Get Together

Making friendship more “user-friendly” 🤝 Kat Vellos, Author of We Should Get Together

Episode Summary

An interview hosted by Bailey and Kevin with Kat Vellos, author of “We Should Get Together” and founder of Bay Area Black Designers. We talked with Kat about cultivating deep friendships in a sea of busy, mobile people and sparking community in otherwise isolating situations.

Episode Notes

“We lack language for describing the ache when we crave for companionate emotional connection, for that friend bond. Whether it's an ache for a single close friend or a group of friends. I gave it is ‘platonic longing.’” - Kat Vellos 

Kat Vellos is a user experience designer who uses her trade to help people connect authentically. 

After moving to the Bay Area 6 years ago, Kat for the first time found herself struggling to make adult friends. She felt, as she describes it, a “platonic longing,” and decided to use her skills as a user experience designer to make friendship more “user-friendly.” The result of this research is her new book  We Should Get Together, which tackles the four most common challenges of adult friendship: relocation, full schedules, the demands of partnership and family, and our culture’s declining capacity for compassion and intimacy in the social age. When the pandemic caused social isolation, Kat released an addendum to her book, Connected from Afar, which offers six months of weekly connection prompts that you can use to nurture your faraway friendships. 

In addition to her work designing, researching and writing, Kat is also a community builder. In her early days in San Francisco, Kat created an event called Better Than Small Talk to break through the wall of small talk and get into real, heart-pumping, mind-sparkling conversations. Kat also sparked the Bay Area Black Designers community, which is described as “Silicon Valley’s largest unofficial ERG for Black designers.” She started with five or six other local designers in her living room and now has over 500 members providing professional development and community for Black designers, in particular those who know how isolating it can be the only Black designer in a company or design team. 

On the podcast, we talk with Kat about cultivating deep friendships in a sea of busy, mobile people and sparking community in otherwise isolating situations.

👋🏻Say hi to Kat and grab a copy of her books here.

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Episode Transcription

Note: This transcript is automatically generated, and there may be some errors.


Welcome to get together.


Speaker 2: Our show about ordinary people, building extraordinary communities. I'm your host, Bailey Richardson. I'm a partner at people and company and a co author of get together how to build a community with your people. A book that's out. Now that I wrote with


Speaker 3: Me, I'm Kevin. When I am Bailey's cohost for today, also a partner at people in company. That's our strategy company, where we help organizations start and sustain meaningful communities.


Speaker 2: Almost four years old, almost four years old, kind of aren't we that's like we've been to high school together. That's crazy. In each episode of this podcast, we interview everyday people who have built extraordinary communities about just how they did it. How did they get the first people to show up? How did they grow to hundreds more members? Today, we are talking to cat fellows, a user experience designer by trade. After moving to the Bay area six years ago, cat for the first time found herself struggling to make adult friends. She felt as she describes it, a platonic longing, and decided to use her skills as a user experience designer to make friendship in her words, more user friendly. The result of this research is her new book. We should get together. That covers how to cultivate better friendships. Today. We'll talk to Kat about why she wrote her book, what she learned in the process. And we'll also learn from her experience founding and leading the Bay area, black designers, community, which is described as Silicon Valley's largest unofficial ERG for black designers, Kev. What's one thing you learned from our conversation with Kat.


Speaker 3: It talks about starting Bay area, black designers, because she rarely saw other black designers, rarely saw them at conferences at the places she worked in her city. And it's a reminder that if you're feeling isolated, if there aren't other people who look like you in the spaces that you are working or spending time in, they probably are out there and you can spark a community that draws them in. You know, it takes action. It takes collecting the first few folks and doing something with them. But you can be the difference between someone feeling like they're supported and seen or not.


