The Daily Heller: A Long Time Coming

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There is a 596-page brick of a book that has been a long time in coming is finally here. It should be read by every designer, design student and educator because it represents a growing segment of a mature design profession. The Black Experience in Design: Identity Expression & Reflection (Allworth Press/School of Visual Arts) spotlights teaching practices, research stories and conversations through an underrepresented Black/African lens.

The editorial team includes Anne H. Berry, Kareem Collie, Penina Acayo Laker, Lesley-Ann Noel, Jennifer Rittner and Kelly Walters. The richness of this anthology was stimulated by Black Lives Matters, edited during COVID-19, and comes to the fore when diversity and inclusion in the design field are ready to be fully experienced.

From the original proposal to the book’s impressive completion (two times bigger than was proposed), the six editors knew exactly what The Black Experience has to impart. The following excerpt from that proposal serves as a vivid precis for the finished volume itself:

“As Black design faculty who represent a range of Black/African diasporic perspectives, introspection about our experiences, our career trajectories, our roles in academia, and the responsibility we have to educate the diversity of students we encounter has been heightened by the political, social and cultural events of 2020. We, too, are attempting to process everything we are seeing, hearing and watching, while continuing to stay engaged in our professional practice. 

“We now have the opportunity as well as the social and political momentum to make long-term systemic changes in design education, research and practice, and reclaim the contributions of Black designers. These changes can have a real and meaningful impact on the next generation of creative minds tasked with imagining, shaping and designing our future. Consequently, we are proposing a book spotlighting the teaching practices, research, scholarship, stories and conversations from a Black/African diasporic lens. The book [is] comprised of personal essays, visual essays, scholarly articles, interviews and case studies, including critiques of design process and practices, that address the following topics:

  • Design pedagogies and curricula that center equity and de-center the normativity of white, European modernism
  • The dismantling of harmful design systems through anti-hegemonic/anti-racist design practices and anti-hegemonic/anti-racist practices in design and design culture, including case studies on design practice through an anti-racist and critical lens
  • Interrogating design thinking methodologies and the white savior complex in the context of power, privilege, patriarchy and design for social impact 
  • New or alternative frameworks for inclusive design education and teaching pedagogies
  • Facets of Black/African identity and the Black diaspora in design
  • De-centering Black oppression and creating spaces for celebrating Black joy
  • Design Fiction as a space of liberation, subversion and protest.

“By focusing on Black-centered experiences and scholarship from diverse Black perspectives, we aim to bring the variety of epistemologies that guide design practices to the fore and focus on alternatives to hegemonic/white-centered modes of design research, education and practice. … In summary, we want to demonstrate that graphic design is a space with diverse representation.”

In the essay “Searching for a Black Aesthetic in American Graphic Design,” the late designer, activist and advocate Sylvia Harris Woodard states: “The relationship of ethnic minorities to the development of American graphic design is rarely discussed or documented by our profession because of the historic lack of racial diversity in the field. … Increasing numbers of African Americans entering the profession are calling for a fresh look at graphic design history in order to discover the aesthetic contributions of their people.” When Harris Woodard entered design school in 1971 she was part of a minority. The Black Experience in Design is evidence that a new design culture—criticism, pedagogy, theory and practice—has grown exponentially and impacted all of us.