Profiles in Design: Dorothy Oge
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 09/21/2020 | 6 Minute Read
Creative Director Dorothy Oge didn’t have designers like her to look up to when she was younger—specifically designers who looked like her, a Black female.
Despite this lack of representation to admire, she’s had an immensely successful career, landing jobs at companies like Victoria’s Secret (during which time they won multiple FiFi Awards) and Avon. And although she’s worked extensively in the beauty realm, she’s just as experienced in the worlds of premium liquor, fashion accessories, home decor, and more.
Her interest in design began in New York, in the middle of it all—Times Square. “My mom and dad worked at the United Nations, and we used to take the D train into the city, and we would get off and walk through Times Square,” she said. “There was this huge Kodak sign smack dab off of 42nd Street, and I thought, ‘That is so cool. I want to do that one day.’”
A high school teacher of hers explained that what she saw in Times Square was graphic design, so that’s just what Dorothy majored in when she went to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Through one of her teachers there, she managed to get her first job out of school at environmental design firm POULIN + MORRIS.
“They're very reputable and known all around the country, and it was major to get a job there out of college,” Dorothy said. “I was finding the locations that I was going to be designing signage for, and I had to make sure that where I was plotting matched up with the floor plans of the building and such. I worked on signage for AOL Time Warner Center in New York City, a little bit of NYU, and the Clinton Presidential Library.”
Although it was a well-respected position, it wasn’t quite what Dorothy wanted long-term. It wasn’t until she landed a job at Force Majeure (formerly Raison Pure) that she became introduced to the beauty space where she went on to work with brands like Dove, Unilever, and several European fragrance brands.
“What drew me to beauty was that it was such a fast-paced industry,” Dorothy said. “It was fun and exciting because there was always something new on the horizon. Also, a lot of what was going on in beauty was inspired by fashion and things going on around the world. So when you look at beauty packaging, it’s also culturally relevant.”
Not only are there very few Black female packaging designers, but BIPOC representation in the beauty world leaves much to be desired. Throughout her career, Dorothy has often been the only Black person at the table, and as a result, she does the extra labor to make sure her projects are inclusive.
“The projects that I love are the ones that include inclusivity and diversity,” she explained. “So if I'm doing a photoshoot, I want to do a photoshoot that embraces Black beauty or does embrace another style of hair. While working at Avon, a lot of the team were non-white. That's one of the reasons why I loved working at Avon because I got to work on projects that were really inclusive.”
Not all brands or companies achieve the diversity that Avon offers, though, and Dorothy has naturally faced added hurdles as a Black woman in design. Yet she’s managed to have a 20+ year career, win multiple awards, and have over ten patents for her packaging designs. She attributes this resilience to her ability to stay open with the people she works with. “I’ve always been okay with giving my opinion when it came to designs in a critique or a marketing meeting or something collaborative."
“I love working with people, but not being scared to speak has helped me along the way," she added.
Dorothy also remembers what it was like to be young and not having a female designer that looked like her to look up to, which is what makes one of her upcoming projects so exciting. The partnership between Essence and Ulta, called Girls United, takes high school students from around the country that have an interest in the beauty industry and walks them through the steps to launching a brand. Dorothy met with the girls to discuss packaging design in the beauty space and design the packaging for their products, which will be sold in Ulta stores. “I’m really excited about that collaboration,” she gushed. “The series comes out in October.”
According to a 2019 design census, only 3% of designers across multiple disciplines are Black, and it’s precisely why projects and partnerships similar to this are so critical right now. Now, more than ever, Black voices in design need amplification, and it doesn’t just start with recruiting eager high school kids—it needs to happen much earlier than that.
Dorothy believes wholeheartedly in getting young, Black children involved in design and art through education. When those opportunities aren’t presented, young people don’t know the world of possibilities in the variety of fields they can pursue, or even where to start and turn a dream into something real. Design initiatives (such as Where are the Black Designers and Hue Design Summit) aim to get more Black people out there and talking to youth about career opportunities in design.
“I missed that as a kid. No one came and told me, ‘Hey, you can be a designer,’” Dorothy said. By being vocal in these programs, she hopes to help young, non-white people see that a massively successful career in design is possible, and all that it entails.
“I’m a Black designer with twenty years’ experience, but you rarely see Black designers. So it’s important. More people need to be part of the conversation to be in it.”