Episode 82

Design The New Normal

This week on Overtime, we talk about assessing our design thinking to stop perpetuating heteronormativity. Plus, a new product that is reinventing the way we use email! Last but not least, the organizers of “Where are the Black Designers” Mitzi Okou and Garrett Albury stop by to chat about their upcoming event, and what folks can expect.

The best thing you can do is ask yourself why you’re making the gender and relationship image choices, and if you’re contributing to this notion of normalcy.

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Meg: Well hello there, little buddy, it’s me, your host Meg “Buckets of Sass” Lewis, and welcome back to Overtime. This is Dribbble’s weekly podcast where I cover design news, and I might give you a tip. I might give you two tips. I might give you zero tips. Where was I? I might give you some tips to create your very best work. This week on Overtime: how to assess your design thinking to stop perpetuating heteronormativity, wow! Plus, launched, and while I do not have an invite, I figured out what it is. Oh, and the organizers of Where Are the Black Designers stop by and tell me about their event coming up. Let’s go!

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Meg: Okay, so if you’re somebody who’s open-minded about gender expression, and you believe that every person should have a choice about how they express themselves and who they want to be in a relationship with, what labels they prescribe themselves with, or even what labels they don’t want to be described as, let’s dive into this segment. So, last week I talked about decolonizing your design decisions, so I want to follow up with an additional assessment of sorts for assessing your design decisions. And it’s all about the idea of compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity. And if you’re a straight cisgender person, that means that you were born and assigned with a specific sex and your gender identity matches that sex, and of course, straight means that you’re attracted to the opposite sex only. So, if you’re a straight, cisgender person, and of course, now is when we get into the concept of gender versus sex, and you need to ask yourself a lot of questions about how gender expression versus genitalia matters to you and what your preferences and what you’re attracted to are, but that’s a totally different podcast episode because I got to keep this to design. We’re talking about design. Let’s talk about design.

So, if you’re a straight cisgender person who is thinking they’re about to get attacked by me, Meg Lewis, I would never. I’m a cis woman in a heterosexual relationship, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with straight people. You’re beautiful. You’re amazing. I love you. And you’re allowed to celebrate your sexuality as long as you’re not hurting anybody, my glob, okay?

We are here to talk about what humans, specifically straight humans, but really all sexual orientations and gender expressions, what humans can do to make the world a more inclusive place, and also, maybe heterosexuality doesn’t have to be the default. So, before we get into design, I want to just quickly define a couple of things first. The term that I really want to define, which I alluded to, compulsory heterosexuality. This term came from an essay written by poet and writer Adrienne Rich in a 1980 essay titled “Compulsory Heterosexuality in Lesbian Existence” and compulsory heterosexuality basically just defines that heterosexuality is the default. It’s required. It’s the quote unquote, “normal relationship and sexual lifestyle” where it’s a cis man, a cis woman, the penis pops right into the vagina – I can’t believe that I got to say that on an episode of Overtime. Sorry, Dribbble.

And you know, all of the other heteronormative stuff, like, they have kids, they then buy a house, they only ever sleep with each other, there’s only two of them, and I’m, you know, probably missing a lot of other heteronormative ideals, but you get it. It’s all very traditional. And it’s the idea of a relationship that we’ve all grown up to understand is the default, right? And if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you know I love to push right up against boundaries and reform the boxes that we need to fit into in order to redefine what’s “normal,” with quotes around normal. So, you know I love this topic, and I just want everybody to be able to express themselves and live in a world where we don’t put judgment on one another for being different from ourselves, okay? It’s a lot to ask, it is, but I think we can do it. It just might take another 400-600-1000 years, hopefully not.

So, design. What does it mean when it comes to design? So, if you’re open to redefining what’s normal or not fitting into boxes that somebody else has predefined for you, and just you love thinking about humans as loving beings that deserve to feel safe and live a life full of love and acceptance and fulfillment, you are in luck, because you’re a creative person. And you actually can control what kinds of people, kinds of relationships and general lifestyles that people have in what you’re designing or illustrating or photographing. That is a lot of power that you have. So, much like last week’s exercise in decolonizing design and your design thinking, I ask you to just be aware of the design decisions you make, and how they are continuing to perpetuate heteronormativity.

Are they continuing to smush the ideal relationship style that the world has smushed in our faces our whole lives? Chances are with stuff like your stock photography choices, if you make illustration showing homebuyers or something, if you’re creating an art directed shoot for feminine hygiene products, you’re probably choosing to show what most people show. And it’s largely not your fault for doing that because you’ve been taught and shown your whole life, my whole life, what is quote unquote, “normal.” But now you’re totally an adult with a free mind and you can control what you do with that. So typically, we show a man and a woman as homebuyers, we might show a very feminine-presenting cis woman on the organic tampon website or Instagram ads we’re making. And the best thing that you can do is to just ask yourself why you’re making the gender and relationship illustration or image choices. And if you’re contributing to this notion of normalcy, because it’s really time to redefine what’s normal, and start opening our minds, opening up our world to allow for a definition, a new redefined version, of what normal means. Because nobody, nobody’s normal. Ahhh.