Speaker 2: Awesome. Let's jump in and hear from Kat, Kat, welcome to the podcast. We're really excited to have you here today. You've written two books, both of which are about how to build better friendships. What motivated you to embark on writing those books? Can you tell us about what you were going through or reflecting on at the time you decided to write them? Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for having me on. And I'd love to dive in with the books. I had never had a hard time making friends before in my life, but when I moved to the Bay area in 2014, I suddenly did. It was really puzzling to me because I was meeting really cool people all the time and quote unquote, making friends. But when you think about establishing depth and regularity, it was actually a little bit hard and strange to me. So I got obsessed with that conundrum and I've talked to other people about it and they said they were having the same problem too.


Speaker 2: And I mean, user experience designer, when I see that people are having a problem with something I can't help, but want to try and solve it. I'm also a facilitator and I hear a lot about community. This was something that I was personally interested in and professionally motivated by. So in 2015 I started a couple of community groups. One was Bay area, black designers and nether. It was called better than small talk. And that one was for people who value authentic connection and want to have closer connections with people. I was doing a lot of qualitative research into this topic, doing interviews with people about their experience of adult friendship and community, what belonging looked like in their life. I was just gathering these observations and these essays and journaling about it, just collecting all of this information. And I didn't really know at first what I was going to do with it.


Speaker 2: For example, at the very first better than small talk, I read an essay about adult friendship that I wrote, and it was just the kicking off point for a group discussion later that morphed into the first chapter of the book. I didn't know, at the beginning I was going to end up making a book, but once I had so much content, it was more than a medium post. It was more than a Dean. And a couple of friends of mine were like, wow, it sounds like you're writing a book. And I was like, yeah, okay. That's what I'm doing. And so that is what turned into the book we should get together. And then since that book really focuses on in person face to face connection of, I put out the addendum connected from afar, just this spring because of the coronavirus. And because a lot of people were saying that they wanted more ideas for things that they could do with friends at a distance. You know, a lot of people were like cat. I want to have better friendships that I don't really read books. Can you just give me some ideas of things to do so connected from afar? It's not a chapter book. It's more like a playbook of things to do with the people that you care about. Just to underscore that Kevin Kat is kicking our butt. She published two books, one book, she already has the followup coming out, which I was so impressed by.


Speaker 3: I was just reflecting on the comment. This is more than a medium post is more than Azine. When we wrote our book, the original Slack channel was Xen town. The belief was we were going to make a Z. And then all of a sudden it's like, we've been working for six months on the Xen. And my fiance's like, that's not as deep.


Speaker 2: We're no longer true to the word Xen. Yes, absolutely. Yeah, exactly. What do you think it was about coming to the Bay area? Was it the place? Was it the culture? Was it the time of the world we're living in? Was it the age that you are? Why do you think it felt harder at that moment in time? The Bay area is a really interesting place because I've moved in a lot of places. I've lived. A lot of States. I lived in two countries have changed cities a lot of times. And in the Bay area, I felt more at home in terms of the people who were here, the diversity that I found in the East Bay in particular, I felt really at home here. And so it was especially baffling to me that I was having a hard time getting regular friends. And there's a confluence of different factors that play into it in the book.


Speaker 2: I talk about the four biggest challenges for adult friendship, which are hypermobility busy-ness relationships and family, which obviously just take a lot of time and difficulty establishing intimacy, moving from small talk to real talk. And in the Bay area, there's a really high amount of transiency. There's a lot of people moving in and out of the region and even within the region, at least before COVID, there's so many people commuting all the time and having these really busy schedules. So getting time to cultivate a deeper friendship is a challenge. It's a really interesting part of the research that I've had comes from a Richard Florida book called who's your city and in it, him and a bunch of data scientists and psychologists looked at the clusters of psychological traits around the country. There are different clusters in different parts of the United States. And this particular region happens to draw a lot of people who are really into innovation or novelty, and they have higher rates of introversion and also being neurotic.


