Byron Wilson
Designer and Lecturer

Byron Wilson

Byron Wilson is the owner of Empty Set, a design consultancy for the world’s leading healthcare organizations and R&D labs.

Elizabeth Bayne: In ArtCenter’s 90-year history, there have only been 300 black alumni — what's your genuine reaction?

Byron Wilson (MS ‘12 GradID): Equal parts bitterness and joy. I'm proud to be a graduate and faculty of ArtCenter. But I'm a firm believer talent is everywhere. The joy is that I got to be one of the 300. But that's not all there is; that's not all there was.

EB: Do you see that number as a deficit or a sign of progress?

BW: It's certainly a deficit; there's no other way to see it.

EB: Is it important to improve those numbers, and why?

BW: I think it's vastly important. I don't have the magic answer. I think it would be fair for me to critique my own history to say, had I known some things a little bit earlier, I could've been looking earlier. I think the creative industry has nothing but abundance to offer anybody who's prepared to step into it. I didn't know that. I think that the sooner you can tell a child that, the better.

EB: You didn't start in design — you started in a different capacity, right?

BW: I knew I wanted to affect the world through healthcare. To put it simply, healthcare can be better. Since I was about 14, I did everything I could to put myself in a position to be a practitioner. I had an undergraduate degree in biology, and was on my way to becoming a physician. I saw that there might be a better way for me — because I had an analytical mind, as well as a creative mind. So I came to ArtCenter to try to shape the creative aspect of me, with the goal of putting them back together.

EB: What do you do now?

BW: I have a consulting company Empty Set; we create new value in healthcare. I work with large-scale organizations: pharmaceutical and provider. If you're in healthcare and you have more than 10,000 employees, my team can be really useful if you want to do something different.

EB: Why did you choose ArtCenter?

BW: The sister relationship with Caltech. While I was at ArtCenter, I studied at both colleges at the same time. I wanted to put the two worlds back together when I was done forming my creative side. So I needed to stay somewhat astute, analytically.

EB: What was your first impression when you arrived on campus?

BW: The director of my department told me on the first day, "Byron, I think you'll find this program is going to be just like med school without the blood." I think he was right.

EB: Were you the only black person in your department when you started?

BW: I was fortunate enough to be in the same cohort as Kevin Bethune. So together, we got to be one and two.

EB: Did you have a favorite teacher?

BW: I think my favorite teacher was Richard Keyes, just a brilliant man. He taught me the basics of story. I knew nothing about story, and it opened up an appetite to learn more. It's a tool that I go to regularly in my work, even in healthcare. Most of the folks who are making the large-scale decisions that impact thousands, sometimes millions of people, haven't considered the story of the change that they want to make. My creative background allows me to help craft the right story.

EB: Do you consider yourself a black designer?

BW: I'm a black man and a designer. So thereby, I am a black designer. It means that I bring to everything that I do, all that I am. I'm a black man. So everything's going to have that spin on it. To separate them, I think it's disingenuous. It's not how I was raised. It's not what I know. It doesn't feel comfortable.

EB: How has ArtCenter impacted your life and influenced your career?

BW: ArtCenter has certainly allowed me to live my truth. I think it's a misconception that's an easy thing to do. It's not without the stretching of oneself, and you've got to know how to do that. ArtCenter gifted that to me; it allowed me to step into my truth.

*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams

I bring to everything that I do, all that I am. I'm a Black man. So everything's going to have that spin on it. To separate them, I think it's disingenuous."

Byron Wilson (MS ‘12 GradID) Designer & Lecturer

About the Series

In ArtCenter's 90-year history there have only been approximately 300 Black alumni. Impact 90/300, a documentary by Elizabeth Gray Bayne, profiles 25 of them. This series revisits each interview from the film, originally created for ArtCenter DTLA's 90/300 Exhibition.

From Words to Action

ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives