Designing the change: Black designers on equity and representation in the industry


Business by Design

Business by Design 

By Nicole Gull McElroy

In the short time I’ve been working on Business X Design here at Fortune, a handful of themes continue to come up in conversation: authenticity, empathy, innovation, accessibility, and equity. Designers, design leaders, and CEOs are all considering how to balance the design practices in their organizations within the contexts of these subjects, and the nuances that come along with them. While there aren't a lot of numbers reported in terms of equity, and vary on who you ask, it's clear there's plenty of work to do: The 2019 AIGA Design Census reported that only 3% of designers are Black. So I asked Black designers to share their thoughts and experiences, each in their own voice, on how an industry with so much opportunity and innovation can leverage its inherent strengths to foster, support, and grow good design talent in the Black community.


for Chelsi's bio profile photo

Chelsi Cocking, 27

Research assistant and graduate student, Future Sketches group, MIT Media Lab 

There is a reason why things are the way they are. It’s extremely disheartening to me. I had to figure out how to exist in it as a Black woman who wants to be an engineer boss and who wants to be an artist. I just kind of made it a tenet of mine: wherever I am, to move the needle in terms of opening doors and opportunities for people who are like me. One of the quotes that stuck with me, with the passing of Virgil Abloh, is, “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old-version of myself.”

Black people, women, people from underrepresented cultures in these spaces. How can you gain more exposure? I also agree that existing in the space as who you are is profound enough as well. Being who you are in a space that was not made for you, and was not built for you, and isn’t used to having you around, but [also] being in that space and trying to find the courage to be unashamedly who you are because it was a voice that wasn’t there before, but it’s a voice that needs to be there. It also allows for other voices that are also different from you. Every Black person is not Chelsi. Getting used to having other voices and perspectives in the room by being yourself; that’s something I’ve had to do a lot. Every time I enter into a new space, I have to remind myself that my power is in being myself and having the courage to do that in every place I go. 

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