Speaker 2: So these kinds of environments are good for innovation, right? There's the, a lot of people working in technology here. However, when you look at in the Midwest, they rank really high for conscientiousness and duty and civic mindedness. You know, it's like following through on your word and being there for people. There's fewer of those traits here in the Bay area. So there's the environmental and structural factors, but there's also the fact that the population just happens to have more people who value things like cultivating your relationships of having civic engagement. It's just a really different cluster of people that is fascinating. It is so fascinating. And it may be super interested in thinking about the way urban planning is done and the way cities are designed and how all of those things affect human interaction. That's great. One of the phrases that you use that I picked up and loved is this phrase platonic, longing.


Speaker 2: Can you tell me about what that phrase means to you and how you use it to describe one of the problems that the world is facing right now, when we talk about having trouble, making friends in adulthood or feeling frustrated with not having the kinds of friends that you want, our society doesn't really have a word for that. When we think about romance, there's the phrase unrequited love. And if you say that people know what you mean, because it means you want a relationship or you want to be in love and you don't have that right now. But we lack language for describing the ache when we crave for companionate emotional connection for that friend bond, whether it's an ache for a single close friend or a group of friends. So the phrase I gave it as platonic longing, because that's what I experienced it as.


Speaker 2: And a lot of the people I interviewed described it wasn't always that they felt lonely. You don't have to feel lonely to have platonic longing, just like you don't have to be lonely to have unrequited love or to wish for a relationship platonic longing is that craving or a robust thriving friendship in whatever way that somebody wants that for one person, it might be they're really into fitness and they wish they had fitness buddies to be accountable with, or a solo preneur who's working alone. You might crave a group of other solo preneurs to bounce ideas off of this combination of friendship and professional relationship. It could be somebody wishing that they had a friend who lived a two minute walk away that they could have a really spontaneous blend of their lives together. It's this feeling of unrequited friendship and companionship. Why do you think we don't have language about that? I love the comparison to unrequited love. We do have language for romance. Why do we not have a better vocabulary around friendship? I think friendship gets short shrift in our society compared to other types of relationship. A very good example of this is when I went into a bookstore here in Oakland and I asked the woman at the counter, I said, can you point me out where their friendship books are? And she's like, we don't have


Speaker 4: Section for that. It was like, really


Speaker 2: Like, no, maybe you could look in the relationship section. And this is true. Not just in that bookstore. Our society breaks the concept of relationships into two categories on one half is romantic relationship. And on the other half is family. And the majority of the books in the quote unquote relationship category are one of those two things. I think that's really telling about our culture, that friendship is not viewed as meaningful or as significant as it is in people's lives. Like it's very important and it's just been ignored or just pushed to the side. It's like, Oh, you just figure that out. We don't need to talk about it. But unfortunately it's causing a lot of people to experience this really deep loneliness because family is not always the place where people get the most feelings of connection, especially for people who aren't close with their family.


Speaker 2: And it's too much pressure to put on a romantic relationship to be like, okay, this is going to meet all your emotional needs. And so I really do believe we need to carve out more space in our culture to value and celebrate friendship. Yeah. It seems like important and significant topic to address. What do you see through your research? And through reflection are the common problems with say someone realizes consciously I would like more friends, maybe like you did in the Bay area. What are some of the bumps that they hit in the road trying to do that or missteps that a lot of people take going down that journey, the bumps in the road that I think they'll just encounter are the four categories they mentioned before. So like a busy-ness and hypermobility and navigating around friendship or relationships and intimacy. But in terms of missteps that people might unknowingly be making.


Speaker 2: One of them that I see a lot is that people think that in order to make friends, that they have to go out and meet a ton of new people and that's not necessarily true. And it's actually sadly ironic. I experienced this myself that when you've met tons and tons of new people, it can be even more painful when you don't have a close friend blossom out of that. And meeting tentative, new people can actually turn into a distraction from developing deeper friendships. Because then it seems like the goal is to meet as many people as you can, rather than to just go deep with one or two people. So to make an analogy to, I mean, networking events or possibly universally hated. But when you think about being in a networking event, but one of the things that's frustrating about it is it's like people have to go around and meet as many people as possible because you don't know which relationship is going to be really meaningful.


