February is Black History Month and an apt time to reflect on one of my early experiences as an educator. For some context, I’m a white southern woman who has been teaching graphic design for ten years and have had experiences both in private art schools and public universities.
When I first started teaching, I inherited a typography project that paired each student with a designer to research and then create a broadside that demonstrated the designer’s process, approach to form, and contextual relevance to an audience. It’s a great project in the way it integrates graphic design history with making and the critical analysis of form.
The problem? Almost all of the designers assigned were white, and mostly male. I was immediately struck by the lack of diversity, and how the assignment did not reflect our student body. I rarely teach the same projects over and over, but I’ve held on to this one, working to diversify the designers each year.
As an educator, I feel it’s my responsibility to expose students to designers outside of the largely white, Eurocentric male canon. I want students to see themselves in the legends and newcomers. Seeing the diverse faces and bodies of work creates a rich studio dynamic where conversations about culture and representation are at the forefront. A challenge that I see year after year is that there is rarely enough resource material for the students, as designers of color have largely been excluded from historical studies in graphic design.
Over the past few years, new texts have surfaced that feature women in design — Women in Graphic Design 1890–2012 by Sabine Bartelsheim, Ute Brüning, and Jochen Eisenbrand and Women Of Design: Influence And Inspiration From The Original Trailblazers To The New Groundbreakers by Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit — and updates have been made to Meggs’ History of Graphic Design to be more inclusive of international designers. However, to my knowledge, we are still missing a text that highlights designers of color.
There are several web projects that feature designers of color throughout the month of February in conjunction with Black History Month. Timothy Hykes’ “28 Days of Black Designers,” Maurice Cherry’s “28 Days of The Web,” and Wayne Sutton’s “28 Days of Diversity.” How can we build on projects like this? How can we formalize these collections? What other projects like this exist?
AIGA has been making great strides in fostering a more diverse design community through the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, but we all know there is still much work to be done, particularly in the ways the field of design studies could build a more inclusive canon.
This is my call to our design education community: If you are working on a research project, or are teaching projects that celebrate designers of color, let us (AIGA DEC) know so that we can include, acknowledge, and support your work! Our community collectively shapes the ways people understand the design discipline; it’s up to us to make sure we approach our teaching, research, and practice with an inclusive mission.
Where are the Black designers?
Black Designers Still Fight For A Seat At The Table—Are They Finding Success?
Research Is Ceremony, Indigenous Research Methods
Survey: Design Is 73% White
The Black Experience in Graphic Design (1968)
African American Graphic Designers Facebook Group
AIGA Professional Standards of Teaching
(Points: 1.2, 5.3, 6.4, 6.8)