From tech to finance to cosmetics, the news is filled with stories of industries that are waking up to the fact that they are lacking in diversity. Today, Black people only represent 5 percent of those working in the field of design. But a new project being led by leaders across fashion, architecture, and industrial design is working to open doors for more young Black designers to walk through.
Over 200 Detroit high school students will have a unique opportunity to learn about the world of design and hear from some African Americans who are trailblazers in the field. The March 18 Designed By event will allow students to participate in roundtable discussions led by Black designers on topics that will include architecture, fashion design and industrial design. And the organizers hope that the conversations will pique these young people’s interest in a field where Black people are grossly underrepresented.
The initiative is being led by the Diversity in Design (DID) Collaborative, an organization created by Miller Knoll (formerly Herman Miller) in 2021. Nearly 50 corporate heavy-hitters, including Gap, Levi Strauss & Co. and Adobe, are all in, committing to help diversify the field of design. But rather than just writing a big check, members of the organization are offering their talent to spearhead projects which include working with HBCUs to create a design curriculum.
“Putting Black and BIPOC creativity at the center of culture has been the [core] of a lot of what I do. DID was an opportunity to move from creating awareness of perspectives of Black communities…to take a look at design itself: how can we open this up to create more positions like I’ve had the privilege to occupy?” said Todd Palmer, director of Diversity in Design.
Palmer, an architect, has focused much of his career on advocating for diversity and inclusion in design. He’s been one of the few Black people in the room on many of his projects, including producing exhibits for Detroit’s Charles Wright Museum of African American History. And he thinks it’s time to change that is now. “I have a first-hand knowledge of what it means to work in a profession that’s very white,” Palmer said.
From introducing design at the high school level to supporting internships and facilitating networking and professional development opportunities for young professionals, Palmer wants DID to reach far and wide to bring more young Black people into the field. He says DID will produce another Designed By event in Detroit later this year and hope to produce similar events for young African Americans around the country.
And while he hopes the events will inspire more young people of color to pursue careers in design, Palmer is even more focused on making sure they can stay in the industry and enjoy fulfilling careers. “We’re approaching this enormous problem knowing we can’t boil the ocean,” Palmer said. “We’re thinking about how a senior at this design fair, in a few years, is going to be entering the workforce. Maybe they go to an HBCU, maybe they go to Pensole Academy. But how do we [help with] that next step to higher education? Then we’re also looking at recruitment and retention.”