Speaker 2: But the way to make networking valuable is to focus on building a deeper connection with one or two people, not trying to meet every single person in the room. Similarly in friendship, you don't have to meet so many people. Another mistake that make is being overly picky, our society and the proliferation of swipe left swipe, right? Apps have created more and more of this culture of disposability and thinking that there's always going to be someone better out there with your brain is trained to always look for a better fit or a better person or someone you're going to like more. You're never going to be satisfied and you're never going to rest long enough to develop a bond with the person who is right in front of you. We don't need to meet a thousand new people to have good friendships. We just have to develop and cultivate a meaningful connection. That's right there in front of us. And to be dedicated with that person or set of people that you choose to focus on. I'm just starting to think about my daily experience living in New York one, but also just on my screen and how many avatars I see how many different faces I have light interactions with through the internet. And I feel like my experience of social life, especially digitally, it is a sea of people instead of really depth,


Speaker 3: Just reflecting on a perhaps mediocre analogy, which is, it's sort of like looking for an apartment, you might believe that there's the perfect one out there, but do you really want to look at a thousand different apartments? Or do you want to find one that's going to work, but then you can turn into a home though, if an apartment really isn't right. It's gonna magically become the best possible apartment, but yeah. Mediocre analogy.


Speaker 2: I love the prefacing. It makes sense. Yeah. It's like looking for an apartment or shopping all of these things that have that same analogy of trying to find the best one. But when you're not shopping for people, if you have that same mindset, you're just going to get really frustrated and you're never going to pick one, cause there's always something else better out there. Just go with what feels good and who you connect with and try to get closer to them. Capitalism showing up in our friendships everywhere. I wanted to ask you, you know, your functional unit is friendships. And I know you are an active community organizer and a facilitator as well. So I'm so excited to ask you this question, but we study communities. And part of that is because we love how groups of people can come together to augment magnify their impact in whatever way they define that.


Speaker 2: But also part of it is, cause I do see communities as portals for friendships. When I moved to New York, the way I approached making friends was I showed up at basketball team for women who are bad at basketball. And I think these people might be my kind of people. And it's true. I hung out there enough that I eventually made friends from this existing functioning community. Is there anything that a community leader can do to help people within their group, make friends with one another? Are there any tips or observations you have for people who are leading or organizing small groups to facilitate those connections between members? I think community gets mistranslated because the word gets thrown around so frequently and eventually the meaning of it gets dissolved or confused with other things. So affiliation is not necessarily connection being members of the group is not necessarily connection and being similar, not necessarily community.


Speaker 2: One of the things that I practice. And that was a part of my facilitator training in the early two thousands, was that when you create opportunities for people to be really seen and fully heard for who they are, so having vulnerability and intimacy for setting up a really safe container, and then within that gently scaffolding, the levels that help people take a creative risk or take a risk to be heard and seen, and then building those experiences of connection that let their humanity be appreciated or acknowledged or accepted in that space. The more that can happen within that set of people. And the more that that set of people create something together or leans on each other for something and have that support provided the more they're going to build a sense of connection between each other. And the more that they're going to have trust and intimacy, are there any stories you can share of groups or even tactics that you've used in the past to help people lead with their humanity?


Speaker 2: One very vibrant example comes from the organization that I originally did. My facilitator training with it was called the power of hope and they've actually now gone global and they focused on youth development and community development. Their new name is partners for youth empowerment and their signature program was an eight day residential camp. And I came in as a volunteer at that camp and eventually they hired me and I moved up to being a lead facilitator and program manager. But the thing about this space that was so transformative for me and for everybody else who was there, was that they could take a group of strangers. And within eight days you could create a community of people who felt connected and more empowered. And we're in this perpetually positive cycle of lifting each other up to take bigger and bigger risks of vulnerability, connection and creativity.


