Spotlight on Black Designers: Design Thinking and Speculative Futures




Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Victor Morgenstern Pitch 3137 South Federal Street, Chicago, IL 60616
Spotlight on Black Designers

A talk and workshop co-hosted by DePaul University School of Design and IIT Institute of Design in celebration of Black History Month featuring Lesley-Ann Noel.


Can speculation about the future provide a platform for agency and empowerment of oppressed individuals? In this presentation, Lesley-Ann Noel will share how design curriculum can at times be unintentionally exclusive. She will then share several experiments in creating inclusive design curricula that add utopia, speculation, and super heroism to design in different contexts. The work is grounded in the principles of critical pedagogy, design thinking, and Critical Utopian Action Research, a framework in which people critique where they are, dream about the future they want, and figure out how they want to get there. Focus on the future helped the stakeholders to visualize their desired futures and to create action to achieve their goals. The experiences demonstrate how dreaming about the future can create an inclusive design environment that inspires communities of color and be a tool for the liberation of oppressed people.

About Lesley-Ann Noel 

As the associate director for Design Thinking for Social Impact and Professor of Practice, Noel teaches design thinking courses for the Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship minor and is building Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking's capacity for design-thinking education through facilitations, consultations, and trainings. Before joining Taylor, Noel was part of the 2018–2019 Ocean Design Teaching Fellowship, a cohort of fellows that brought deep experience in design, ocean science, and international policy. The Ocean Design Teaching Fellow program is co-hosted with the Stanford, where she also served as a lecturer. In her professional practice, she draws on the fields of design, anthropology, business, and education to create product development and business strategy with stakeholders. Her research practice is guided by an emancipatory philosophy. Noel focuses on developing design curriculum for non-traditional audiences and promoting the work of designers outside of Europe and North America. She has exhibited work at design exhibitions in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Brazil, Germany, France, and the United States. She has presented peer-reviewed papers at design conferences in the Caribbean, the U.S., the UK, and India. Noel completed her Ph.D. in design at North Carolina State University in 2018. Her Ph.D. research focused on design thinking at a rural primary school in Trinidad and Tobago. She also holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of the West Indies and a bacharelado (equivalent to bachelor’s degree) in industrial design from Universidade Federal do Paraná. Noel is a former Fulbright Scholar and a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago.


Following the talk, DePaul University Assistant Professor Christina Harrington will moderate a panel discussion featuring:

  • Allen Turner, professional lecturer, DePaul University—a game designer, storyteller, artist, dancer, and author of Black/Lakota/Irish descent, Turner believes in the power of play and story as fundamental, powerful medicines that shape our sense of self
  • Noel, associate director for Design Thinking for Social Impact and Professor of Practice, Tulane University—Noel is a Professor of Practice in Design Thinking and the Associate Director of Design Thinking for Social Impact at the Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University in New Orleans. Her work focuses on emancipatory and critical design thinking and design methods, on the experiences of people who are often excluded from research, and on building a greater critical awareness among designers and design students
  • Chris Rudd, visiting clinical professor, Illinois Tech—Rudd is an instructor and lead of community-led design for the Chicago Design Lab, where his work focuses on co-designing with community stakeholders. As both a designer and community organizer focused on social equity, systems change, and youth development, Rudd has a deep understanding of how design can be used to transform communities
  • Jiani Sapathy, master’s student, Illinois Tech—originally from Ghana, Sapathy is a Chicago-based designer currently studying at Illinois Tech's Institute of Design. She is particularly interested in data-driven post-colonial futures, indigenous design, and designing for systems of equity
  • Sheena Erete, associate professor, DePaul University—Erete is an associate professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University and co-director of the Technology for Social Good Research and Design Lab. With a background in computer and social science, she is an expert in understanding how to situate and evaluate the use of technologies in resource-constrained communities to address issues such as violence, civic engagement, health, and STEM education. Erete has a Ph.D. in Technology and Social Behavior (a joint degree in computer science and communication) from Northwestern University, a masters in computer science from Georgia Tech, and bachelor degrees in computer Science and mathematics from Spelman College.


  • 6–6:30 p.m.: Networking
  • 6:30–7:30 p.m.: Speaker: Lesley-Ann Noel
  • 7:30–8:30 p.m.: Panel Discussion
  • 8:30–9 p.m.: Reception

Getting to Campus