Wednesday, September 06, 2006

STEP- White Space: Examining Racial Diversity in the Design Industry

An article by Terry Lee Stone in the July/August issue of STEP, discusses the growing realization of a lack of designer diversity. She worries the lack of diversity in our profession, once called, “The pinky ring on the hand of corporate America,” by Dugald Stermer, may serve to further marginalize design in a whole new way. Race is an issue that designers need to be concerned with in terms of the profession’s future.

And the current future doesn’t look promising. Numbers in design schools around the country are similar to the current industry breakdown with 86-90 percent of design students being white. There are a few exceptions where design programs mirror the communities they serve. For example, The New World School of the Arts in Miami has a Hispanic majority at 76 percent. The good news is that most schools interviewed for the article do have a diversity initiative in place. These initiatives support the hiring of minority faculty in addition to the recruitment of a diverse mix of students.

A lack of awareness is seen as the major culprit for the lack of minority students in design. Many individuals in the underrepresented groups don’t know that graphic design exists, let alone that it is a viable profession for a person with artistic talent. Another factor is the prohibitive cost of a design education. Scholarship and outreach programs are being implemented in some schools but it will take generations to transform the situation.

AIGA has recently launched a new diversity initiative to develop leadership policies, active programs for high school students, design students and professionals. AIGA president Bill Grant says, “There is a lot of passion and good intent in the design community, but there is also a lot of fear about not appearing to be politically correct. Fear-based reactions are not the answer. We have to be brutally honest with one another and be open to mistakes along the way.”

Lack of diversity is an issue that many today do find worth addressing. Steps are being taken and discussions are happening. We as designers need to open our eyes and our industry to being more inclusive, with the future of our profession in mind.


Blogger M.D. said...

Interesting. I teach at Washburn University, and have found different percentages. Approximately 50% of our graphic design students are women, 40% are white, and 30% are non-traditional students over 35 years of age. We do not have a Graphic Design major, only BA or BFA in Studio Art, but most of our BAs are graphic designers and end up working professionally in that area. Again, I stress that Washburn is not a typical university!

9:53 PM  
Blogger Professor Melis said...

This relates to what I know about the landscape architecture field as well. My fiance tells me that the profession is mostly white and also from wealthy and highly educated backgrounds. I have not seen statistics on that, but maybe he can find some for me. As far as the class issue goes, Tor and I have hypothesized that people who are wealthy are more likely to have heard of someone hiring a landscape architect and therefore be aware that the field exists. I personally had never heard the term "landscape architect" until I went to graduate school.

Thank you Eric!

2:42 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Not only is it a lack of knowledge, but it's the view of art as a substandard profession. The author mentioned that for some classes, the higher-profile careers are what's being encouraged. Youth are pushed to become doctors and lawyers. Professions that will allow them to leave their current situation behind.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Ruthy said...

I think that a lot of minority students are aware of this profession but they tend go a different direction. (1) because they feel that studying medicine or law will make them more respectful in society (2) a lot of them do not see design/artist as a profession, they see it more as a hobby (3) they see the design industry as a "white profession" and think that they will not have a chance to succeed in it.

6:46 PM  

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