Design. Diversity. Two powerful words. What happens when they collide?
2018 saw a number of events that brought design and diversity into a sharper focus and a closer relationship to each other. How we recognise good design was challenged. Industry body governance was put under the microscope. Hui and panels on diversity were organised. Emotionally charged online conversations took place. This is important, because if design has a diversity problem, it’s a problem for all of us. So much of what we encounter in the world is designed. Who is doing the designing and who it is being designed for, makes a difference to us all. If diverse needs and opinions are not being expressed within the sector, if what we value as good design is skewed to a minority voice, then we are not using design’s full potential to create a better future.
One indicator of the sector’s diversity problem is the gender gap between studying design and working in design. In Aotearoa almost 70 percent of design students in tertiary education courses are women. This is surprising because when we look at various gauges of what’s happening in the industry, like senior leadership positions, conference speaker line-ups, awards, industry body governance, we don’t get any sense of female dominance. Of course gender is only one marker for diversity, but how well a company or an industry does on gender equality, is a good predictor of how diversity is valued across the spectrum.
As we grapple with unprecedented social, health and environmental challenges, design’s role could not be more vital. If there was ever a time when diverse perspectives are needed to design our way to a better future, it’s now. We also know that design is significant to our future prosperity. The Value of Design report published by DesignCo in 2017 shows design contributes over $10 billion to the economy of Aotearoa. Understanding what makes up that figure, design agencies are only one component to the design economy. It is the increasing use of design and designers in all types of businesses and the way design has become the driver for innovation across multiple sectors that pushes the scale and impact of design.
Design also speaks strongly to our sense of self. Consciously and unconsciously we reflect our identity through design, it’s an empowering force in how we define our relationship to each other and see ourselves collectively as a nation. If we don’t recognise ourselves in all our diversity in the images, artefacts and environments we create, our connection and sense of belonging is weakened. But, when we experiences spaces like Ti Ara I Whiti, Auckland’s much loved lightpath designed to welcome everyone, use an app like Pepeha that normalises use of Te Reo, see a family like Dee and her transgender son Hunter as part of a corporate campaign, more of us feel included and connected. This is the power of design to change our minds, our cities and our sense of who we are.
Design is a powerful tool to challenge the status quo and see our world differently. The projects and initiatives we’re highlighting show how designers are looking within to make the industry more diverse and using design to create a more inclusive and compassionate society.
So, what’s already happening?
Well, turns out there’s a lot already happening in this space in Aotearoa. Here are some of the initiatives that have caught our eye and their perspectives of why they believe diversity in design is important.
Designers Speak (Up)
From the initial poster series, to the pop-up protest, the blog and Directory of Women Designers, Designer’s Speak (Up) has been instrumental on multiple fronts in igniting the conversation on design and gender. Catherine Griffiths’ 40/3 poster focused the attention of the design community on the failure of the Designers Institute of New Zealand to recognise the contribution of women over a period of two decades, by honouring 40 men and three women with their prestigious annual award, the Black Pin. Designers Speak (Up) is an open and democratic platform for all designers in Aotearoa, New Zealand to have a voice. We’re big supporters of Designers Speak (Up) and the important role it’s playing in changing the design landscape. If you’re interested in contributing, be sure to consider participating in their poster project ‘Present Tense : Wa?hine Toi Aotearoa’.“The posters gathered the attention of the design community to the Designers Institute of New Zealand’s failure over two decades to address a significant gender imbalance. The objective of the posters is to encourage meaningful change, not only to gender imbalance throughout the Institute’s processes, but to have those processes embrace cultural and other diversities too.” – Catherine Griffiths, co-founder of Designers Speak (Up)
Designers Institute of New Zealand
“There is a deep level of commitment to diversity and inclusivity and we plan to maintain the momentum generated by the hui, with a number of projects to support positive change.” – Cathy Veninga, CEO of DINZ
