Design is a Skill, Diversity is an Opportunity: Why Representation Matters

Start changing the status quo by learning how to include diversity in your creations.

Jay Perlman

What kind of story are you telling with your design?

Whenever you set out to make a composition, this is a crucial question to ask yourself, because rhetoric, tone, and messaging matter. In fact, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say it matters more than ever for everyone regardless of race, gender, or any community affiliation.

In the past decade or so, there have been admirable steps taken to implement diversity within the design world. While some illustrators and makers are doing their best to push things in the right direction, design and tech are still lagging behind where they should be in terms of inclusiveness.

Diverse Cool Kid doodles by Irene Falgueras
Cool Kids by Irene Falgueras

But where do design and diversity intersect, and what kind of impact do these have on each other?

I'm sure you've heard the anecdote that life imitates art. There are many examples of this being the case, and even with an ounce of truth to this statement, then life imitating inclusive design can push the world in a positive direction.

For you creators and designers out there, your projects have the possibility of not only being beautiful and reflective of a diverse population, but can also help deconstruct stereotypes and even racism.

There are ways for you and every artist of any background to start shifting the narrative without any cultural appropriation (that would be a big no-no). Plus, everyone from companies to individual designers, can start leaning into representation.

Let's dive in to see how we can all learn how to shift the visual narrative together.

Leaning Into Inclusion

In nearly every part of the world, there are problems regarding lack of representation and diversity, but thankfully some businesses and individuals are doing what they can to break an outdated way of visually portraying different parts of the population.

Shopify is a great example of a company that threw its weight into illustrating for all. Around five years ago, they featured an illustration system based on real-life people.

As the highly-touted illustrator Meg Robichaud puts it, "If you want to be inclusive, you need to illustrate different people, not different attributes." This is an insanely genius point, and something that leading companies with diverse audiences are (or absolutely should be) latching on to.

Colorful doodles from the collection Amigos by Gustavo Pedrosa
Amigos by Gustavo Pedrosa

Big-name brands and companies must know that their followings have people from all walks of life, which means that inclusive messaging should be said, written, and illustrated. It's a mission that needs to be baked into product design, marketing, UX, and brand messaging of any sort to highlights all prospective users.

An additional crucial point to remember is that inclusive design is not about balancing optics. Inclusiveness is not about "looking trendy and woke," but instead, it's about truly ingraining a message of equality into all brand messaging levels to fight systemic oppression.

What are some actionable ways individuals and companies can design and illustrate with equality in mind? Great question.

Work with a Diverse set of Designers

It seems so simple, and yet, there is still a lack of representation in both the design and tech workforce.

According to the 2019 AIGA Design Census, 73% of design is white, and a heavy portion of that is white male.

Data of diversity in design in 2019. 71% White, 29% other.
Source: 2019 AIGA Design Census

These are pretty striking numbers. It's no wonder that there has been a tremendous lack of accurate representation when that number is an improvement on previous generations.

For companies, design more often then not, becomes diverse when designers themselves are diverse and can give a more holistic representation.

For freelancers or individual designers, this rule still applies. Working with creatives of other backgrounds, or at the very least, studying a diverse set of creators, helps form a more complete concept of inclusive design.

photo of people from different backgrounds working in an office

It almost sounds like a lesson for children, but even children are better at being inclusive. Employing and collaborating with illustrators outside is essential for developing fair practices and accurate representations of the entire population.

Anna Goodson writing on cultural diversity in illustration nails this point perfectly, "Authentic representation and true diversity mean hiring illustrators from appropriate backgrounds. Artists who can draw on their own lived experiences and cultural knowledge know how to tell a story accurately."

The Artists Who Illustrate Diversity

Let's take a look at illustrators who are telling authentic stories with accurate representations.

Empowering illustrations by Mariana Gonzalez Vega

Inclusive doodles that empower from Stuck at Home and We are Women by Mariana Gonzalez

Mariana Gonzalez Vega is a no-nonsense illustrator whose work doesn't just highlight different communities but also packs a powerful message within every element.

In both of her illustration libraries (We Are Women and Stuck At Home), it's immediately clear that she has an authentic style that represents people of different backgrounds. It's easy to see that these collections draw from a variety of cultural inspirations, rather than just illustrating in a singular way.

Culturally inclusive illustrations from Leni Kauffman

Diverse illustrations by Leni Kaufman from Fresh Folk.

For all of us fighting for equality through designs, Leni Kauffman shows us a great example of inclusive illustration.

Inclusive design isn't just about race, gender, and religion but also about illustrating people who have disabilities. This goes beyond just diverse illustrations, because inclusive design that is truly aware and revolutionary focuses on all users, their personal experiences, and challenges they may be facing daily.

Gender fluid illustrations by Bonnie Kate Wolf

Gender fluid illustrations by Bonnie Kate Wolf in her collection Open Figures.

One thing you'll never find in Open Figures is a cookie-cutter doodle representation of people, and we absolutely love that about Bonnie Kate Wolf's style.

Bonnie Kate Wolf goes bold with her character illustrations and gives freedom to customize them in ways that some might call "unconventional." The truth about people and illustrations, however, is that conventional doesn't even really exist. There is no one standard set of features for humanity, and the sooner that illustrations and design embrace that, the better.

Generational doodles with Gustavo Pedrosa

Diverse and inclusive doodles from the illustration library Amigos by Gustavo Pedrosa

Gustavo Pedrosa's collection Amigos does a variety of things incredibly well to make this illustration system super-inclusive and an excellent example of diversity. For one, the color palette that he chose allows creators to make doodle characters of all ages! THIS. IS. BIG!!

Ageism is a thing, and it absolutely needs to be avoided. Illustrators, product designers, and creators need to consider that age is a factor, and that it plays a role in how people view and interact with the design.

Culturally Diverse Illustrations Make a Difference

Regardless of background, everyone can design with inclusion and diversity in mind; there are no requirements for wanting to make designs that authentically represent different cultures.

Diverse illustrations and inclusive design also don't mean that you are a saint or are without bias. All humans are fallible, and creating with the intent to inspire change and equality is what matters and should be the goal.

We all have the opportunity to create a world that is better than we found it, even if it's just choosing the opportunity to doodle for diversity.

Who do you think designs with inclusiveness in mind? Tweet us! We'd love to see their work.

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