Speaker 2: It's exactly the same thing I was explaining before about setting up a safe container, setting up psychological safety. And then from there inviting people, right from the get, go to share who they are, what brought them there, what their hopes were, what their fears were about coming to talk about something that's meaningful to them in their life. Back home every day, there is a chance to do a creative risk together. And you would have conversation about questions that really help the other people know what mattered to you in your life. And then from there each day, the level of intimacy and the level of risk would be safely notched up a little bit more at the very end of the eight days the adults let go. And then we put the youth in charge of running the final day of camp themselves. This was for teens 13 to 18 years old, and it was just such a beautiful experience.


Speaker 2: And it wasn't just this theory of how to make a community function. We were practicing it and teaching it at the same time. This is how you build leaders. This is how you create a community that can function on its own. It was just the most amazing, beautiful experience. And honestly, it's the foundation of everything that I try to do as well. It's harder when you're not living together 24 a day in a residential setting, running a community group here in a busy metropolitan area where obviously we don't live together with him. He might just see each other at meetups it's different needed. You're not going to get that same level of intimacy because you're not eating every meal together, camping tents next to each other every night. But I do think that it's possible to use those same principles in how you design your community agreements and your goals and your principles and model that as a facilitator and then it's mentoring and supporting other people in the community to show their leadership and to step up.


Speaker 5: Wow, I've been thinking there are people out there listening who are community leaders, organizing communities. And then there are people listening who more identify as the member of a community. And I see that some folks who join a new group have more success at making friends from that group than others. I'm wondering if you have any recommendations for someone who is a member of a community for how they could approach building friendships within those groups.


Speaker 2: I think that it's really important to be upfront about who you are and what you're looking for. It's a little bit like dating. Like if you're looking for a relationship, but you never say that you're looking for a relationship is going to be hard for anyone to link up with. You got to put out the vibe, you got to put out the vibe. People are nervous sometimes to say, okay, I'm new in the area. I'm trying to make new friends. Or I've been here for two years and I'm still trying to make new friends. You know, it takes risk, but you got to take the risk. You got to tell people, I would love to be closer friends with some of you or to tell one person like I really loved our conversation. Would you be willing to meet up again next week and just have good 20 minute coffee?


Speaker 2: Even if it has to be virtually, because if people don't know what you're looking for or what you're trying to draw into your world, they can't meet you there. They're not psychic. And so being upfront and honest about that is really important. It's going to pull people to you and you need to be invitational with that. Throw out an invitation, be really open. If you say I'm trying to make new friends, but then when someone tries to make plans with you, you're like I'm free in six weeks. That's not gonna work. You gotta be more flexible and more available than that. And the other thing is to be really dedicated because not everyone is gonna work out. One thing I advocate for in the book is using the power of a small group rather than a one-on-one invitation to bring people together. You might invite six people and only two of them come, don't get discouraged. If you don't get the a hundred percent turnout, that's just how it is. And you just need to be really determined to keep going. I love that.


Speaker 5: I'm going to take that advice myself, hearing you say, I really liked our conversation. Would you like to get a coffee? I was like, God, that would make me feel so good. If somebody said that to me, what a simple thing to say, simple and powerful.


Speaker 2: Thank you. So let's shift gears


Speaker 5: And talk about a remarkable community that you started back in 2015 called Bay area, black designers. This group now has 500 members and you've described it as Silicon Valley's largest unofficial for black


Speaker 2: Designers, but it started in your living room with just five or six people. Do you remember the moment you decided to host that first gathering and what motivated getting people together? When I came here, I was doing the new in town thing. I was going to design events and could design meetup. I'm trying to make new friends in my field. And when I went to a lot of these spaces, I would rarely ever see other black designers. And when I did, I was like, Oh my God, there's another one. Because for the first 10 years after college, I only ever met another black female designer. Like one, I got my degree in graphic design. Wow. And most of the jobs I've had, I've been the only black woman in my team or department. And sometimes even on the whole staff. And I want you to imagine what that's like for you.


