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DEI In Graphic Design

Written By Sydni Brown, Creative Member

In the current world around us, we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion more than ever before. In my experience, it is ingrained in a lot of classroom curriculum as well as in my own personal conversations. We find ourselves thinking about many of the big picture aspects of DEI and how they tie into the more obvious things around us. But moving forward, it is time that we look at DEI through a different lens and address the small issues around us. Such as the overall lack of diversity in the graphic design industry.

The field of design is notably lacking in ethnic and gender representation. The 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that for 878,000 designers, there are:

  • 54.8% women

  • 5.1% African American,

  • 8.4% Asian-American

  • 10.6% Latino

The graphic below shows a more current representation of this lack of diversity from the Design Census of 2019.

As a black woman (one of the most underrepresented minority groups in the design industry), I have no choice but to recognize the lack of representation in the career that I am passionate about going into. It is an extremely special moment to even see another person of color in one of my design classes and I hope to see more of myself in the designs I see in the media someday.

So what can we, as creatives, do to begin designing with diversity and inclusion in mind? In their guided outline, Designing for Diversity, Boyuan Gao and Jahan Mantinin pose five critical questions to help designers think about, “who we are, how we create, and who we are creating for…” These questions create a framework which, “enables you to make better work by illuminating cultural and racial biases within your design, ideation, and creative processes… [to] create a mindset shift that helps people move away from creating only for dominant culture, to instead create with and for all.”

Core question #1: What’s the worst-case scenario, and on whom?

This question illuminates who and what we may not be thinking about and how those will be impacted by our work. Think about your intention versus your impact. Intention is what you hope to achieve, while impact is how what you make is experienced and live in real-world communities.

Core question 2: How do the identities within your team influence and impact your design decisions?

Understand who you are working with and how each person's unique lived experiences will influence the design process. Take the time to ask and learn about the different identities represented in your team and ask, “How might these identities influence and/or inform how you design products or services?”

Core question #3: Who might you be excluding?

As you develop your product or service, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about your target audience. Most creatives build solutions to things they have personally experienced and tend to make things for people who feel and look like us. Because of this, we don't typically think about who we might be excluding. To counteract this, use the “All People Statement” exercise. This is imagining an ideal condition of being for all people (ex. “All People have access to the resources needed to get their writing published.”) and then understanding why that statement is false. This highlights misrepresented groups and allows you to shift your ideas to better represent them in your work.

Core question #4: How will you engage the people you want to reach within your design process, equitably?

Become aware of the perspectives that might be missing from your team. This allows you to get a sense of who is in the “Source Community.” These are split into two segments, “Target Source” and “Excluded Source.” The Target Source are the people we intentionally want to reach. At the same time, the Excluded Source are communities that we are not reaching, but who may interact or be impacted negitively by your service or products. Invite communities within the Excluded Source into the process and learn and listen to their perspectives, without speaking over them.

Core question #5: Is the ongoing process of improving your product/service informed by The Source?

Designing for diversity is not a one- and-done, minimal effort practice. As your content changes, make sure you are taking the time to continuously evolve alongside the feedback of the Source Community. These groups have voices that are rarely invited in or valued when making decisions.

When thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion, we need to listen to the voices and interact with people from all different backgrounds. If your team lacks representation from a specific group, search it out. Don’t be complacent when trying to be more inclusive in your work. Implementing the questions in the D4D (Designing for Diversity) framework can help creatives uncover their own biases and, in turn, provide content that benefits multiple groups, rather than just one. Seeing content that you can relate to means more to underrepresented communities than many will be able to understand. As someone who is creative and hopes to go into the graphic design field, I hope the generation above me works against the lack of diversity to create a space where I feel comfortable, welcome, and represented.

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