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Diversity in Design – Positive Changes in the Design Community

Design for Diversity

A slightly different post from me today, about something i’ve spent days researching, reading, talking to others, and re-educating myself about.

Since the death of George Floyd in May this year, the Black Lives Matter movement has seen an awakening across the world. Over the past few weeks many industries, businesses, communities and families have been witness to difficult conversations; with the lack of diversity within the design community being highlighted. This has created a huge drive for positive change.

Me not posting about BLM until now, may have angered or upset some, and for that I truly apologise. There is always so much more going on behind the scenes than I can express, but I can tell you that my reason was in no way due to apathy. I needed to write about this when I was ready, my words needed to feel genuine and the sentiment authentic. I did not want to be seen as using my platform (albeit small) to virtue signal or jump onto a political bangwagon. Everyone deals with stuff in different ways and mine was to step back, go inwards and listen. But after speaking with close friends and colleagues and reading (currently, Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad which is very good), I’ve learned that whilst I might worry about never being able to write a “perfectly worded post”, this wasn’t about me. It was more important for me to speak up, use my voice and my platform to show solidarity and support my black and ethnic minority friends and colleagues at such a difficult time. This is about them.

Five years ago, I had no idea if there was a place for me within the design industry, and whether my wish to work with real people in real homes was just a pipedream. I wanted to challenge the misconceptions about interior design, what is was and who it was for; that you don’t need to be rich or “a bit posh” to be or to work with an interior designer. You also don’t need to be white. However, I have spoken to several black and minority ethnic colleagues and friends about their own experiences of perpetual micro-racism (sometimes overt racism) and how that has affected their personal, professional life and sense of self. I have since realised that I have taken for granted that my own journey into interior design has been assisted by my white skin. And this needs to change.

Equality Equity

My previous career was in the community arts sector. Here I managed and delivered dance and multi-disciplinary arts projects to hard-to-reach and socio-economically challenged groups of young people. My passion for re-engaging young people through alternative education was the thing that got me out of bed each day. Dance was my vehicle for bringing disengaged communities together which was all funded through local and national grants, schemes and charity donations. A lot of this funding was cut when the Tories got in in 2010 which left a lot of us in the arts sector disillusioned and eventually out of work. Hence my career move in 2015.

Class of 2000

I trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, based in Chapeltown, Leeds. Studying and living in Chapeltown (in a flat above the CC Continental store – oh, the memories) brought me many new positive life experiences and true friendships. We were all there for the same reason and that was to be the very best that we could be in our chosen field and support each other through three years of rigorous training. It was our love of dance that brought us all together.

And the same is beginning to happen within the design community. Only just, but it’s starting. Designers, makers, brands and organisations who are speaking out in support of Black Lives Matter and the events that have unfolded since May 25th. They are looking at ways they can take positive action; our love of design uniting us.

Here are just some of the groups and initiatives that have been launched over the last three weeks….

In June, the BAME Designers and Artists project was launched on Instagram where they will be showcasing a different black and minority ethnic designer or artist each week.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CByrt0zHQpo/

In June, interior designer Rukmini Patel and journalist Kate Watson-Smyth launched the Design For Diversity pledge.

Rukmini writes:

“We want to open doors for the Black and POC community, we want to see more initiatives and internships. The Pledge this will help open doors which were once closed. Dismantling systemic racism can be done and I truly believe we can create change if we work together.

The idea behind The Pledge is to place the “sticker” visibly on your website which will lead to a page stating The Pledge. The sticker will indicate that you are open to working with all walks of life, Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority individuals throughout.”

Making Spaces has taken the Design For Diversity pledge and will continue to support and reach out to a diverse range of trades, brands and suppliers. I as an individual and Making Spaces as a business fully supports these steps towards racial equity, justice and a richer and more diverse design community.

Diversity in DesignAnd just this week, United in Design was launched.

View this post on Instagram

On June 4th 2020, in light of the murder of George Floyd and the global anti-racism uprising, Sophie Ashby released a public statement on the @studioashby account in response to #blackouttuesday; Sophie’s only ambition at the time was to make it clear that, as a company, @studioashby was taking the time to scrutinise it’s position within the industry, be honest about shortcomings in running a diverse company and vowing to take a good look at how to change things. Sophie also acknowledged something we’ve all known for a long time, that the world of interior design is difficult to get into and often kickstarted by established connections providing that all important ‘foot in the door’. At the same time, Alexandria Dauley of @dauleydesign having trained and tutored at KLC School of Design, had seen first-hand the lack of diversity coming through the doors of our training providers. She reached out to several people of colour within the Interior Design industry to discuss and understand their challenges and experiences, asking what they felt needed to happen to address issues of inequality. Motivated by the conversations she had, Alexandria reached out to magazine editors and leaders in the industry to specifically promote the benefits of schools outreach programmes, having had her own personal success story in the form of her daughter, now a ballerina at the @royaloperahouse thanks to a brilliant initiative ‘Chance to Dance’. Sophie and Alexandria soon joined forces. Encouraged and supported by key industry leaders and pledges of support from peers, they decided to launch @united_in_design fuelled by the belief that words are not enough and that what we need now – is diversity in action. #unitedindesign #diveristyindesign #diversityequityinclusion #equity #diversityandinclusion #diversityinaction

A post shared by United in Design (@united_in_design) on

Founded by Alexandria Dauley and Sophie Ashby, United in Design is driven by a clear need to deliver an equal opportunity pathway for entry into the Interior Design industry for people from black, Asian, ethnic minority and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Please head to their website to read more about their mission and their seven point plan for how they are planning to instigate change from a grass roots level.

United in Design

As others have written, “this is a movement not a moment” and as such, these changes will happen slowly over time, but it is heartening and encouraging to know that these changes are underway.

I will go back to my dance roots to end this post with a video posted by Alvin Ailey last month. I truly believe that dance is one of the purest art-forms there is and I hope nothing more than the changes within the design community and across the world continue to move towards equality and equity.

8 Comments

    • Karen Knox says

      Thank you – so many fantastic things happening 🙂

  1. Sue Shepherd says

    Thank you for this amazingly informative newsletter. I’ve been absorbed by everything it holds for the last 2 hours and I could keep going and will!!
    Your honesty and authenticity is the thing that keeps me connected with you.
    Let’s Dance!
    With Gratitude!

    • Karen Knox says

      Thanks so much Sue. I’m so glad this post has given you plenty of information to explore. And yes, the Alvin Ailey video is just beautiful isn’t it? Thank you again x

  2. Anonymous says

    Thank you for your very sincere post and this incredibly moving video.

    • Karen Knox says

      Thank you for reading. And yes, the Alvin Ailey video is just beautiful x

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