Speaker 2: Imagine that your whole working career, every job you've ever been, you were the only white woman there. And every conference you go to, you hardly ever see a white woman and definitely not on stage. And when you go to events for your professional community, you hardly ever see another white woman. What does that start to feel strange to you? And it gets lonely. It gets really weird. Whenever I would find another black designer, I wanted to put them in my pocket and be like, let's know each other. When I moved here one day I was on LinkedIn and who knows how things appear in front of me in the internet. But there was this guy who was a black designer and LinkedIn was like, you know, a lot of the same people. And I was like, this is weird. How have I never met this guy?


Speaker 2: I sent him a message. And I was like, Hey, I don't know how we've never met. I hardly ever meet other black designers. Would you want to get coffee? And he was like, yeah, totally. His name was Maurice woods. And he is the founder of the interact project, which is a group that teaches students about design to get them interested in design as a career. He's a black designer here in the Bay. He knew a few other black designers. So he introduced me to them and I was so excited. I was like, we need to, to do this. We need to get together. And they were like, yeah, totally. And I was like, no, I'm serious. And it's only because by this point I've started and run multiple community groups in the past. I was, I'm willing to organize this. This is not hard for me.


Speaker 2: I'm down in the summer of 2015, we got together five or six of us in my living room. We got to know each other as people and heard about how each of us got into design and where we worked and what it was like working there talked about, you know, it's not always easy and it's super exciting to meet each other and to be in a shared space of empathy and recognition. So I was like, I'm willing to host this group every month. It was super organic and have been running it ever since it's grown mostly through word of mouth. I set up the meetup page and a lot of people find it that way the members come they're like cat, you have great SEO. And I'm like, I just named the thing exactly what it is. People will Google that, that they find us. It's funny. Kevin, does this pressure check for if a community specific enough of like, would you raise your hand and know that that is definitely for you based on the name or the description. And I feel like they are a black designers is like, you know, if that's, it's


Speaker 5: Pretty clear category,


Speaker 2: It's really been a labor of love, but also something that's important to me because a lot of us are working in jobs where we're the only one on staff, a lot of people of color leave jobs in STEM and in tech because we are underrepresented and underestimated in this industry, less than 5% of the workforce in tech is black. So we don't see a lot of people who look like us. We don't always have our talents recognized and rewarded, and it can be really alienating in order to cope with that and continue to thrive. We need this strong really supportive community. And it's what we can give each other to grow, to learn, to talk about challenges, to support each other's professional development, and also have a sense of connection with other people who know exactly what it's like to wear that hat.


Speaker 5: And you said that you decided to host it regularly after that first session. How did you know you wanted to do that? Is it because of your past community organizing? Is it because of how it felt in the room? What were your signals to keep going?


Speaker 2: I knew that if you don't have consistency and regularity, a lot of things fizzle out. The few of them who had known each other would maybe have the potluck a couple of times a year. And it was very loose and hard to really get depth, right? It's like building a friendship. If you only see each other twice a year, is that really community? Is that really a friendship? It's a connection of some kind, it's an affiliation, but I'm going for depth. And the way you do that is by being consistent and showing up over and over again with each other and for each other. So to me, that was just a no brainer that it has to be frequent. You need to have a certain frequency if you're going to really stick and gel and grow as well to make an analogy why one of the reasons meeting monthly didn't phase me is one of the very first communities I ran was a literary poetry community in st.


Speaker 2: Augustine, right after I graduated college, I ran that group for four years and we met every other week meeting biweekly for four years was a lab and running that group as a lot. But it was also so joyful though to me meeting monthly was not that hard looking back on it. What I was committing to at that point was producing an event every three to four weeks on top of my regular job for no pay. That was a lot of work. Yeah. But to me, I want it to this community to exist and I wanted it to be a regular part of my life and a regular part of the members' lives. And I just know that's not going to happen if you feel like, okay, well, let's see a leader and have no idea when you're going to see each other. Right.


