Diversity & Inclusion in Design: Why Do They Matter?

The problem

Throughout AIGA’s 100-year history, design and innovation have advanced not only our industry, but transformed everyday life. Imagine the days prior to television sets, Universal Product Codes (and now QR Codes), the iEverything, Adobe Creative Suite…because they really weren’t that long ago. Design has the power to permeate every product, moment and solution in our lives—with immense opportunity for change.

However, there are two overlapping areas in which design as a profession is lagging: demographic diversity and a culture of inclusion. The two rely on each other, and both are crucial for the future success of the industry. Diversity may be a more popular buzzword in discussions about design education, conferences and icons, but without inclusive gestures by hiring managers and businesses, senior designers and agencies, educators and other role models, individuals from underrepresented groups entering and remaining in design will remain firmly in the minority.

Approximately 86% of professional designers are Caucasian. This represents only small strides since the 1990 AIGA Journal article “Equal Opportunities: Minorities in Graphic Design” (by Michele Vernon-Chesley) and subsequent symposium “Why Is Graphic Design 93% White?” And race is only part of the picture. Diversity in design means diversity of experience, perspective and creativity—otherwise known as diversity of thought—and these can be shaped by multiple factors including race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual identity, ability/disability and location, among others. The diversity problem in design is not only in the numbers, but also in the lack of diverse role models, opportunities, and public awareness—which leads to apathy, insensitivity and even outright discrimination.

The progress

Earlier this year, with its new Women’s Leadership Initiative, AIGA took a great step towards addressing the lack of public female role models in design as well as the challenges women face in ascending to their own visions of professional success. The launch of this program, combined with existing member interest in other areas of diversity, led to the creation of a new AIGA Diversity & Inclusion Initiative, which builds on past AIGA programs and groups with new ideas and resources to sustain AIGA’s commitment to this critical issue. Borrowing the AIGA Women’s Leadership goals to celebrate, cultivate and connect, the initiative’s mission is encouraging diversity in design education, discourse and practice to expand the future strength and relevance of design in all areas of society.

To drive this initiative, the AIGA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force has been reconvened with new volunteers—members and chapter leaders from across the nation. This group is already stirring with ideas for resources, programming and partnerships that will not draw lines of difference between designers, but encourage innovation through the support and integration of all designers in the profession.

Why does this matter?

Interconnectedness in all its forms, including technology, multiculturalism and globalism, make diversity and inclusion more relevant than ever in design as well as all areas of business and culture. The shifting status of “minorities” in the U.S.* affects not only the pool of possible future designers at the K-12 level, but also the makeup of our clients, colleagues and collaborators. From a practical (not to mention moral) standpoint, diversity and inclusion within the field of design lead to more innovation through problem-solving, whether in service to business or society. And that’s what design is all about. In order to continue successfully and authentically leading improvement and change, design must openly embrace more diverse practitioners and retain them through inclusion.

AIGA believes creativity thrives through participation and the unexpected. We eagerly welcome ideas from our 25,000 members and beyond. Get to know the task force, see what we're planning and contact us with ideas for resources, speakers, programs and connections. Diversity & Inclusion are passions for some of us, but they matter to all of us. Join us in changing the conversation from problem to progress to proof.

Hear more from Antionette about diversity and inclusion in design and AIGA’s new task force at Revision Path.

*According to the 2010 Census, by 2050 53% of the country will be people of color. In 2010, 19% of the US population reported that they had a physical and/or intellectual disability. In 2020, 46% of the workforce will be millennials.

Illustration courtesy of Lisk Feng.

About the Author: Antionette is the founder and President and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab, a social enterprise cultivating creative leadership to improve the human experience through immersive challenges. Throughout her career, Antionette has worked for non-profits working for social justice, human rights, and diversity and inclusion. These experiences led to her background as a social entrepreneur, non-profit leader, and design activist. Antionette's personal mission in life is to CHALLENGE standards, make CHANGE, and CHAMPION approaches resulting in foundational and community impact. Also, Antionette is an active community volunteer. Antionette was named the Founding Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force of AIGA: The Professional Association of Design in 2014. As of June 2016, she was named the Chair Emeritus of the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. At the local level, she is currently serving as the President of AIGA St. Louis. Antionette also sits on several awards and programming committees for local and national non-profits.