Anyway, if all of this is getting confusing, I’ll give you an example that I found that I was very excited to find. There is a stock photography company called Pexels, which is “p-e-x-e-l-s” that recently switched over their library to consciously represent, equally, all people. So, by age, body type, race, gender expression, relationship type, they’re all there. And what I think is the most magical about the way that they’re doing it is that it’s just what’s served to you by default. And you don’t have to see, on the homepage, a bunch of beautiful, by traditional beauty standards, white women eating salads on the homepage, and then you know, you have to, in order to find somebody else, you have to filter down, and you have to check the box that says, “Okay, I want to see two people. Now, two people that are same sex.” And you know, like that stuff that you have to do on most websites, that’s not happening here. They’re just by default showing you a broad range of humans and relationship types. So, I know that there’s a lot of power and excitement of having specific stock photo libraries for marginalized humans. It’s empowering and it’s a great place to celebrate so I don’t want those to go away. The idea of compulsory heterosexuality is that it’s really on straight, cis people like myself to do what they can do to stop assuming their lifestyle is what’s normal, and do what they can to create new systems or alter existing systems to make sure everyone feels represented so that we can all feel welcome to explore who we are and actually feel safe doing so.

And maybe you aren’t 100% hetero anyway, I’m just, I’m just maybe, I don’t know, I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know, that’s on you to explore. And have fun because it is fun. Being yourself and finding who that is, is really fun. Ah, you just got to have a safe space to do it. So, find, as I always say, find one person that makes you feel safe to explore who you are. Find two people, find a little community, find a big community, just find somebody. Find a way and you can use your design to create safe places for people to feel represented, safe places for people to feel like they can explore who they are.

So again, like last week, your best first step here is to just assess the decisions you make. Look back at the decisions you made in the past that you maybe still have the ability to change and alter and see if you could be doing more. Think about the way you talk about relationships, the assumptions you make about other people, the way that you talk with your friends about all of this stuff. And as you keep on designing, remember that it’s an exciting – it really is an exciting opportunity to showcase representation because representation matters so much. It helps change our collective worldview. That is huge, and we have so much power as designers to do that. So, if you’re interested in learning more about compuls–, compulsory, come I got it. We got it, compulsory heterosexuality. I recommend watching a video. It’s an intro that youtuber Hannah Witton released recently where Hannah also really struggles to say, “compulsory heterosexuality.” Bam, nailed it. It’s a great introduction video to a lot of these notions. And Hannah also reminds us in the video that, wow, pride is actually the opposite of shame. So why the heck wouldn’t you want to help elevate pride way the heck over elevating shame?

Hey, hey, hey, oh hi, hey. Hey, did you see that launched? You probably did. And don’t worry, this is not an ad. So, sit your little hiney back down in your comfiest chair because I bet you’ve been like many of us and you just haven’t had the brain space to figure out what Hey is. But everybody’s talking about it and you’re confused and you’re like, “This is a burden for me to have to learn what this is right now. I have so much else going on in my mind,” and well, let me tell you, while I was lying in a pool of anxiety in my bed last week, I watched the entire 30-ish minute product walkthrough. So at least I know what it is now, I think, so I’m going to explain it to you to save you some time.

Alright, so I’ll give you the lowdown on what is because it’s like they’re reinventing email or something. I don’t know, you’re probably like, “What, what does this mean?” So, truly, if I didn’t watch the product walkthrough video, I probably would have been like, “It’s email, so what what’s the deal?” But luckily, I did and now I understand it. So, I’m just going to explain it to you to save you some time so you can get back to your life and doing the real work that we need to be doing right now. So, basically, email – (laughs) – I almost just defined what email is to you. I think you understand. I’m going to assume you know what email is. So, will give you an email address, much like Gmail, where you get and it’s $99. Or I guess you can also integrate your other email into it, so you don’t have to have a whole new email address now, because I have so many email addresses. I have, like, maybe six or seven. It’s too many. Too many already. So, I can’t do it, I can’t do another one. Don’t make me. But they are basically redefining email. They’re taking the concept of what email is, an internet letter, like, with a subject line, and like, you type in whatever you want, and you send it to somebody with another email address. Great. Got it, that’s email. They have to work with that basic structure, of course, but they’re trying to basically turn it into a project management system by allowing you to do a bunch of things with email, that if you are type A, or you just like to manage things, or you like to organize things, it’s going to be great for you.

