The future of design is queer. What does that mean in practice?

An illustrated skeleton skipping over the words, “Be Gay Do Design”
An illustrated skeleton skipping over the words, “Be Gay Do Design”
Illustration mine

Recently, I was asked to speak to MICA students about what it means to queer design. As co-founder of Queer Design Club, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about queer people in design; but not as much time thinking about queering design.

Honestly, I find the subject intimidating. I went to college for design, but not grad school, which I assume is where you learn to “look for alternate readings of texts,” “interrogate your personal narrative,” and get comfortable using “dialectic” in a sentence.

However, I’ve been out as a gay man for two decades and a working designer for half that time, so I hope that my perspective on queering design might be helpful in supplementing those who are actual experts on the subject — whose work you should absolutely read. …


We’re taking the queer experience in design out of the closets and into spreadsheets

The queer design count 2019 banner
The queer design count 2019 banner

A survey designed by and for the queer community

The idea for the Queer Design Count came to me and my cofounder Rebecca last year, shortly after the launch of our community for queer designers.

We had just finished analyzing the data from AIGA’s Design Census to compare responses from LGBTQ+ designers to their cisgender heterosexual peers. A surprising 11.7% of respondents identified as LGBTQ+ in the 2017 census (that number went up to 15% in the 2019 results). Less surprising were the disparities we found in compensation, seniority, and job satisfaction between queer and non-queer designers.

We wanted to know more about the queer experience in design behind these disparities, but there was nothing in the data that could give us further insight. LGBTQ+ status was also collected as a single checkbox, so we had no indication how the experience varied across diverse queer communities. …


Creating an organization where LGBTQ+ designers can thrive

This is the third in a multi-part series on LGBTQ+ inclusion in design. Check out the first two articles on why LGBTQ+ inclusion in design matters and how bias manifests in design organizations.

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Photo by Keila Hötzel on Unsplash

Bias is a design problem

LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately represented in design compared to the broader population. And yet, they fare unequally compared to their cisgender, heterosexual peers in compensation, advancement, and satisfaction.

Bias in the workplace—both standard variety and specific to design—shapes LGBTQ+ designers’ experience in the field. …


Barriers to queer inclusion in the design field

This is the second in a multi-part series on LGBTQ+ inclusion in design. Check out the first article on why LGBTQ+ inclusion in design matters, and the next on how to build an inclusive workplace.

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Photo by Junior Teixeira from Pexels

Representation isn’t equality

The field of design is incredibly queer. LGBTQ+ people are represented in design in much higher percentages than in the general population. Yet that representation is not equal at all levels of seniority or compensation.

This may be partly why LGBTQ+ designers express less satisfaction and sense of job security; but it’s not the full story. …


LGBTQ+ designers are here, queer, and being overlooked

This is the first in a multi-part series on LGBTQ+ inclusion in design. After your done with this article, read how bias shows up in design practices, and how to build an inclusive workplace.

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The Philadelphia pride flag designed by More Color More Pride

Design is queer as in LGBTQ+, not gay as in happy

In the AIGA’s 2019 Design Census, 15% of respondents identified as LGBTQ+. Compared to the estimated 4.5% of American adults who are LGBTQ+, the field of design appears to be disproportionately queer.

And yet that representation does not translate to meaningful inclusion. LGBTQ+ respondents earned less, felt less job security and satisfaction, and were less senior than their cisgender, heterosexual peers.

A series of graphs demonstrating differences in LGBTQ+ and cis-het designers’ seniority, income, and job security.
A series of graphs demonstrating differences in LGBTQ+ and cis-het designers’ seniority, income, and job security.
Full breakdown of the disparities here

Inclusivity benefits everyone

The design industry is not only letting down the queer community, it is also depriving itself of the value queer designers have to offer. …


Don’t let unethical leadership define the limits of your work

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Photo: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

“Anyone who doesn’t understand how free trials work is a fucking idiot. I’m sorry, but have they used the internet?”

