I look to my inner self for inspiration: Qa’id Jacobs on design and how blackness influences his work.

Creative Director & UX Designer, Qa’id Jacobs spoke to us about his approach to design, when dark UX is acceptable and the challenges of designing for a more illiterate audience.

Do you remember the first piece of design you ever created? What was it and where is it now?


The first piece of design I ever created was likely a drawing I made as a child, I used to like to draw soldiers and things. 


But if we’re talking design design — something with a purpose I created in order to achieve a goal —  it might have been a business card. My first sort of business was being a DJ, which I started doing when I was like 13 years old. 


I used to go to these machines where you could put in like $5 and get a bunch of business cards, and you could put some rudimentary designs on them. I actually just came across them the other day, digging through some old stuff, so they're in my possession, my first design artefacts.


Is it ever appropriate to use dark UX patterns where design misleads people into doing something they don't want?


As an ethical designer — like with lowercase ‘e’ ethical and I'll explain why — I would say that dark patterns are almost always unacceptable and there was never a reason to utilise them. 


But I think sometimes people think about changing the behaviour of a default user's or customer's behaviour, for example, to slow them down. That might be a good way to achieve that.


But seeing as dark patterns tend to deceive it is tricky. But for me, if you use them to try to give advantage to people and allow them to achieve their goals though — that’s different.

What led to your style as a designer?


My style is still developing. But I've been heavily influenced by hip hop, astronomy and cosmology, by just being Black and Blackness.  The things I do heavily influence my work too, such as DJing, basketball and all that — which might be a bit unusual because a lot of times people have studied the greats more than themselves. 


That doesn’t mean that I don't study and not that I haven't been exposed to other talented designers and creators, but their stuff isn't what drives me. Instead, I look to my inner self for inspiration, and I think it works pretty well.


Is there something you're currently working on to help you become a better designer?


One of the most important things I'm working on is mentoring. Mentoring allows me to improve my listening skills and broaden my perspectives, while also offering me the chance to refine my existing knowledge. Engaging in conversations with other designers, exchanging ideas, and learning from their experiences helps me grow as a designer and be more well-rounded.


What's been the most challenging user group you've designed for?


The most challenging user group I've designed for is probably people with low levels of literacy. One of my projects at the moment is really focused on people who don't spend a lot of time reading and who haven't had a significant level of education but are still productive and active people in the world and in society. 


So I’m trying to bring a digital product that works for them without having to rely on patterns that come from the Global North, more literate world. It’s challenging but also really interesting and valuable.


Biggest pet peeve when it comes to your life as a designer?


My biggest pet peeve as a designer is dealing with feedback that isn't constructive or that comes from people who don't know how to give feedback effectively. It's challenging to protect a sense of self when people try to attack me personally for work I've done instead of focusing on the design itself. It's important to remember that we can always learn from criticism, but it's essential to separate valid feedback from personal attacks.


What components make up an ideal brief?


There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this, as each project is unique. However, an ideal brief should provide clear information about the project's goals and objectives, the target audience, and the overall vibe and feeling of the product.

Is there such a thing as too much freedom when it comes to design briefs?


There’s definitely a possibility of too much information. There’s also a risk of too much ambiguity which can make it challenging to determine the project's direction, resulting in wasted time and resources. The more specificity a brief may have, the more likely it is to be easier to make progress on.


Is "can you make the logo bigger?" something you actually hear a lot?


Yes, as a designer, I've frequently heard requests like "can you make the logo bigger?" or "can you change the colour?" or even "can we make this like our competitor's design?" These requests often arise because clients may not fully understand the nuances of design and may focus on superficial elements rather than considering the overall user experience or the design's effectiveness in achieving its goals.


How important is it for you to feel like you're doing something new?


It's not that important for me to feel like I'm doing something new. To be honest, I don't think a lot of fundamental usability and design issues have actually been solved properly.


If you could redesign anything in the world, what would it be?


If I could redesign anything in the world, I would redesign economics. The way our economic systems work lies at the root of so many global problems. By reimagining the way economies function, we could potentially create a more just and sustainable world that benefits everyone.


Thanks Q'aid!




Q'aid Jacobs

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