These Two Brand-New Initiatives Aim to Support the Next Wave of Black Design Talent

·3-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy Black Design Visionaries/DID
Photo credit: Courtesy Black Design Visionaries/DID

If you were to wander through any number of high-end furniture shops or flip through the pages of most shelter magazines, it wouldn’t be hard to see that the design industry has a persistent diversity problem. And despite an increased spotlight on inclusion and a groundswell of discussion over the course of the past year, the figures haven’t budged: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 7 percent of interior designers in the United States are Black. But two brand-new initiatives launching today—timed to coincide with Juneteenth celebrations—have action plans to elevate the next generation of Black design talent.

The first and largest is Diversity in Design (DID), a strategic coalition of companies that aims to increase Black representation across the design sector. The effort, which was kick-started at Herman Miller in tandem with Caroline Baumann, the former director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, hopes to build career opportunities for aspiring Black designers and bring awareness of creative professions into schools. So far, the group includes more than a dozen companies, including Dropbox, Architecture Plus Information, Pentagram, and Adobe, as well as an advisory committee of Black designers and educators. “Good design requires successful collaboration,” Baumann said in a statement. “The members of DID, all companies with design at their core, are dedicated to making the systemic change necessary to transform the industry for good.”

DID plans to uphold that promise: The organization already has plans in the works for a design career fair to take place in Detroit next year, as well as a partnership between Pensole Academy (a footwear design school based in Portland, Oregon, founded by Air Jordan designer D’Wayne Edwards) and Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. “As a Black designer I have waited three decades to receive Herman Miller’s call proposing the concept of DID,” said Edwards, one of the coalition’s advisers. “The lack of diversity in design is too large an issue for one brand to try to solve itself.”

Indeed, in addition to the DID launch, Instagram’s very own @Design handle—an account devoted to disciplines ranging from graphic to product design—announced a new design grant today, #BlackDesignVisionaries. The account, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum in New York, seeks to support and promote young Black design professionals through a series of cash awards coupled with mentorship opportunities.

The call for applications, now live through @Design’s Instagram page, invites young U.S.-based Black designers, ages 18 to 30, to apply for one of three $10,000 grants; a larger $100,000 grant will be reserved for an emerging design business. The applications will be reviewed by an expert jury led by Gagosian director Antwaun Sargent, along with the Jungalow’s Justina Blakeney, Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter, ELLE DECOR’s very own editor in chief Asad Syrkett, and more figures in the design community.

“Design can be a source of empowerment and futurity. But in order for that to happen, it needs to be more inclusive of all,” Sargent commented. “Design affects us all, and it is important that Black designers have opportunities to help shape our notions of the world through designing what the world can do and be.”

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