Annika Hansteen-Izora is a queer, Black designer creating spaces that centre and celebrate people of colour
From her own experiences of being “silenced and ignored in white spaces”, the American designer has stepped forward to create an inclusive space within the creative industry.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 July 2020
Creating constantly shifting and expanding works, Annika Hansteen-Izora is a Black and queer creative director, graphic and UI designer, and even a poet. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and someone who steps forth the gravitas and a multi-medium approach to creativity. “I think boxes are boring,” she tells It’s Nice That, “and I’d rather break them apart and create something new than ever fit myself into one.” As such, Annika’s portfolio spans design, poetry, music, digital mediums, food and making communal art spaces. “I look to each of these mediums to inspire my creativity, they all feed and loop into one another.”
Having grown up in the West Coast, Annika was born in Palo Alto, California, and moved to the suburbs of Sacramento while in primary school. Then, Portland, Oregon is where she landed as a middle-schooler and started learning the ropes of each from her dad. “My siblings and I started playing around with computers and video games early,” she says, “which sparked my curiosity in how digital mediums can be used to tell stories.” The thing is, Annika never quiet set out to be a designer, but looking back it was something that she was always interested in. Self-taught and constantly experimenting with the tools around her, she learned much of what she knows through creating her own zines and concert posters.
In 2013, Annika went to Oberlin College with the determination to become a UX researcher, before ending up with a degree in sociology and a triple minor in Africana, Gender and Feminist, as well as Comparative American Studies. “What had the biggest impact on me and my design career, wasn’t my academic studies; it was the concert venue I worked at throughout my time at Oberlin as a student,” she says. Called The Cat in Cream, the venue offered free performances to the local community and Annika joined the staff in making sure that it would bring in more Black and brown artists – specifically those that identified as queer, trans, women or femme. “It was there that I learned that I wanted to bring both my love for creating community and creating art, together.”
Next, Annika gained some experience as a UX researcher in Portland and decided to pursue something more creative – as a result, she packed up and moved to New York last year to figure out what she could lend her hands to in the creative industry. Turns out, she flourished; Annika landed various roles in art direction and design, and eventually she took the plunge as a freelancer. Then, after producing a conference on mental health care for people colour, she was offered the role to design the identity for the launch of Ethel’s Club – a social and wellness club for people of colour. “As a queer and Black designer, designing for Ethel’s Club was a dream project,” she says. “Creating spaces that centre and celebrate people of colour has always been the core of so much of my work. As a queer Black designer, who has often been silenced and ignored in white spaces, it was a dream to be able to come into a space where I could be my full self and translate that celebration into design.”
From this, Somewhere Good – a “family of brands that centre people of colour through community, arts and culture” – evolved into a trilogy of brands, including Ethel’s Club, a digital membership and new platform, Ethel’s Club Shop, as well as Form No Form, a 24-hour content channel that features artists of colour. Each focuses its content and playful branding, designs and content on celebrating people of colour. Somewhere Good, for example, has a brand style that is “bold, playful and unapologetic”, producing designs that evolves a sense of joy. Meanwhile, Ethel’s Club beholds a physical and digital marketplace of goods made by artisans of colour. The first brand, Annika says how it was “especially centred on the joy and change that occurs when people of colour have a safe space to gather, create and heal”. And last but not least, Form No Form is a multi-media brand that celebrates people of colour across film, music and art, broadcasting content “all day, every day”. There’s also a shop where you can buy directly from the filmmakers who are featured on the site.
Evidently, the work that Annika puts out into the world is vast and necessary. Each of these three platform has a sole purpose of celebrating and providing a space for people of colour to share their work and to be surrounded by others. Ethel’s Club, in particular, was founded on the “mission to be a space of healing and creativity” and, in the light on the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and many others, Annika and her team wanted to “provide a space for Black people to come together, breathe and heal with our community,” she says. “This space is vital because Black and brown people are so often pushed out of or silenced in white spaces. We not only deserve spaces where we can celebrate our full selves, it’s our right.”
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.