How does an inclusive profession benefit every designer?

The creative impulse is by its nature diverse—differentiation and originality are prized over imitation. Yet possibly more important than creative diversity is the need to understand cultural diversity, since communication is at the core of what we do, and the ways that audiences receive messages are influenced by social and cultural norms.

Design must make use of broad visual and conceptual vocabularies in order to be accepted and understood by a range of audiences—not only those that make up the unique social and ethnic quilt of the United States, but also the many cultures of the global economy. In today's connected world, communication design must be able to move seamlessly across national boundaries and the differences among cultural communities.

Inclusiveness is not a social cause—it is a business proposition

Data visualization of global population density. Data from the G-Econ project gecon.yale.edu/

Data visualization of global population density, G-Econ project (Flickr image under Creative Commons license)

The economic turmoil of the past two years has forced both thoughtful observers and business strategists to recognize that the future will be different. Our new normal will be a global economy in which there is no single dominant market or production source; other cultures will resist universal design features that compromise local values; responsible design will be expected; and American designers will be competing with designers from many cultures, some of whom will have a more highly developed sense of empathy for those audiences that U.S. designers would like to reach.

In this new era, AIGA is deeply concerned with strengthening the perceived and actual relevance of design. Designers play a critical role in developing competitive advantages and creating value in the emerging economy. Yet to do so, design—and particularly communication design—must be seen as relevant to the needs of this more diverse marketplace.

At its best, communication design involves form and content, crafted in a meaningful context that leaves an impact over time. However, the highest aspirations of design as a profession will only be achieved when diversity and excellence are joined. The profession as a whole must demonstrate the understanding and perspectives that can only come from the interplay among many different backgrounds, cultures and experiences. This is where inclusivity will change every designer, both in the process of collaboration and in forming adaptive, responsive approaches to problem-solving.

Design Journeys: You Are Here

On May 20, AIGA will open a participatory exhibition called “Design Journeys: You Are Here.” The exhibition shines a light on the careers of 25 designers from a variety of backgrounds, whose own lives and experiences demonstrate this ideal joining of diversity and excellence. Each is a role model for a young person who might ask, “Why would I pursue a profession where so few people look like me?”

At the same time, the exhibition reinforces that inclusiveness—the bringing together of people of many talents and experiences—is a reflection of what each of us brings to the profession.

Only when the profession and its work are inclusive of the differences among cultures, as well as what we share across them, can design assure its future relevance, leadership and impact.

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.