Growing up, we were told to dream big, that nothing was impossible with the power of imagination, that we could become anything we wanted to be.
However, we were also taught to color within the lines, that the sky is blue, the grass is green, the sun is yellow, etc. I even remember my kindergarten teacher going around the room with a box of “skin-colored” crayons to give each of us after matching the crayon color to our skin, so that we can create more realistic portraits of ourselves.
I know that our teachers mean well, but when I look back on those moments, it seems like even though we were taught to never be afraid to be different and imaginative, and that we’re all equals, we were also implicitly taught the opposite.
We were taught that those who “fit in” were “normal,” and being normal meant that you would belong and have friends. We were taught that we could color pictures the way we wanted to, but those who followed the rules — coloring neatly within the lines with a blue sky and green grass — would be rewarded with their work being displayed in more prominent places. We were taught the differences between people — how boys and girls are different, how people have different skin colors, hair colors, glasses, etc. — and how one may be perceived as more favorable than the other. We were also taught that there’s only one way to success — getting a college degree and finding a stable 9-to-5 job after.
These limitations and ”rules” that we learned have become “boxes” that we’re “trapped” in if we decide to conform to “societal norms” and stick to the “status quo.”
But why do we have to conform to these “rules” that have limited us in so many ways, why can’t we live outside the boxes others have built for us? Why not go beyond those lines to challenge the status quo, break those glass ceilings, and help create a more diverse and inclusive world? Why not redefine what society sees as “normal”?
To reflect the idea of living outside your box, I created the design below. The design was originally inspired by the graffiti wall in BTS’s Dynamite music video and Epik High’s 2019 tour merchandise, and looked like this:
There are two sets of colors: the ones in square boxes and the ones on the “graffiti wall.” The colors in the squares are the same as the ones used for people emojis. They represent how people racial stereotype us and how it has limited us from reaching our full potential at times. The colors on the graffiti wall flow off of the wall and represent how we should live — outside those boxes and breaking down those barriers to our success.
There were a few problems with this initial design though. The wall was still too “boxy,” and didn’t really show the idea of living outside the box; there should be another way to show this. We are also limited by more than just the color of our skin. We’re also judged by our gender identity, sexuality, and disabilities, and since these are some of the many things that limit us, shouldn’t there be a box around them too?
This lead to the final iteration of the design:
I decided to remove the mask I originally had on the design to make it a box, and instead put a black rectangular outline to replace the box. With the box removed and the black rectangle outline on top of the design, it better represents the idea of living outside your box, and how there’s nothing wrong with coloring outside the lines of your coloring book.
I also added a black outline to the squares that represent the things that we are limited by to future emphasize how conforming to how the world sees us is similar to coloring within the lines. In addition to the skin colors for the squares, I also added other colors that represent that we are discriminated by, which was inspired by the EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) form that we fill out for job applications. The baby pink and baby blue boxes represent our gender identity and the rainbow box is inspired by the pride flag represents our sexuality. The burgundy, teal, and green boxes represent the awareness ribbon colors for different disabilities. The green and teal ones are “hidden” because they are the awareness ribbon colors of hidden disabilities related to mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder.
To help encourage others to live outside their boxes, just like I did when I decided to pursue UX design, I am selling this design on hoodies and t-shirts.
I will be donating part of the profits to three non-profits!
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC): As an Asian American, I wanted to give back to my community and help “create a more just America for all,” especially with the rise of anti-Asian sentiments with COVID-19.
- Teach for America: We need to have equal opportunities for education to live outside our boxes and break the status quo. It is through education equity that we can help create a brighter future where there are no more glass ceilings left to shatter.
- Malala Fund: The Malala Fund was founded “ to champion every girl’s right to 12 years of free, safe, quality education.” Every girl should have the right to learn so that she can one day lead the world.
You can support these causes by donating to them directly by clicking the links to their website, or by purchasing my design here, and I challenge you to live outside your boxes, too.