So, some of the things that they allow you to do with emails is, if you have one of those annoying people in your lives, I’m sorry, this is mean, I don’t want to… Okay, I’m just going to explain. Maybe it’s not annoying. Maybe you like this, maybe this is you, so I apologize. If you have one of those delightful people in your lives who you’re emailing about the same project or the same thing, but they keep starting a new email every time, and they’re like, using subject lines like, “Hey, buddy, here you go,” and then they just upload a file or something, I find it annoying for my organizational brain because like, just keep it the same thread buddy, keep it the same thread, it’s fine.

Anyway, they allow you to bundle emails together and zip them up into one email, which I think is beautiful, it keeps things organized for me. And they also allow you to add your own notes to yourself and emails. So, you know, you can just be like, “this person is annoying,” or air your feelings about somebody if you don’t like them. You could just air them and then write a note to yourself and the person never sees it. I really have a negative outlook on emails. This is just a reflection of my personal space right now and my inbox is just overflowing at the moment. So maybe this is more of a personal review about my struggles with email. So sorry, this is coming from an aggressive point of view, it doesn’t need to. Alright, let’s have it be lighter. Okay.

But some of the other cool things I think you can do is you can rename subject lines and emails. So, if my friend, John was like, “Hey, buddy, here’s a file,” I could rename the subject line with the actual more useful keywords for what’s going on there. And John, my buddy, John doesn’t even know. It doesn’t change on John’s end, which is pretty cool.

Also, they do this thing where you can screen emails so anytime a new person emails you, whether it’s a brand or an individual, you tell them whether or not you want emails from that person. So, if somebody puts you on their mailing list without you asking, you can just be like, “Don’t want to hear from this person ever again” and then they’ll never show you emails from them, which is a real treat. Or if you just have somebody in your life that can’t stand anymore, and you want them to go away forever but you don’t have time to tell them that, and you just don’t like having uncomfortable conversations, probably not the best move, honestly, to just tell them that you don’t want to hear from that person, you should probably have a conversation with them and maybe work through your issues first. But I am not here to tell you what to do. So, it’s your choice. But Hey lets you screen email so you can say, “Yes, I want to hear from this person, no, I don’t want to hear from this person,” which is a nice little addition.

They also let you choose which people you want to get notifications from, or if you want to get notifications from a specific email thread, which I’m a no notifications person on my phone. I don’t have any notifications on but if there’s like, one person in my life that’s really important to me, and I just want to make sure that I get all warm and fuzzy inside every time that you email me and see a little warm notification, like a nice little hug from my friend every time they email me, then maybe I turned it on for them. But truly, I can’t really think of anybody in my life right now who I would want notifications turned on for me for because I’m a zero-notification person. No offense. Again, I just keep turning this into a negative thing. Wow, Meg, ugh.

But, moving on, I think that the question here, and a lot of the critique I’m seeing is like, does email need fixing? Did we need to do this to email? Email is such a pure form of open communication and we’re like, screwing around with it. We’re messing it up. We’re turning it into something else. Is that necessary? I don’t know. That’s okay, that’s an okay perspective to have. For me, as you know, I’m a real fan of assessing why things are the way that they are, who decided that they need to be that way. Why are these rules in place for us? Can we redefine these rules? Who makes them care? Do we need them? Do we need rules? And I like that Hey is doing that with email. They’re like, “Okay, who decided these rules? Who decided that we need to be able to flag and create folders for emails? Like, why are emails the way that they are? And can there be a different way?” I don’t think it’s about being a better way, it’s just a different way. Like, can we redefine what email is and allow for a different option for people? And I like that. I like that approach. I think it’s always good to question why things are the way that they are. And maybe we can create a new version, a redefined version, of that thing that we’re all so used to. And I think they’re doing that, so that’s nice. And right now, it’s invite-only, and I don’t even have an invite, so I can’t actually use it, but maybe you can. Maybe they’ll give you one. They are not giving me one but it’s invite-only, hopefully it’ll open up to everybody soon, and then you can try it out and see if you like it. But that’s Hey, that’s There’s more information probably. I gave you a lot of information, so at least now you know what it is.

Meg: Where are the black designers? We know they’re out there, and based on an AI study, we know that only 3% of designers are black, and that is messed up. But luckily there are a few people that have been asking this question for years, like Cheryl D. Miller back in the 80’s and Maurice Cherry just a few years ago, and thank Glob that there’s a free virtual event coming up on June 27, titled, “Where Are the Black Designers?”, and today I have the two organizers here to chat with us. It’s “Where Are the Black Designers?” organizers, Mitzi and Garrett:. Hi, Mitzi, hi, Garrett:!

Mitzi: Hi, how are you?

Garrett: Hi.

