The Diversity Problem In Design Is A Lot More Complicated Than You Think

Before entering the MPS Communication Design program at Parsons, I was working in the design industry after completing my undergraduate studies at SUNY Purchase. I realized that there’s a lack of racial and cultural diversity in the New York design scene. It’s a subject I constantly strive to discuss, but often find too difficult to approach. When I started Parsons, I began questioning the idea of diversity in design and technology.

What does diversity mean in design?

What does diversity mean? What does it mean in the design landscape? The question became a lot more complicated than I thought as I discussed with other designers and classmates. Lack of diversity is not just in the design work environment. It really expands to all facets of design, from the tools we use to what we are taught in design education.

Lack Of Diversity In Design Education

I realized the lack of diversity in design education from the start of the semester. When I took graphic design history courses while pursuing my undergraduate degree, we were mostly taught Western graphic design movements and pieces. Even most publications focus on Western graphic design. Movements such as Swiss Modernism, Bauhaus, Dada, De Stijl, and Art Deco are all heavily emphasized in design education. Graphic design education rarely talks about designers, pieces, or movements outside the Western world. There is a lack of exposure to design from Latin America, South America, Africa, and all of Asia as well. Only after I graduated from Purchase did I start exploring design outside of the Western context. In order to truly create innovative and beautiful designs for the future, I think design education must reshape itself and expose students to designs outside of Western design.

Lack Of Diversity In The Tools We Use

Most interactive technology has been designed by Western people. Because of this, the way we design for screens specifically has been conformed to Westernized standards. Tools like coding have been developed for the English language — understandably so, as it is the most universal language globally. However, this creates the necessity to not only learn the English language to design for screens, but also require a person to read left to right, when a large portion of the world reads right to left. A lot of software have built-in languages, but in the area of development, when someone wants to learn to code a website or software from another part of the world they have to learn English before pursuing a project. However, before even considering such pursuits, a person must first have access to the technology itself.

Lack Of Diversity In Access To Design Technology

Pursuing a design career is a real privilege on an economic level. If you are studying design in a non-Westernized country, you must have a certain amount of economic — and sometimes even social — privilege to pursue a design career. Tools and technology should be accessible to all if someone wants to pursue a design career path. To even consider exploring the idea of design, one must have access to a computer, Internet, and of course software such as the Adobe Creative Suite. It is hard to access all of that unless you own the technology yourself or have access to an educational environment such as a school or library.

Even if you own a computer, you still need to pay for technology to even start creating something. It is approximately 20 dollars a month for just an Adobe student account, not even full price which is 50 dollars a month.Most people in the world have to pirate design software if they want to explore the idea of making work. However, the recent decisions in the US surrounding net neutrality could threaten the easy access (pirating) to software.

A lot of my friends who are raised in lower-income communities, started learning design by pirating design software. Without that access, a lot of people won’t be able to pursue their creative endeavours. What will happen when net neutrality laws are repealed? With internet companies able to selectively throttle or block certain traffic, file sharing and piracy could potentially disappear from the Internet. The access to tools will be increasingly difficult for people in lower income communities to even pirate the software. Tools and technology should be accessible to all if someone wants to pursue a design career path. This is also how we can tackle the problem of lack of diversity and inclusion in the work environment.

Lack Of Diversity In The Work Environment

Finally, the lack of diversity and inclusion in the work environment. To move forward in design, especially interactive design, we must include people from all walks of life. We are living in a time where technology and design are evolving so rapidly. New facets of design such as service and social innovation design require people of all backgrounds to truly make designs that work for all people. We can solve this issue by learning more about different design cultures and making design technology accessible for all people.