Design Museum's new virtual exhibit emphasizes the need for racial and gender diversity in design

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Design Museum's new virtual exhibit emphasizes the need for racial and gender diversity in design
We Design: People. Practice. Progress online exhibition.

BOSTON, MASS.- Bringing the transformative power of design to the forefront, Design Museum Everywhere goes virtual with its groundbreaking exhibition, We Design: People. Practice. Progress. Highlighting the lack of racial and gender diversity in the design field first and foremost, We Design demands change in the industry and encourages the next generation of designers to make an impact through design. We Design begins with the words of Marian Wright Edleman, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The dynamic online exhibition tells stories about designers of different ages, genders, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities — showcasing their unique personal lives and career paths through stories, oral histories, videos and photos, along with examples of their work throughout their careers including design process imagery and artifacts. Using quantitative and qualitative data visualizations and case studies, the exhibition further exposes the racial inequities in the design and innovation industries, with staggering statistics like: 86% of graphic designers are White. 69% of interior designers are women, yet interior design firm leadership is only 25% female. Only 2% of licensed architects in the US are Black, while Black women represent 0.2% of architects.

“People in positions of power and education have an obligation to make the world a better place, help amplify the voices and work of others, and be a vehicle for change, “ explains Sam Aquillano, Design Museum’s Executive Director. “Our mission in creating We Design was to illuminate a path in design for those from historically underinvested communities and to call upon the industry to reckon with the White, male dominated history of design. And at the same time, the program can help everyone understand both how far we have come and how far we still need to go.”

Four years in the making, the Design Museum established a board of advisors made up of experts in equity, design, art, education, career development, human resources, and others with the desire to create an exhibition that would work as a starting point and resource for designers of all backgrounds to make the design field more equitable, just, and inclusive. The team worked firsthand with all featured participants — through interviews, site visits, and collecting images and artifacts to develop the exhibition.

Initially premiering in Fall of 2019 as a physical traveling exhibition at the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Boston, MA, the program has travelled to Bow Market - Somerville, MA; Boston City Hall - Boston, MA; and Clay Creative - Portland, OR. COVID-19 and the awakening to centuries of racial injustices caused Design Museum to transition We Design to an online resource to make the designers’ stories available to everyone, everywhere.

The online experience features fifteen different profiles of designers and is divided into seven different categories, so that viewers can explore the design sub-fields that most interest them. Highlights and profiles from the design fields include:

Arts and Apparel: Focuses on aesthetic expression, anticipating, and reflecting cultural and social trends. Featured designers are Ade Hassan, Founder & Director of Nubian Skin, Jeff Staple, Founder of Staple Design, and Clint Ramos, Founder of Clint Ramos Design.

Community: Focuses on the power of collective creativity by increasing the opportunity for participants to be shared visionaries in their communities. Featured designers are Liz Ogbu, Founder & Principal of Studio O, and Gabrielle Bullock, Director of Global Diversity at Perkins and Will.

Graphics: Creates and combines symbols, images, and text to visually represent ideas. Graphic design involves product marketing, improving communication, changing the aesthetics of places, and more. Featured designers are Sabrina Dorsainvil, Director of Civic Design at New Urban Mechanics, and Janine Kwoh, Owner & Artist at Kwohtations Cards.

Media and Technology: Deals with how people access information and create a connected and informed world. Featured designers are Fady Saad, Co-Founder & Director of Partnerships for MassRobotics, and Nestor Castenada, Senior Composites Engineer at Terrafugia.

Objects: Create, plan, and style manufactured goods considering form, function, comfort, accessibility, marketing, sustainability, sales, etc. Featured designers are Debra Latour, Occupational Therapy Educator, Prosthetics Designer and Advocate, and Phil Kongtcheu, Founder & CEO of eMotionRx, Inc.

Spatial: Shape ideas about spaces and how we navigate them, and ensure that each concept reflects the values and experiences of the people using the spaces. Featured designers are Elyse Ayoung, Designer at Gensler, and the late Phil Freelon, Principal & Design Director at Perkins and Will.

Systems and Strategy: Works with big picture change, and involves masterminding strategic and organizational plans based on understanding all the pieces of a larger puzzle. This field applies to challenges like business growth, education, gameplay, health care, city planning, and climate change. Featured designers are Rica Elysee, Founder & CEO of BeautyLynk, and Taniya Nayak, Founder of Taniya Nayak Design.

Now a part of the museum’s permanent collection, We Design will forever be available online and continue to evolve and grow in the weeks, months, and years ahead, featuring more career stories from individuals showcased in the original traveling exhibition. We Design is available to travel and will resume as a traveling exhibition once it is safe to do so.

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