Women in Urbanism
Image credit: Emma McInnesWomen in Urbanism brings an incredibly important gendered lens to the design of cities. We’re 100% behind their mission to transform the towns and cities of Aotearoa into more beautiful and inclusive places for everyone. During Emma’s time as a designer for Transport and Urban Design Consultancy, MRCagney, she discovered a lot of the key issues with cities are gender based, and that by focusing and resolving women and children’s needs in urban environments, we can start to plan cities that include and are designed to benefit everyone. Women in Urbanism wants to see more wa?hine, women of colour, new New Zealanders, women with disabilities, LGBTQIA+, girls and older women become influencers and decision-makers. Two of their current campaigns are The Amazing Speaker List, leaving no excuse for an all male panel line up, and Elect Women, encouraging women to run in the 2019 local body elections.“When you plan a city for wa?hine, girls and non-binary people, you plan for everyone” – Emma McInnes, co-founder of Women in Urbanism
Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa
“Diversity in design leads to better outcomes for everyone. When we design from a single cultural perspective we can end up accidentally designing people right out of the system. This can lead to some unexpected outcomes. We created IDIA (Indigenous Design & Innovation Aotearoa) because we saw that there wasn’t anyone really asking the pa?tai we were interested in. These include; how do we push back against globalisation in Aotearoa, how do we better design for Ma?ori, and how do we design bi-cultural or multi-cultural systems.” – Dr. Johnson Witehira, founder of IDIA?
The Pepeha Project
Spark OUTLine partnership
So, where to from here?
Across the globe we see multiple ways in which the design industry is working from within to achieve positive change.
AIGA has established a Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce with the aim of encouraging diversity in design education and practice. Founding chair Antionette Carroll believes that design as a profession is lagging in both demographic diversity and a culture of inclusion, both of which are crucial for the future success of the industry. Last year, the Design Management Institute launched its Diversity in Design Manifesto. Their mantra is a diverse and inclusive culture is not just ethically sound, it’s good for business. The UK Design Council is on a mission to make life better by design through championing inclusive design. CEO Sarah Wier says inclusive design tends to get pigeoned holed as being for people with specific needs but it’s about design that creates a better world for everyone.
As well as industry body leadership, practitioner-led initiatives are having an important impact. Tackling issues of gender are Womentor, a mentorship programme for women in graphic design, which for the first time, includes three NZ mentors. Also based out of Australia, Parlour is a voice for women, equity and architecture. Taking a broader approach to diversity is RARE, a four-day masterclass aimed at keeping rare talent in the industry. Founded by Clemenger BBDO’s Stefanie DiGiavincenzo and Google’s Tara McKent, their mission articulates perfectly the importance of diversity – celebrate difference, break dusty conventions and realise leadership potential in minorities, for the good of culture and creativity.
From Aotearoa we can connect and build on international initiatives as well as creating home-grown responses. Industry organisations can and must provide leadership, but they don’t own the diversity space. The thing about diversity is that we need to approach it in diverse ways. The 40/3 campaign caused a resounding YES! from a large group in the design sector. There were also those who disagreed with the approach. That’s not the point. Diversity challenges us to be open-minded and move beyond the unconscious biases we all have. Diversity and design is an increasingly popular topic in conferences, design events and articles, but it needs to move off the stage and the page to inside workplaces to have an impact. “The most effective creativity happens when contrasting thoughts collide,” says Beth O’Brien of Colenso, “the best ideas are born out of diversity of thought.”
Judith Thompson is a design consultant who believes in the power of design to transform everyday life. She is former director of Design at NZTE, inaugural head of Better by Design and member of AUT University Council.Jade Tang-Taylor is a designer, dreamer, doer. She is passionate about design for social impact, with a focus on diversity. She wears a few hats, including consultant, catalyst, associate, activator, guest lecturer, design strategist and creative collaborator.” As we grapple with unprecedented social, health and environmental challenges, design’s role could not be more vital. If there was ever a time when diverse perspectives are needed to design our way to a better future, it’s now. “