Designer Alan Carter Talks About His Background, Work and Experience as a Person of Color in the Design Industry
Alan Carter is a UX Kits customer and designer based in Memphis, TN. He graduated with a B.A. in graphic design from Middle Tennessee State University. Alan’s first experience in the design industry was as an intern at the agency Paramore | Redd Online Marketing. Since then, he has worked at several agencies and freelanced, before landing a job as a web developer at AutoZone. He has since moved up to a senior content developer. We had the opportunity to speak with Alan about his background, work and experience as a person of color in our industry.
Building your own design communities is very important. I personally haven’t found many easily accessible design communities or spaces for Black designers.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Memphis, TN, a predominantly Black city. I feel like I may have had a buffer against some of the more overt racial discrimination people have described. I would attribute that to my Mother who was always keeping a close eye on me (and my siblings), and how almost all of the people we interacted with looked like me. The disparities were still there but I didn’t notice, or know any better, as a child. Both my parents were military so I didn’t actually end up in Memphis until 4th or 5th grade. Before that we lived in St. Louis, MO, and Tucson, AZ.
What work are you doing now?
I’ve been at AutoZone for almost 8 years. I started on AutoZone's E-Commerce team where I designed landing pages, promotional graphics, email marketing campaigns, and our mobile app. Since then I have been promoted to the Sr. Content Developer on AutoZone’s Merchandising team where I design user interface enhancements and manage content for AutoZone’s in-store sales applications all while focusing on UX for our customers and employees in the field.
What inspired you to pursue design as a career?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing. I went from doodling on my elementary school desks, to creating comic book fan art, to entering art contests as I neared the end of high school. Initially I focused on fine art, but as my passion for computers and technology grew and became more available to me, I saw the intersection of two of my passions. I discovered the term “graphic design” and I knew that was what I wanted to be doing. I enrolled to study graphic design at MTSU with the help of the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship and my college internship gave me my first real glimpse into how design was a multifaceted discipline and that I could make a living from doing what I loved.
Tell me about your experience being a person of color in the field of design.
I’m sad to say I don't know many Black designers. I can count the ones I know personally on two hands, none of which are in any leadership roles save a few freelance business owners. My experience, in the past, in looking to advance my career I would say the hardest part was that there weren’t many mentors that I would have felt comfortable reaching out to for counsel that could really relate to me, or that I could relate with. I think that is still true today.
One of the more subtle experiences as a Black designer, and Black person in general, I’ve always felt I’ve had to operate under a more critical eye than my peers (think a shopkeeper following you around a store applied to your design process). After leaving my college internship I moved to St. Louis to pursue more design opportunities where I worked at several design agencies and marketing firms creating work for national clients like Home Depot’s Home Decorators Collection to local clients like Washington University. I gained a lot of experience, but no matter how big the design team I was always the only Black designer. In most cases, the only person of color on the team. I felt that left me no space to fail in any of my ventures or to take risks and explore and not being able to fail often and fast in the design field I think is a significant handicap.
Design is all around us and influences everyone. What would you change about the industry, or about what you see in design in general?
One thing I took from Creative Works 2016, a design conference held here in Memphis, TN, was that building your own design communities is very important. I personally haven’t found many easily accessible design communities or spaces for Black designers, but I may have not looked hard enough.
What are you looking to improve on as a designer, and what steps are you taking to get there?
I am trying to improve my mastery of UX at the moment. Using some of your UX Kits tools to help as I work to apply UX fundamentals to my day to day work creating personas, user stories, red routes and user journey maps. I am relearning and refreshing myself on the fundamentals of design with Udemy and Lynda.com courses.
Many thanks to Alan for taking the time to talk and share his experiences. You can find Alan at alancarterdesign.com and on Twitter, Instagram and Dribbble at @alancdesign.
Excellent interview, very refreshing❣️