Black Designers to Know
Article from IIDA HQ - Black Designers to Know by Yasmin Spiro
These inspiring black designers look to a wide variety of cultural and ethnic influences to create hybrid product and furniture designs that are sophisticated, deeply thoughtful, and shift our perspective on what it means to be modern. Creating work that integrates nature, heritage, and materiality, with exquisite craftsmanship—they also integrate new technologies and sustainable production methods. We are celebrating these creatives for the exciting work they are doing both in design and activism, and their contributions to building diversity in the broader design community.
Launched in 2007 AphroChic, the collaborative project of husband-and-wife team Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason focuses on “the intersection of modern design and global culture across diverse populations.” Showcasing the creativity, arts, design, and fashion within the African American community, the brands’ design work extends to interiors, fashion, product, as well as content. Hays and Bryan see themselves as storytellers—crafting experience through design, media, and events—that connect brands to a wider audience, particularly the African American community. Instagram @aphrochic
Malene Barnett is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and activist whose work is grounded in material and cultural research. The child of Caribbean parents—St. Vincent and Jamaica—her work envisions “a modern Black experience rooted in the cultural traditions and practices of art in the African diaspora” and embraces the history of craft and place. As the founder of the Black Artists+Designers Guild a strong and growing community of Black artist makers in creative fields—her work also extends to activism. But the design itself is just as powerful as her community work—ranging from exquisite rug designs (for which she is long known) to ceramics, painting, wallpaper, tiles, and several key industry design collaborations. Instagram @malene.barnett | Instagram @badguild
Hana Getachew, born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a graduate of Cornell University, started Bolé Road Textiles after spending many years as an associate principal at Studios Architecture in New York City where she helped design flagship and headquarters spaces across the region. The Bolé collections combine a love for the vibrant colors and graphic patterns in Ethiopian handwoven fabrics with her deep experience with modern interiors. The work itself honors the cultural history of Ethiopia, and the name Bolé comes from the beautiful neighborhood where her family home is situated. Instagram @boleroadtextiles
Marie Burgos, born in Paris, creates work that is inspired by French design, mid-century aesthetics, as well as the culture of her family’s native home of Martinique. Tapping the clean lines of modernism with graceful attention to shape, texture, and color—utilizing materials such as 24k gold, oxidized iron, and rice paper—the designs are defined by luxurious simplicity, poetics, and balance. Her well known interior design firm has offices in New York City and Los Angeles where they do residential, commercial, and hospitality work for international clients. Known for her exquisite curation that taps her experience as a certified feng shui master, she creates environments that embrace harmonious balance. Instagram @marieburgosdesign
A native of Chicago, Stephen Burks is one of the leading American industrial designers working today. His collaborative design studio, Stephen Burks Man Made, is deeply invested in the transformative power of craft, integrating new technologies, and methodologies in design. Working closely with artisans worldwide, the firm is committed to an expansive and inclusive vision of design that is inspired by and engages multiple cultures and influences simultaneously. The studio projects include furniture, lighting, interiors, exhibitions, and product design and strategy for innovation for leading manufacturers. His work has been exhibited internationally, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A mid-career survey of Burks’ work can be seen through March 5 at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Instagram @stephenburksmanmade
Tosin Oshinowo founded ilé Ilà ("House of Lines") in 2017 in celebration of her native Yoruba culture. Made in Lagos, Nigeria the collections feature hand-made lifestyle furniture influenced by period-conscious contemporary African design. Oshinowo, an architect by training whose aesthetic leans towards minimalism, branches out with a chair collection that features explosions of color combined with West African Fabrics and hardwoods. Celebrating cultural identity, each chair is named for a cultural concept such as Àràbà, “aged tree,” Òkín, “the majestic peacock,” or Alààfíà, “peace on this house.” Instagram @ile.ila
Ishka Designs based out of Brooklyn, New York is a full service interior design firm founded by Anishka Clark, and Niya Bascom. Their work pulls from culture and heritage, including Clark’s Jamaican roots, and focuses on minimalism, natural materials, artisanship, and exquisite craftsmanship. Their signature design expression is minimal, modern, unrefined, natural luxury—often working closely with clients to collaborate on original pieces for interiors projects, with materials sourced from the site surroundings. Thoughtful about environmental impact, their design process considers the site location, environment, and impact of design. Ishka Designs has been named to the Elle Décor A-List since 2019, and was recently listed as a 1stDibs 50 Honoree. Instagram @ishkadesigns
Ethiopian American artist and industrial designer Jomo Tariku launched his namesake collection in 2017 with the goal of defining a new design language of modern African-themed furniture. Influenced by an eclectic mix of family collections, art, souvenirs, landscape, wildlife, hair styles, architecture, and furniture Tariku studied design in the U.S, writinging his thesis on contemporary African furniture. The visually striking, limited edition pieces are intended to be heirlooms, used and celebrated for generations. The work has been published widely and his Nyala Chair and Wakela stool can be seen on the set design for the Marvel’s Black Panther movie, “Wakanda Forever.” His crafts embodies harmony, heritage, with a modern design sensibility. Instagram @jomotariku
OI Studio was founded in the 2000’s by creative director BOA, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Studying graphics there, her early creative career led her to fashion, styling, events, furniture sales, and ultimately to furniture design itself. As a self-taught furniture designer, she spent the first few years of her practice learning and sharing her knowledge of green design. Deeply connected to her Caribbean roots—a native of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands—her designs thoughtfully integrate nature and minimalism, with fine craftsmanship. Instagram @oistudio_
Ali Sandifer design studio was founded in the Midwest in 2004, and based in Detroit since 2011. Andre Sandifer and Abir Ali created the design studio with a focus on material, refined craft and simple, clean design functioning as a laboratory for experimentation and refinement. Their process really embodies the workshop methodology of research, sketching, and prototyping then producing multiple versions before settling on a final design. Their creations transform raw slabs of wood into sleek, functional works of art. Instagram @alisandifer
Little Wing Lee founded her design firm Studio & Projects in 2019 while simultaneously launching Black Folks in Design, an organization that showcases the work, history, excellence, and contributions of Black designers. Studio & Projects is known for its attention to color, texture, and materiality with a strong narrative approach. A true storyteller through design, she has worked with some of the leading creative design firms, including Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Rockwell Group, SOM, APPARATUS, and Ace Hotel Group/Atelier Ace where she currently serves as their design director. Lee began her career in design working in documentary television and film contributing to several Oscar and Emmy-nominated projects. Instagram @studio.and.projects | Instagram @blackfolksindesign Read more about Little Wing Lee from IIDA’s Perspective here.
Norman Teague Design Studios, L3C is a contemporary design/build studio, specializing in space, furniture design fabrication, design consulting, art and objects, and custom millwork. Teague works collaboratively with team members to create approachable design that features clean lines, and thoughtful materials that stay true to their nature, with a strong functional throughline. The studio values story and authenticity, embracing careful, skilled craftsmanship, and proudly works to expose design to communities of color in Chicago and beyond. Coming up, they are completing work for the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennial, and Teague is working towards a show at the Elmhurst Design Museum in Illinois in 2024. Instagram @normanteaguedesignstudios Read more about Norman Teague from IIDA’s Perspective here.