Nonette Llabres spoke with Justin about his solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, his experience as an African American designer, the need for more diversity in agency leadership roles, and taking inspired action to balance working for yourself and making a difference in the world.
Nonette: You mentioned how diverse the current Black Lives Matter movement is and how radical change is happening now because of this and unity; what are your thoughts on the current diversity gap in the design industry?
Justin: Agencies have to make diversifying their creative teams more of a priority and put boots on the ground to attract BIPOC talent. Some of the best work I ever did in my career came from the most diverse teams I led or was a part of when I was in the agency world. I feel it’s important not to discredit a person’s culture and how that has helped shape their human experience and style. Each person brings a different perspective to solving a problem. If you give designers of different backgrounds the same problem, they are most likely going to have different solutions based on their own unique relation to the world. This will naturally create more sound concepts in campaigns, commercials, products, etc.
It’s very common to not have enough diversity, especially in the traditional creative agency world. One figure I’ve seen is that only 10% of workers on agency teams are people of color.
So each person brings a different perspective into a project. Which is why I think you have to, at this point in time, truly strive to create a diverse creative team. And if you don’t have diverse teams, you have to work harder at it. You have to dig harder, you have to dig deeper.
You have to find diversity. Which is why people are hiring specifically to diversify teams — because they work better. It’s proven. There’s a ton of articles out there about how some of the best work is done by the most diverse teams. One of the reasons I decided to start my own independent creative agency was because of this initiative.
Nonette: Can you talk about some of the projects you’ve worked on that involved a diverse group of collaborators and designers?
Justin: I’ve worked with some highly talented and diverse teams over my career. It’s probably no surprise, but some of my favorite and best work was produced with these teams. The ones that stick out the most are Apple, Pluto TV, Walmart, and Vurbl. Each of those creative and development teams were very broad.
Nonette: What inspired you to start your own agency?
Justin: I listened to my heart and my gut. I had reached a point in my career where I felt unsettled with the work I was doing. I wanted the ability and flexibility to work with creative professionals of all backgrounds from all over the world on designing products that will hopefully change the world or help people live better lives. I was truly seeking more meaning in what I was doing, and to accomplish this I had to first start by clipping my agency wings and going after the type of clients that spoke to me.
All of them want the same thing as I do — we want to create really dope products that can change the world and work with fun people at the same time.