Amplify & Celebrate Diverse Voices In Design

March 10, 2023

Author: Angela Noble

Author: Angela Noble

When I started design school in 2006, inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (IDEA) were not commonly considered in general, and certainly not as they related to design as a practice or profession. 

Studies centered around Western culture. We celebrated great designers from Europe and America—all white and mostly male. Prominent female designers such as Paula Scher stood out. I don’t recall learning about any designers of color. I didn’t question or even consider why our studies were so white- and male-centered.

At the time, all U.S. presidents and vice presidents had always been white men. Obviously, political leaders and leaders in the business sector didn’t/don’t reflect the diversity of the people they lead. Similarly, the designers we studied and revered didn’t reflect the demographics of my class—neither racially nor gender-wise. 

And then, Hillary and Obama ran for president. Even the idea that a woman could be president called into question everything I had been raised to believe. And then, Obama became our president. Seeing a Black person in the highest leadership position in our country, and perhaps the world, was, of course, a very important milestone for our country. 

In the decade after graduating I struggled with recognizing and casting off the internalized misogyny that was ingrained in me. Yes, women can be leaders. Yes, as a woman I can be a leader. Then, Hillary won the popular vote, proving that a woman could easily be elected as president. Now, we have a female vice president, a woman of color, for the first time. 

Despite some major setbacks, there has been significant forward movement for racial and gender equity in the past two decades.

The racial reckoning of 2020 had a great impact in bringing DEI or IDEA issues and considerations into focus. The 2019 AIGA Design Census stated just 3% of designers are Black (compared to the general population of Black adults in America at 14%). This led those of us in the design community to ask, “Where are all the Black designers?”. An organization by the same name, Where Are All The Black Designers?, was started to advocate for the Black creative community. They’ve amplified the voices of the many amazing Black designers practicing, teaching, and making contributions to the design field.

Prior to 2020, the statistics weren’t much different, but not enough people were questioning why this disparity existed. We have the folks who stood up and spoke out during the time of the racial reckoning to thank for bringing this disparity to the forefront of conversations in the design community. There are many solutions to increasing diversity in the design profession: access to education, decolonizing design education, focusing on diversity and inclusion in organizations and workplaces, and much more. 

Even though we’re dealing with many challenges in our present time, conversations about inclusion, diversity, equity, and access are being had. That our society is placing importance on these topics and the issues surrounding them should give us all hope for a more equitable future—in general and in the design profession. 

Here are a few ways to support, celebrate, and amplify diverse voices in design. 

Choose Fonts Designed By Black Designers

Designer Joshua Darden has designed a number of incredible typefaces, including Freight Sans, Freight Text, Jubilat, and Halyard. According to Fonts In Use, he was the first African American credited as a type designer—this was in 1994 at the age of 15. 

Schessa Garbutt, founder of Firebrand in California, is a designer I had the pleasure of meeting in 2022. They designed the whimsical serif typeface Thumbelena.

Blondina Elms Pastel is the first credited Black female type designer. She is most known for her Naej typeface used in children’s books. 

If you’re looking for bold typefaces with character, check out Vocal Type. Founder Tré Seals started his foundry after recognizing a severe lack of culture and character in design and typography. Tré says,

“When a singular perspective dominates an industry, regardless of technological advancements, there can (and has been) only one way of thinking, teaching, and creating. This lack of diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender has led to a lack of diversity in thought, systems (like education), ideas, and, most importantly, creations.”

He’s set out to increase diversity in the design industry, starting with typography.

David Williams is the founder of Manchester Type, known for their typeface Salford Sans. The foundry has also supported Google in expanding their Noto typeface to include Arabic, Hebrew, and other scripts.

Forest Young is a Black designer recognized for his work on the typeface Redaction in conjunction with Jeremy Mickel created for a MoMA exhibit. It’s free for personal use.

Looking for more Black typographers? Check out this resource from Typographica on Black Type Designers & Foundry Owners. If you’re looking to connect with Black designers, check out the directory Blacks Who Design.

Support Creative Organizations That Center Around Inclusion

The exclusive (exclusionary), members-only approach the design community has been known for failed to serve ALL designers (by design!). That model is failing now across the design industry (and within other professional organizations). A community group designed to be exclusionary doesn’t build a diverse community.

It’s time to divest from communities and organizations that don’t put DEI/IDEA first.

Here are the questions we ask now that we’ve adjusted our approach to involvement in creative (and other business) organizations:

  • How are they funded? If only by membership dues and paid conferences and events, is this an accessible community that fosters diversity? If they are funded by sponsors, how does that impact the programming?
  • What does their leadership look like? Is there a good mix in gender identity, age, socio-economic backgrounds, and racial/ethnic diversity?
  • Are speakers at their events diverse? 
  • Are their marketing communications inclusive and accessible? Do they speak in inclusive language, have accessible emails and an accessible website?

We love the inclusionary approach CreativeMornings has taken in building a creative community. Their free events are funded by sponsors rather than memberships or ticket sales, but it doesn’t end up being a big sales pitch like many events we’ve attended.

Design organizations provide needed mentorship and support especially to designers who are early on in their careers. By ensuring design organizations are inclusive and accessible, we can help to level the playing field and create more opportunities for everyone.

Promote Diversity In Design Education

Design education has traditionally been focused on Western design and male designers. This has resulted in a narrow definition of what design is and what it can accomplish. Designers from other cultures and backgrounds have been largely excluded, which has had a significant impact on the types of designs that are created and the perspectives that are represented. The exclusion of women and people of color from design fields has severely limited the range of design solutions available to address the complex problems design can solve. 

By broadening the scope of design education, we can help to create a new generation of designers who are better equipped to address the complex challenges of our time.

Amplify Diverse Voices

Actively seek out and showcase the work of designers from underrepresented communities. This could involve featuring their work in design publications, inviting them to speak at conferences, or highlighting them on curated websites and social media platforms. By elevating the work of diverse designers, we can help to create a more inclusive and equitable design industry.