Designers, stop asking black people to work for free

dex digital
May 18, 2017 · 4 min read

A few days ago, I wrote an article about deleting an iPhone app called Anchor because I didn’t like the interface.

Specifically, it only had a yellow hand emoji and wouldn’t let me use a brown one, like I usually do when I communicate online.

After wading through customization menus only to realize I couldn’t change it, I got bored. I didn’t care to invest any more time into learning the app. I’d never used it before, and didn’t need it, so I deleted it. And then wrote an app review.

And suddenly, I’m getting comments from upset designers saying that it was wrong for me to post my thoughts publicly – that ‘calling them out’ was wrong, and that I should instead have sent Anchor a polite email/tweet asking for a ‘diversity’ feature.


It’s not my job to do free consulting work for tech companies.

I’m not obligated to use the app. And I’m not obligated to help Anchor make other colored people want to use it — in the same way that someone who doesn’t like the new LinkedIn interface isn’t obligated to send LinkedIn HQ a polite, private email suggesting improvements. If a user wants to talk about their experience with an app on social media, they can.

Hell, Medium is full of white papers nobody asked for, written by white people nobody listens to. That’s pretty much all this damn website is.

But I’m supposed to contact a company I don’t even care about and provide free market research? No.

I’m supposed to feel bad for ‘calling out’ a company with 2.8 million in VC? No.

Look, ‘default’ yellow emoji only is a bad design choice. Period.

You may not be aware, but there are people — say, the people who overindex on Twitter– who may be turned off. And it has a cumulative effect, as noted in the Atlantic:

When white people opt out of racemoji in favor of the “default” yellow, those symbols become even more closely associated with whiteness — and the notion that white is the only raceless color.

If you’ve never thought about other people’s perception of racemoji, it’s okay! You might just be white. Which isn’t a problem at all (some of my best friends are white) but it would be a good idea to add some diversity of perspective to your company. And if you’re unwilling to consider that you might be missing some things, well, good luck.

Incidentally, the discussion of diversity in emoji for good UX is not new. It’s why Slack made diverse emojis available in their app early on.

Aside from that, the backlash is odd.

I find it odd that so many designers’ feelings are so fragile that me talking about some other company’s design decisions triggers them. I find it odd that in a field where developing empathy for the user is important, a colored user deserves no empathy.

I find it odd that in a field that is plagued by clients not understanding the value of labor, time and experience (‘I just want a simple logo, nothing complicated or expensive!’), people are asking me to do free work.

I find it odd that trashing Google’s Floating Action Button is seen as legitimate criticism, but if a reviewer is a colored person and mentions race at all, that user is supposed to be apologetic and helpful. Or to work for free.

But then again, I’m black, so I’m used to the rules being different for me.

And, for what it’s worth, I did get a response from Anchor:

That’s nice, but if they did actually have this on a wishlist for a ‘long time’, it shows that this was not a priority. Or in other words, that a diverse userbase is not a priority.

So, my original points stand:

  1. Having a yellow emoji only is a poor design choice, and
  2. I reserve my right as a person who interacts with design every day to call bad design it as I see it. Also,
  3. I also reserve the right to be compensated for my insights, should I decide to give them.

Stop asking black people to work for free.


dex digital

Written by

. scholar slash baller . @dexdigi . .

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