Andrea Burton on riot grrrl and a dream dinner with Lena Waithe
We’re celebrating our LGBTQIA+ teammates this Pride Month with a series of interviews, starting with our Abstract Design Advocate.
History has shown us that design, products, and employment have not been equally accessible to people of all backgrounds. However, Abstract is committed to changing this past by bringing in talent with a diversity of lived experiences that help us build a stronger product and a more open and connected world. This Pride Month, I’m honored to celebrate my LGBTQIA+ community in and outside of Abstract.
As part of our celebration this month, I interviewed our colleague and Design Advocate Andrea Burton. Andrea shares more about their experience finding themselves in the ’90s riot grrrl scene in Portland, Oregon, how that led to a design career, and all of the support they had along the way.
What personal passions bring you to Abstract?
I’m an extrovert and love connecting with people around design because I’m passionate about how design teams work and function. I love being able to be part of an awesome company that validates and stands behind who I am as a queer person. I have done a lot of work to be who I am and fighting to be comfortable in myself. Working with Abstract customers and our amazing team makes me excited to be here.
What are you most proud of in your life and career?
In my personal life, I’m honored and proud to be a stepparent. Raising a stepdaughter who is growing up today has been such a gift and a life lesson. Although it brings its challenges, she fills me with hope and love daily.
In my career, I’m proud that I didn't stay in just one place. I’m from North Carolina but got an itch to go to the West Coast, so I ended up in Portland, Oregon, for eight years. I worked as a designer for 15 years before I learned that I most enjoyed talking about design and workflow. I share my experience on design teams by mentoring designers who are entering the field.
I like to focus mentorship on women, non-binary and trans folx, and people of color in tech. Specifically, those who've had a hard time breaking through the barriers. I mentored one of my best friends who went from being a waitress to a user experience designer (and is three UX jobs in). She’s even getting her team to adopt Abstract! When I worked for Target, I did a lot of mentoring of junior designers and others looking to break into UX.
I'm also passionate about teaching younger generations about the design field and brought designers into my my stepdaughter's elementary school to teach them more about how to think like a designer. There is so much focus on learning to code, which is great, but I want kids to know that engineering is not the only job in tech to which they can aspire.
What have been your biggest takeaways or was most empowering from your coming-out journey?
It took me a long time to figure out who I am, who I had things in common with, and to find people I related with in popular culture. The first gay people I ever really saw were on MTV’s The Real World years ago, and it was mostly men. When I was in high school, Ellen wasn't even out.
I was so young and didn’t know what I was doing. Around my late teens / early 20s, I started exploring, shaved my head, and then came out. It wasn't until I moved to Portland, a queer mecca that ignited the ’90s riot grrrl scene, that I found myself and my community. I wanted to see other people who looked like me. Being a queer musician and needing the music people were creating, Portland became my home and community. As we get older, I am amazed to see the younger generation being able to be who they are so much earlier in their life. I’m grateful for so much of the world supporting them in finding their identities.
Who have been the biggest champions in your life? Why?
I immediately think of my wife. Although we work in different fields — me in tech and her in sexual health care — we are very supportive of one another and our careers. She just landed her dream job as the Regional Director for Planned Parenthood in the Twin Cities. We help one another understand ourselves as queer professionals growing and wanting to be successful in the workplace.
Also, my best friend, Chad. He and I met through the music world and now talk a few days a week. I used to be a queer musician touring around the country playing gay bars and dance nights, and he and his bandmate helped me get my start. He drove trucks for five years and I work in the design field. Even though we lead different lives, he's always cheering me on and I’m always super proud of him.
You get to have dinner with one person — famous or not. Who do you choose and what would you ask them?
I want to have dinner with Lena Waithe. She is a badass icon who honors the queer experience through her being and representation. I would just love to hang out with her and talk about where we have been and where we are going.