I recently met and became friends with a designer in Amsterdam. We realized quite ironically that we have sort of mirroring lives. Upon meeting her, she expressed how awesome it was to meet another female designer and then on top of that to find out that I’m African American. I didn’t realize it until then how my presence/visibility impacted things because of the lack that already existed.
I was fortunate enough to be developed by a female designer phenom named Megan Burns and in a season where I was just starting out, I was surrounded by diverse designers who I admired and looked up to in the industry like Ashley Purser, Mario Bosque, and Arika Hanks. But in my surplus I was not aware of other’s deficit. Now in this social media age, I find most of the people I look up to being male or a majority race not out of preference but out of visibility.
Some people I follow that don’t fit that bill are: Lindsey Pruitt, Rachel Soh, Pedro Tuma, Alex Medina, Delgis Mustafa, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Es Devlin, Annie Leibovitz, Beth Cath, Charles Metcalf, Ava DeVernay, Greta Gerwig, Ilse Crawford, Neri Oxman, Ryan Coogler, Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, Ruth Carter, and Ray Spears. These are just to name a few. All of these people are either a minority race or gender but dominate in their respective fields.
My good friend and fellow designer, Daniel Riano, interviewed me for a paper he was writing for school about the topic. See our conversation below.
Daniel: Hey Kayla, thanks for meeting with me, I know you are a busy person, but I thought you’d be a great candidate for this interview. Let me remind you what the topic is that we will be talking about today. “Is diversity a problem in the design industry?” So, to start us off, what do you think?
Kayla: Thanks for letting me be a part of this! To answer your question, I do think it is a problem. Myself being an African American designer, I haven’t met a lot of people of other ethnicities other than you and another few who are designers.
Daniel: Yea I know exactly what you mean. Why do you think there isn’t much diversity in this thriving industry?
Kayla: Well I think that it all leads back to what they are teaching kids in school and where the kid was raised in. If you’re a person of color and did not grow up in a good neighborhood, chances are you will never hear about the design industry. You’ll hear about all the other jobs the world has to offer but kids in the hood don’t necessarily hear about art as being a career. Sorry if that offends someone but it’s true!
Daniel: No, great point Kayla. I think that the reason why this is an issue is because kids aren’t being taught this when they are young. I remember having art classes in high school but even then, they wouldn’t really push you to pursue a career in a creative field if you wanted to.
Kayla: Yea exactly, people of color aren’t finding out about this career at all, which is why we see the low numbers of diversity we see today in this industry.
Daniel: So, what do you think are some ways of introducing this field to people who may be interested?
Kayla: Well I think you offer more after school program for those kids who have a passion or want to explore design. I remember I had a class in high school where it was sort of like graphic design, we would make stencils and put them on t-shirts, anyways I loved the class so much I was never pushed to pursue more about it. It was just a silly elective to everyone else, but I actually enjoyed it.
Daniel: Got it, more after school programs and design classes in schools! I love that Idea.
Kayla: Yea, that way people hear about this industry early, just like they hear about becoming a doctor, lawyer or cop.
Daniel: Wow, that’s good. So let me ask you this, if you have even a slight interest in becoming a designer, these tools are very expensive, you know this because look at all the fancy computers we have to use to create cool designs, how can we get cheaper tools for someone who is starting?
Kayla: Yea that’s a good point. I think you find a way to fund schools to have these tools in those classes that are teaching this. I also think libraries is a good place to store these tools. They don’t have to be top of the line but at least something that these kids can use if they have a passion for it.
Daniel: That’s great Kayla, so now that you know about this issue, what do you think we can do as creatives to help with this problem?
Kayla: Well I think you reach out to people who are young and diverse who want to learn, and you teach them. We need more mentors in this world, so be a mentor to that kid who loves design.
Daniel: Yes, I agree with you. Reaching out and pouring your wisdom to others is a good thing. By the way, how did you end up in this industry?
Kayla: It’s funny you ask. My dad is a graphic designer and I basically followed his footsteps. I grew up not knowing much about it until I learned that my dad did it for a living. I didn’t know that was a job until I grew a passion for it. I guess it’s in my DNA.
Daniel: Wow, that’s awesome! We’ll Kayla thanks for chatting with me about this. I will definitely take your advice on some of these questions and make sure it makes it on my research!
Kayla: Absolutely, let me know how it goes!
My dad is also in this industry. He and I had a conversation and something he said stuck out to me. “I’ve been in this industry since 1992 and I don’t think I’ve ever worked with another African American designer.”
If you get a chance, raise up someone behind you and preferably someone who doesn’t look like you or in some cases, someone who does. And watch as the creative industry becomes rich and vibrant with people from all walks of life in every race, shade, color, and gender.