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Creative Visions From Asian and Pacific Islander Americans We Admire

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May 28 2021

What you make is who you are. For many designers, creativity is rooted in identity. Our personalities and outlooks, where we grew up, and all of the experiences we’ve ever gone through in life get filtered and expressed through the things we create. And—perhaps even more importantly—our identities impact why we create, helping us find meaning and purpose in our creative work.

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) in the U.S., we're sharing reflections from some of the incredible creatives who continue to inspire us. Here, they share insight on what drives them and their goals for the future—bound to, centered in, and empowered by their unique identities.

Adamu Chan
Writer, Filmmaker, and Community Organizer

Adamu Chan is a formerly incarcerated writer and filmmaker whose work is shaped by his connections to community. He’s written for Slate about the impact of COVID-19 on prisons, and has published a short film from within San Quentin. He sees his role as a catalyst to drive change in society.

“Culture and history are our collective memory, and history is usually shaped by dominant groups. Art has historically been one of the only avenues for marginalized peoples to participate in dominant discourses, and so I believe it is the job of artists to produce cultural projects that propel political and social transformation. I would like to be remembered as someone who helped move our world towards being more equitable, just, and inclusive.

If we are committed to transforming ourselves and our society, it is important to hear the stories of those who have always lived at the margins, because they hold the answers to what is broken, and in their stories of survival are the solutions we are seeking.”

Kimberly Ang
CEO and founder of of KAYA

Kimberly Ang is the founder and CEO of KAYA, an app that connects climbers and helps them track and get insights from their workouts. Prior to that, she led IDEO’s Design for Health portfolio. Today, Kimberly is focused on forging a path so that others like her feel welcome within the climbing community.

“Looking ahead, there are three changes we’re focused on: 1) Democratize access to the insights and coaching people need to learn how to climb and climb well 2) Celebrate a much more diverse range of climbers to show everyone they can be included in this community and 3) Take care of our public lands and ensure we grow sustainably.

I hope to be remembered as leading with heart and being myself, and creating space for others to do the same.”

Anupama Rao
Communications Designer and Behavioral Science Practitioner

Anupama Rao is the creator behind BrainGoo, a library of visual storytelling sequences (often in the form of Instagram posts and stories) that explain complex words and make observations about the world. In her day job, she’s a Design Researcher at Qure.ai. Her work is fueled by a desire to make healthcare access more equitable and compassionate.

“I work in the intersection between the future of design and behavioral science so that I get the chance to tackle wicked problems, especially those focused on women’s rights and healthcare, via small incremental changes. I’m fueled by my experience as my mother’s primary caregiver from a young age. The idea is to work towards inclusive design by consciously accounting for representation, systemic inequalities, social biases, and lack of access.

Currently, as a designer at Qure.ai, I work with experts to create AI products that make healthcare affordable and accessible, which is equal parts challenging, overwhelming, and rewarding. I love seeing how design can play a role. For example, can designing this report differently save a healthcare professional 10 seconds? What factors influence a crowded ER when a patient is having a stroke? How can I make this relevant to a low-resource, sparsely populated village?

I want the legacy of my work to be its empathy for the context it lives in, and its ability to create sustainable and positive behavior change.”

Michelle Lee
Managing Director, Design For Play at IDEO

Michelle Lee leads the Design for Play studio at IDEO, where she designs actual toys—but also finds ways to bring games and play into other unexpected industries, like education and health.

“My initial career in toy design taught me that play has potential far beyond the world of kids and toys. Through play, we stretch our imaginations, conquer our fears, realize new possibilities and take on challenges with optimism and confidence. It enables us to find meaning and happiness in the world. At IDEO, I lead a team that harnesses this power of play to ensure that aging is joyful, education is engaging and environmental action is inspiring.

I see the future in bringing play to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges—helping people thrive mentally and physically, building inclusive communities and helping to elevate voices that are often unheard. Driving lasting change by aligning these important issues with what brings people joy.”

Want to learn more, and get inspired by other Asian and Pacific Islander creatives? Follow the #AsianCreativeNetwork tag on social media, and check out our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month series on Instagram.

  • Ali Cottong

    Marketing, IDEO San Francisco
    Ali is a content strategist with roots in telling stories for deep tech. She originally earned her nerd cred as a former world-class Quidditch player and has competed in the Quidditch World Cup twice. Ali currently lives in Oakland and has traded in her broomstick for a bike.
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