I was presenting months of brand research to the CEO of a company I no longer work for. (We’ll get there.) Customers, employees, and members of our target market all had good things to say about our product but respondents in every category gave us low ratings on trustworthiness. Why? Our heavily promoted “free” offerings were only available as part of a short trial that required a credit card and auto-renewed.

Our business’s reliance on forced continuity was shitty and unethical, in my opinion, but that didn’t seem like a great way to open the meeting. So instead, I talked about it from the perspective of the brand and business. …


Get to Know Queer Design Club through Its Members’ Top Locations, Skills, and Inspiration

A smiling group of four queer design club members in front of a colorful mural in the Mission.
A smiling group of four queer design club members in front of a colorful mural in the Mission.
Queer Design Club members Kyle and Steph with co-founders Becks and John after an informal QDC brunch in San Francisco.

It’s hard to believe that Queer Design Club is 3 months old! Since launching at the start of Pride month (a.k.a June), our club has grown to:

But it’s not the numbers that matter, it’s the people. Like any space, QDC is what the people inside make of it. In just 3 months, queer designers across the globe have made our corner of the industry something special. …


The Value of LGBTQ+ Professional Community

John presenting slides to audience wearing a pale pink oxford underneath a holographic leather bulldog harness.
John presenting slides to audience wearing a pale pink oxford underneath a holographic leather bulldog harness.
Queer Design Club co-founder, John Hanawalt, speaks at the Queer X Design event, July 17, 2019. (Myleen Hollero Photography)

Earlier this month, I had the amazing experience of talking at Queer X Design, an event co-sponsored by Queer Design Club and newly formed collective Ubiety. Hosted by All Turtles, it was a lively discussion among folks working at the intersection of queer identity and design practice.

Micah Rivera gave a heart-felt and instructive look at his work queering the branding for Spot; and panelists Ana Arriola, Rachel Berger, Stuart Getty, Neil Torrefiel, and Dara Sklar talked with moderator Matthew Yazzie about everything from decolonizing design education to Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” music video.

QxD panelists lined up after the event.
QxD panelists lined up after the event.
Left to right: Neil Torrefiel, Rachel Berger, Stuart Getty, Dara Sklar, Ana Arriola, John Hanawalt, Micah Rivera, and Matthew Yazzie (Myleen Hollero Photography)

I took the opportunity to talk about Queer Design Club—because, obviously—and dive into why professional organizations that acknowledge the whole individual matter. …


Designers must turn down work that supports evil, and the industry must stand behind them

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Detainees at a facility in McAllen, Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Brunhilde Pomsel was the personal secretary to Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda. Even at the end of her life, she felt little remorse, saying, “I didn’t do anything other than type in Goebbels’ office.” She is a cautionary figure for designers.

On the fourth of July, a tweet from immigrant legal services nonprofit RAICES set Design Twitter off like fireworks. It included a behind-the-scenes tour of a border facility released by the Department of Homeland Security and the information that brand consultancy Ogilvy has a $12 million contract with Customs & Border Protection (CBP). CBP is the government agency making headlines for their inhumane treatment of immigrants at the southern U.S. …


A Month In, Our Community Is Going Strong

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A line of plush dolls inspired by queer history figures by QDC member Joey Donatelli. See more work from our community in our featured projects recap below.

This month, we launched Queer Design Club and have been overwhelmed by the support from the community.

Our searchable LGBTQ+ designer directory has nearly 100 designers from all over the world. We’ve also welcomed over 150 people to our closed Slack group. All in the last month!

In that time, our designers have networked, swapped stories and inspiration, and given each other advice on everything from job hunting to Pride playlists. Members have helped each other find freelance work, fine-tune resumes and cover letters, and deal with burnout. We’ve also sent each other tons of GIFs, memes, and sparkle emojis.

Pride Month was one hell of a coming out, and we’re just getting started! …

About

John Warren Hanawalt

Designer with a heart of gold and mouth like a sailor. Cares about how the work we do impacts others. Also talks fitness and feelings. www.hanawa.lt

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