Speaker 5: Yeah. And I think this is why organizing communities that you personally feel resonant with is so important because organizing something every week or every month, it does take work. But when we talk to people who are really energized by the community's purpose, those leaders get energy from organizing and leave the events with their cup more full than drained by the effort, since it's so important to organize something that you care about because you do have to stick with it. And hopefully you get that added jet fuel each time, instead of it just being a draining task


Speaker 2: That you have to do. Yeah. And for the first three to four years, I was absolutely in that space of getting that job fuel from it and having the space in my life to deliver that when I was working on my book, I did not have the bandwidth to do that. And I tap some other members to be like, are you willing to serve as a leadership committee while I have to step out and finish my book? And they totally had my back now that my book has done I'm back to being in that role of leadership and I'm in a flexible place with it. Now I know that it doesn't have to be super dogmatic. It's okay to be flexible, especially with the state of the world right now, it needs to be supportive to me as well as the people. And so now our timeline is more like eight to 10 times a year, which is still a fair amount.


Speaker 2: And I'm doing more mentorship to cultivate people in the group to organize events, to lead them. I do coaching on how to have a successful event and how to not just handle the logistics for facilitation, because what I want is to empower more people, to develop these leadership skills on their own so that it doesn't always have to fall on me. And so that other people can develop their potential and not just contribute that here, but who knows what they're going to do in the future, where they can take that skill. So that's what my focus is more right now, just to get


Speaker 3: Specific. What are some of the core shared activities that Mary area, black designers organizes? What are some of those events or programs that are special, notable, purposeful for your community?


Speaker 2: We exist for two purposes. One is professional development and the other is community building. Everything that we do falls into one of those buckets, professional development can be anything from doing portfolio reviews, to interviews with folks who've achieved a lot in their career and want to share back their knowledge and guidance. It can be somebody sharing case studies and project work that they've done to describe the challenges they had to overcome their process for being successful. And also early on. And we did a lot of like skill development stuff. It was demoing certain software or teaching people, learning alongside each other, prototyping things and trying out new ideas and showing them to each other and having a safe place to ask questions. If you didn't understand something, cause you know, you're not going to be judged by the people that you're with in the community building bucket. Those are more of the activities. Some might call it fellowship or just casual connection. It's like getting to know each other as people, when we could meet up in person, it would be like happy hour or a potluck at someone's house. I'm sad that we can't have big gatherings right now. Cause in the summer, which is our anniversary, we usually would do like a big picnic out at Lake merit in Oakland. And it was just so much fun to spread out blankets and play music and just talk


Speaker 3: And has the purpose for Bay area black designers that shifted at all over the years has the focus shifted.


Speaker 2: That's our focus. That's what we're here for. Yeah. I'm committed to that. When new members join the group, I share with them, this is what we're here for. And they can see that on the meetup page, before they joined, they can see what we're about. Our code of conduct, our expectations. So they know what they're signing up for. And when I survey members, those are the two things that they continue to say. What's valuable. I believe their applications to the group still. What do you look for in those applications? What is that process like? And what do you look for from people who are asking to join the group? Are they in the Bay area? Are they black designer or aspiring designers? That's basically it it's like, do you identify as these things? And I also ask a few questions to make sure that these applications are from real people, that they're a fit for the group and that what they're looking for aligns with what we're here to do.


Speaker 2: And also the fact that the word designer means a lot of different things. So you could be an interior designer or a fashion designer. But for our context, what we mean is you are a user experience designer, a visual designer or UI designer or design researcher. And because for the bulk of our existence, it's been so much about getting together face to face. That's why I limited it to the Bay area because I'm sure there are black designers in Berlin. But if I want to meet up with you, like that's going to be a lot harder to do so local, it's been five years now that you started this community. And now there are hundreds of people. You've had a number of events and effected a lot of people's lives. What has this community brought to you? How has it changed you or affected you professionally or personally?


