Entrepreneur, designer, full-stack developer & founder of Noon Studios.
Toni is a 18 year old designer, full-stack web developer, and innovator who works on products, websites and has an entrepreneur mindset. She runs Noon, a creative studio dedicated to solving problems in innovative ways. She has built and launched several products and services, such as Exposure Cards and Scaleboot, and is currently working on a platform to diversify Twitter by suggesting users to follow from different backgrounds.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity means, to me, the inclusion and representation of the different members of an heterogeneous society within a certain environment. This leads to different perspectives, experiences and ideas, which are particularly helpful in the workplace in particular. It is not something that, in my opinion, should only be enforced to satisfy and give opportunities to people from all backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, cultures and more, but also to guarantee that everything that we create and organize doesn’t exclude or harm any group, especially when it comes to minorities, the underprivileged and the oppressed.
How can we build more inclusive communities?
Over the past years, I have been part of uncountable communities in multiple areas, where I have met a lot of people I still am in touch today. Despite being incredibly helpful to me when it came to learning, getting inspired or simply having fun, it is true that most of them had a serious problem in terms of diversity, as they were pretty homogeneous and everyone was hesitant to include anybody who was not like them. In order to be included myself, I have hid my own identity and persona, changing my own personality to fit in and pretending to be somebody I was not.
This gave me immeasurable opportunities I would have certainly missed otherwise, but it made me realize the absurdity of excluding people based on their gender, background or culture, considering I frequently was an appraised and loved person in the communities I took part in.
It is very important that communities are diverse, as otherwise they can easily become a hive mind, limit opportunities for the underprivileged, and most importantly, generate a group of people isolated from the heterogeneity of society which can have offensive views towards other groups, since they don’t have a diversity of thought and experience within the collective.
In order to achieve a diversified community, it is crucial to make an effort to find and invite underrepresented people, be open and transparent, and most importantly, be friendly and accepting of different perspectives and ideas. Expecting those people to simply join the communities is often unrealistic, considering that they might not feel welcome due to their past experience or simply afraid and self-conscious about it. In order to make it easier for them, it would be helpful to explicitly state that the community is open to all sorts of people, or showing the diversity within the group, as they could more easily associate with a certain individual who has a similar background to theirs and feel more welcome.
What inspired you to start your current journey?
As a kid, I was very curious about the world that surrounded me and what I could do to have a positive impact on it. I admired great thinkers, inventors and personalities whose contributions to society were substantial and brought great changes and improvements to the whole world. It was a dream of mine to create something meaningful that would help people and make their lives easier. Because of this, I started thinking from an early age about what I could do to accomplish this goal.
Since I was an extremely creative person, I began my journey by working on games, art, animations and much later, graphic design. I mostly created the first thing that came to mind, without thinking about what use or reception it could have – I was simply doing this to satisfy myself. Later on, I realized that I wasn’t the most artistic person (I am terrible at drawing) and I didn’t know or like games enough to keep making them. On the other hand, graphic design proved to be something I both loved and could do well, since I could work on it digitally with multiple tools, like Photoshop or Illustrator.
Although I was satisfied with what I was doing and even started doing freelance design work, I realized that it would be very difficult for my dream to be accomplished as a designer, since I wasn’t really having such a big impact on society – I was only making things more aesthetically pleasing and easier to use and understand. This inspired me to build and develop utilities and products: these can directly influence society, and thus radically change the world we live in.
What is your advice to other young people starting their career or entrepreneurial journey?
Looking back, I would say what made it the hardest for me to begin my journey as a designer, maker and entrepreneur were my lack of action, orientation and having no support network to give me feedback or advice. I was an extreme perfectionist, with an enormous fear of failure, and due to that I spent most of my time researching, planning out what I would be doing and admiring what others were creating, thinking I could never manage to do that.
This attitude set me back for a long time, since despite having lots of ideas and motivation, I barely ever took the risk of creating what I had in mind, and thus I could not improve as I wasn’t learning from my mistakes – something that everyone has to go through to improve. It is very important to take action and try to do anything your mind challenges you to. No matter how extravagant or ambitious your ideas might be, it doesn’t hurt to try! In fact, a lot of my knowledge and experience comes from attempting to create extremely complex utilities, despite failing to complete them.
When it comes to finding the right people to help you in your career, though, it’s a bit harder. In my case I learnt and built things by myself, until I stumbled upon certain forums, communities and platforms where I could meet like-minded people and experienced makers, who could support me in uncountable ways, from critiquing the work I was creating to suggesting what steps I should be taking to reach my goal. They are out there, certainly, but sadly they won’t come to you when you are just starting out. I had to put a lot of effort into learning, making and even marketing myself to get into a network like this, and even then I was often ignored in my pleads for help.
Nonetheless, if you really want to get somewhere, I would suggest interacting a lot with others, sharing your work and creations publicly (Twitter and other social networks are super useful in this aspect), and most importantly not being afraid to reach out to people you may admire or are in the field you are trying to get into. There’s lots of people (including me!) who are more than happy to talk, advise and guide others to help them in their journey.