Meg: I’m doing well. Okay, so first of all, congratulations on all the success of this event. It’s important and I’m so glad you’re doing it. I think everyone is so glad to attack this question head on this weekend. So, first of all, before we dive into the specifics of what’s happening with “Where Are the Black Designers?” the event, give us some backstory on why you created this event.

Mitzi: Yeah, so this event was created because I felt that there just weren’t any accessible resources to the black design community or even just information on the demographics of the creative and tech work culture. And so, I wanted to bring up this question because I just felt like, I felt isolated. That means other people are probably feeling isolated. And we tried to start this in school, Garrett: and I, and we kind of just failed at it a little bit and we came back together a few years later to do this. So, this is pretty amazing.

Meg: Excellent. So, just give us some information on what we can actually expect at the event itself.

Mitzi: Yes, so you can expect some badass creative leaders, and educators, and young people who are really just helping at creating the space for diversity and representation. And we’re going to have some speakers who are going to be talking on topics from algorithm bias to how black people are perceived sonically, you know, to our big picture panels that are going to talk about the future of design. So, we have a lot and it’s going be amazing.

Garrett: Yeah, and it’s exciting too because we’ve structured this event in a way that begins with education and takes the audience through action, spotlighting some really amazing designers along the way.

Meg: That’s really good. I’m glad that you’re doing it that way, because I know, as you can tell, we can all tell, everybody, especially non-black designers are just so very eager and it’s trying to make it easy to get to work, but I think so much of the starting process of getting to work has to be just listening and learning first. I’ve been guilty just as much as anybody has in trying to act too quickly before I knew all of the information. So, it sounds like what you’re doing with this event is helping us in making it a little bit easier for us to learn first, and to get all of the information so that we can actually get to work.

Mitzi: That’s exactly what it is. And, you know, within our conference too, we’re working on getting the audience on an interactive level so that they can participate in and, you know, give us their feedback in this discussion.

Meg: That’s great. I like that you’re facilitating an environment where people can brainstorm together, because I think everybody kind of just feels a little physically isolated from one another right now. So, it’s nice to create actual communities where we can brainstorm together, we can workshop ideas, and we can work together for a wonderful common goal.

So also, I want to definitely make sure we talk about these poster designs because I follow “Where Are the Black Designers?” on Instagram and y’all are just blowing up my feed with all these poster designs that are so amazing, and there are so many of them. What’s going on there?

Mitzi: Yes, super overwhelming and amazing. The pitch is it’s basically being used as a creative protest. So, we’re asking people of all races, just like they would go out and protest in the street, the work needs to be done in the digital space, so we’re asking them to make posters with just four things: “Where Are the Black Designers?”, our link to our website, the date, and their beautiful artwork. And then we asked them to call out a company that way the companies can get notifications that we’re asking this question of where are the black designers, we need to know the answer, while also promoting this black led event that’s going to center around this question, and that’s going to discuss what we can do, you know, what is needed.

Garrett: Yeah, it’s a really great base level too, because I think, especially for non-black designers, part of this ongoing effort to learn and empathize is recognizing our complacency in the system.

Mitzi: Mm-hmm.

Meg: Absolutely. My God. And so, what an incredible event and it’s happening on Saturday. It’s so soon!

Mitzi: Yeah!

Garrett: Very soon.

Meg: Alright, thank you both so much for being here and for telling us about “Where Are the Black Designers?”, but first, tell us where we can find where the black designers on the internet.

Mitzi: Yes, so you can find us on Instagram @wherearetheblackdesigners and everything’s pretty cohesive, so our website is And you can email us, and we’ll try to get back to you at

Meg: Excellent. And both of you as individuals, I want to make sure we give some shout outs to you and your work. Mitzi tell us a little bit about the work that you do.

Mitzi: Yes, so I do UX, like interaction and visual design by day, and then by night, I’m kind of an arts and craftster. So, you can see my professional work on my website, and on Instagram @ok_mitz.

Meg: Alright, and we’ll make sure to link to all of that in the show notes. Garrett:, tell us about the work that you do.

Garrett: Yeah, much like Mitzi, I am a UX designer by day and have many a side project by night. So, always working on something, whether it be a zine for charity, or helping Mitzi organize this amazing conference.

Meg: Excellent. Alright, thank you so much for being here with us today, so excited to attend on Saturday. Everybody, please go and RSVP to attend “Where Are the Black Designers?” on Saturday. Thank you so much for being here.

Garrett: Thanks so much.

Mitzi: Thank you.

Meg: Alright, party people. That’s it for this episode of Overtime. Remember, get out there and be a good person this week. And if you forget to be a good person, apologize, correct, and be better going forward. And if you’d like to take the conversation onto the internet, use #DribbbleOvertime, or tag me or tweet me. My handle is @YourBuddyMeg or go to and see my design work and you can judge me and say, “Wow, what garbage. I’ll never listen to her again.” Bye, hear me next week!