Spring 2021 ︎ SUNY Purchase︎(DES3240) Design Issues

Where are the Black Designers?

Required Viewing

Where are the Black Designers? by Maurice Cherry︎ (29 minutes) This talk might feel slightly dated, or less urgent then this topic might be discussed today, but as you’ll see (the Cheryl D. Miller paper for example) this has been a long standing issue in the industry and part of a greater systemic issue.

Design + Education panel, feat. Eric Hu, Hassan Rahim and Erik Brandt from AIGA Eye on Design Vimeo︎ (38 minutes) They don’t speak expicitly about diversity and inclusion until the end about 30 minutes in. I think this is just good for seeing how luminaries in the field are handling or have grappled with these issues both in their mind / words and in their practice.


So this topic has changed quite a bit in the last year since I introduced it. One experiment we conducted was to go to a relatively well known graphic design podcast like Design Matters (which Warren was on fwiw, also Debbie Millman is great, no shade on individuals here) or Scratching the Surface, and just look at the main page and keep scrolling until you see a designer of color (small asterisk there as Design Matters just kinda has celebrities sometimes). To some extent it actually looks like that has gotten better. Maurice Cherry was actually on Design Matters relatively recently. 

That being said, there’s been some really intense stuff that has happened (which I encourage you to talk about how that has and is effecting you, I’m only talking “around” this stuff because the content is intense and possibly triggering) that has helped move the dialogue, but why did it take that just to involve people in whatever semblance of a dialogue there is?

Questions to think about

  • With design being necessarily ephemeral (as in the production of ephemera), how can we as designers recenter the longer and more difficult discussion of topics that are urgent and important? Do we “need” institutions like AIGA?
  • How much does performativity matter if it helps move the cultural needle on topics like race and inclusion?
  • When is a company or institution at fault for not seeking out a more diverse workforce?
  • How much does representation matter if your employees are being exploited (specifically related to being black in this case, but also interrelated with this, for their time, because of how they identify, their immigration status)?
  • What does inclusion mean when much of what is typically considered canon (in design but obviously in other fields) is a sequence of white dudes?
  • How do you value representation in the field and capitalist success versus representation in the discourse and canon? (not meant to be mutual exclusive but there is a distinction there)

Further Reading/viewing

Things from class (03/03/2021)

    • Raya and the Last Dragon (teaser) Trailer︎
    • I mentioned this in relation to the idea of representation and how powerful it can be (I think I’m a mark for this movie with dragon crystals but, found the representation part pretty powerful)
    • Shane Dawson︎ (this video is an “update” on him post cancellation that relates to some other YouTube drama that might be confusing if you don’t follow it). This came up I think because cancel culture came up in relation to systemic change for institutions that are racist/white supremacist.
    • Milo Yiannopoulos Says He's Broke︎
      This came up in the same cancel culture discussion, I think the tenor was that people get cancelled for doing something like performing in black face and then they just wait a while and start making content again. I cited this as an example of cancel culture working.
    • Slacktivism︎ This is an article on “clicktivism” which is just more recent. I think slacktivism was an older term that I remember surfacing around 2015/2016 and it looked like some of the articles were a bit older when I looked around. I just wrote down “slacktivism” and not totally sure why tbh. I think we were talking about protests in the summer vs people posting black squares with the wrong hashtags on instagram
    • “Does this make me look fat?”︎ This came up I believe in relation to conventions of beauty in media and how they play out for characters and how, in this case it is coded as white.

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