Speaker 2: It's super validating to have been able to not just connect with the initial group of people who came to the group, but to see the way that it's grown over time and to have new members say, Oh my gosh, I was really looking for this. I'm so glad that this exists. I never thought there would be a group like this. I know what that feels like to wish for a group of people or a community or a space to bring a very nuanced experience. It's a very unique thing to be in the Bay area and to be black and to be a designer. So it's validating to me when the group meets some of the needs of people who are coming to us and I get the same things from it as the members do with having that safe space to share what's wrong or to celebrate black excellence with other people that look like me, that's not something the world is providing for us. So we have to make it for ourselves frequently. It's a joy to share that


Speaker 3: This just reminds me of a quote that I saw of yours in interview, which was remember that you're not alone. If you feel the need for a community group that you don't have access to, chances are, you're not the only one who wants it. If you can't find it, create it. And I thought that's beautiful. It's a call to action. It also acknowledging that sometimes there's a unfortunate, real challenge that there might not be a group that is currently organized, that will feed you in the way that you're seeking at the moment. And it takes leaders like you and people willing to take the first step to create it, to start the fire.


Speaker 2: Thank you, Kat. We like to ask anyone who comes on the podcast. If you had a magic wand and you could conjure anything for the Bay area, black designers community, what would you ask for? I would have asked for a lot of things, cause the magic wand only give one thing or can I ask for a lot? You go for it,


Speaker 3: The classic magic one group home or at my first away she's 10,000 more wishes.


Speaker 2: Well, the first thing I would ask is for every company who only has one black designer on staff to 10 X fat, by the end of next year, I want none of us to ever feel like we're the only one in any more spaces for the rest of our careers because white designers don't have to go through that experience. Neither should black does energy should let next designer neither should queer designers in too many ways. We're tokenized on the spaces that we get hired to, or the stages we get asked to speak on anyone who wants to include black designers needs to make sure they're not just including one and checking a box. Also people who want to support black designers should hire us, but not be so reactionary. Don't just come knocking on our door because you want to suddenly improve that you stand with black lives matter.


Speaker 2: They need to look at the entire landscape. When you look at all of the steps to get to that place where you're working as a professional black designer, there were so many things that had to come before that. And I would wish for people to support black youth and youth of color along that entire process. That's everything from design education to looking at the school to prison pipeline. And how about investing in the school to the tech careers pipeline invest in under resourced communities in schools and look at what it takes to support black people at every step along that path so that we can get to those doors that lead to careers as designers. And if they have black designers on staff, treat us really well. Don't just hire us to the generic product designer role, make sure that you're putting black people in your VP of design role and your head of design role so that we can not only have that unlimited success that's available to white designers, but so that we can also serve as role models to the youth.


Speaker 2: We should give those youth dozens of role models. It shouldn't just be like, Oh, there's one. He made it. Or she made it supporting the black design community. Doesn't just mean giving a donation to be ABD. It means looking at all of these other ways throughout the scaffolding to this role and to our experience within company and supporting black designers at all of those levels. Awesome. Thank you for the work that you're doing. And I'm glad to know you through this in our intense design sprint that we're sharing and excited to see what you have ahead of you as well. You have forged so many projects into the world and it's just inspiring to see how you realize things that you want. So thank you for letting us interview and thank you for the time. Yeah, thanks for having me on the show and thanks for amplifying black voices and promoting the beautiful work that we do in the world.


Speaker 3: If you want to connect with cat, head to dot com, K a T V E L L O You can buy her book at, we should get or get involved with Bay area black designers at Bay area, black


Speaker 2: Not more about the work Kevin Kai and I do. As people in company, helping organizations get clearer on who their most important are


Speaker 5: And how to build with those people. You can head over to our website, people Also, if you want to start your own community like cat, we have a guide book for you. Visit get together to grab your copy. That's full of stories and learnings from conversations with community leaders like this one with cat. Oh,


Speaker 1: And last and final thing. You don't mind. If you enjoyed this podcast, please review us or click subscribe in the podcast, helps these stories. Get out to more people. See you next time.