work much more efficiently if written in JavaScript and he wrote that too, just to show the guy that he knew what he was doing but this guy had already made up his mind and basically sent him out the door.

    Please understand that I do need to protect my husband’s identity and mine. I have no included my or my husband’s name, location, or company names involved.

  15. Marc

    Wow, Marvin. That is disheartening to hear. I pray you will eventually overcome the structural racism that pervades our society.

  16. elegant.parent@gmail.com'The Elegant Parent

    Ok…as you can see from my enormous web faux pas of writing the *wrong web address* for my own blog…(-_-“) I’m definitely in need of some web help.

    My website is elegantparent.blogspot.com and I am currently looking for a web coder/developer/company and I’m sure others also want to invest in a community by investing in people through business, so if you know of any businesses or have a list of business, that would be much appreciated! Thanks! <3

    Ps. I just saw the post on Revision Path and I will be looking there today!

  17. court415@gmail.com'Courtney Hall

    I have been doing web development for 15 years now, basically a bachelors degree in computer science… almost done.

    I personally no longer want to work with or for those companies, I want my own. That is the only stable way to independence and self-reliance.

    Hit me up on Twitter @devchall

  18. nick_bruiser@yahoo.com'Nick Thomas

    I’m not in Web Design or any of that but I do 3d animation and rendering and have worked a little in the video game industry. I have gone through the same thing most of you have. I have worked at companies with just 1 or 2 blacks or none at all. Being the only black at these places has its challenges. I have run across whites who try to take advantage of you or act like they know more than you with the “I’m up here and you’re down there” type attitude. This just goes to show how some view blacks mostly due to the media showing us a thugs and trouble makers.

    I have also walked into interviews and have gotten shocking looks like I don’t belong there. Employers are now using LinkedIn and Facebook more to avoid that. If your currently looking for work you’ll notice just about every companies asks for it now. They want to see what you look like before they interview you.

    Black people we need to get our people into these industries more. Some of our people need to stop being so narrow minded and thinking all we can do is shake booty and play ball or having the “black people don’t do that” type mindset. We need to encourage our youth to get into web design, 3d animation, engineering, etc. I wish everyone above the best in these tough industries.

  19. AramAk11@twitter.example.com'Aram Ak (@AramAk11)

    Not just web design dude, every company I have worked at hardly ever had any black employees. At first I was thinking the companies were racist or something but then as time passed not one black person came even for an interview.

    This has become some mystery to, design is not a bad field. Sure its stressful and annoying at times but most of the time it’s fun.

  20. Marc

    It’s a weird thing. Certainly worth some research. I remember in my last job in IT, we interviewed numerous people for the position and none were black.

  21. kellykelo@comcast.net'Kelly

    Greetings …I am looking for someone to help me with a blog/website..I have attempted on my own ..but would love to work with a skilled creative person. Happy to come across this blog. I am in Boston MA and need direction. It’s been a year now of me trying to do this on my own. I’m Kelly. Kellykelo@comcast.net. Many thnx

  22. admin@legacywebservices.com'Asad Malik

    Even though this article is dated, we are still raising the same points in 2016. One of the good things to come out of the #BlackLivesMatter movement was a focus on coding and design in Black communities. I had the fortune of going through one of their programs and that led us to create http://legacywebservices.com and today we have 80 clients (all Black) and a team of all Black web designers! Black web designers are here!

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