Crystal McKenzie: A Design Pioneer, Still One Step Ahead of the Pack

by Atim Annette Oton

This year as I come back to Huffington Post Black Voices with a regular monthly posting, I took time off to conceive a project, The Creative Side Fashion and Design Incubator, and return to blogging to look at pioneers in the design industry and emerging designers across the African Disapora. The Design Talks of the African Disapora is a series of talks and conversations I am having to educate, inform and acknowledge the path designers are taking across the globe. The first designer is New York-based Crystal McKenzie.

How does one really write about a black woman designer who has quietly since 1980 built and kept a robust practice, stayed essentially humble and focused like a radar in her field of practice? It begins, I would say, with her upbringing and her education at Cooper Union, New York University and Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Milano). And it emanates from her choice to start in environmental design and graphics while her counterparts headed to the ever popular arena of corporate design work.


Most importantly, she says it is a testament to the mentorship of Edgar A. Fitt, a pioneer African-American designer who worked for IBM in the late ’60s (see here) and John Morning, a graphic designer in since 1960 specializing in publications and materials for leading arts, cultural and philanthropic institutions, now an active philanthropist; both guided her well (see here). From both of them, she learned the lessons of having a broad perspective, success and failure.

“Driven” is an understatement to describe Crystal McKenzie. She has built a firm from herself to a range of 14-25 people in an industry where the average firm size is 1-2 people including the owner. As a multimillion dollar business providing three distinctive services that are equally divided in the work her company does: communications and marketing; web and interactive design, and environmental graphics, Crystal McKenzie, Inc. has an evenly distributed list of government, private sector and non-profit clientele. She prides herself with working with like-minded people, focused on team building and skill sets and has a long standing relationship with consultants and strategic partners.

Read the rest on my Huffington Post Blog


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