DECOLONISED DESIGN = DESIGN
Hello, I’m Abraham E.👋🏾, an aspiring motion graphic designer from the Graphic and Media Design course.
Like many of my peers, both in DPS and outside, I had to find ways to adjust to the endless lockdowns, increasingly competitive job market and keeping my mental health in check, something I naively thought I could keep afloat with my digital devices, entertainment and making “pretty” stuff alone... when I actually got round even doing that.
The reality is that I’ve missed interacting with people wayyyy more than I thought I could. From seeing many of my peers frustratingly brainstorming ideas for a brief we still didn’t quite understand, to the fortunate stroke of serendipity when I’d see a mate in the tube on a commutes to/from Uni, all those experiences and routines were giving me a chance to get outside my bubble and find many creative common grounds and passions – I actually had a life! something I can’t quite uphold to as much right now, especially as all of the few placement I’ve (fortunately) had, were a constant reminder of the value of actually being around people, and not communicate via Zoom, Slack, IG or whatever app promises to be just like the “real deal”, ‘cause they aren't.
I’ve been somewhat determined to at least work towards shaping my skills, through courses, tutorials and personal projects regardless of the industry experience I’d get, to have some of the basic technical skills needed to realise my ideas, in the hope of shaping a body of work that resonates with my interests and close my growing creative gap ever so slightly. I still stand by the aforementioned, but I’m also realising the fact that I’m not projecting far enough, past the tools and aesthetic outcomes, but increasingly undermining what is the most important components of creative work: the idea + purpose.
After a very short internship trial at an amazing Titles Sequence and Motion studio, the co-founder shared with me some of their ongoing projects that I, obviously, hadn’t been exposed to in the short time I was with them. He spent some time talking me through the idea behind a rather unusual project that didn’t even seem relevant to their body of work at first, but couldn’t help but respect them even more due to the concept, audience and outreach it could’ve had, ultimately sharing with me that I should “really want to be a designer that tells stories and comes up with ideas with context, making pretty stuff for the sake of it will only satisfy one aspect of [my] practice. Focusing too much on the tools will just make [me] a button-pusher, for executing other people's ideas”, a harsh but true reality I need to seriously grapple with.
That reality-check prompted me to explore the importance of Decolonising Practices, its crux of which has undoubtedly shaped my own shallow definition of Design and Art, a greater topic I’ve admittedly not really bothered looking into, or neglected due to the large, uncomfortable conversations that often arise from it.
As a black, immigrant creative, the vast majority of what I’ve been taught academically has been mostly western-centric, from Literature, Maths, Sports, Science to Art & Design, I’ve grown to accept the history of each domain as the standard way of approaching those things, regardless of how much I was interested in the subjects.
As I’ve grown more, and made more conscious decisions about the subjects, fields (and subfields) I wish to explore, these same western-centric conventions seem to still hold that intangible sense of authority in almost everything I come across and consume, from where I go to find my “inspiration” to where I rely on to learn the techniques...if I dig a bit deeper, the foundations and practices far too often laid out by the western-centric communities:
Prior to sessions about the topic, I’d often ask myself “how big of a deal” can it really be? but after delving a bit deeper into the by-product of overly western-centric design foundations, I realised that a lot of the conversation surrounding the need to ‘decolonise design’, that is, the “shattering of the familiar” western/European practices, is essentially what the design process should be in the first place.
In an article by Eye on Design, Graphic Designer, Simba Ncube mentions how “our reliance on western culture inhibits our ability to incorporate other standards”, which might seem like a long shot when we’re often reminded of the numerous achievements from the west, but for the problems we’re facing today and the ones that've plagued us for decades, those ‘canons’ could be detrimental to innovations across a range of industries. The article further mentions that, often, when creative work from non-western cultures, such as tribal Ghanaian textures, make their way to the international mainstream, there’s a tendency to “cast [it] as craft rather than design”, undermining the creative process and thinking that may have gone behind it. But who decides what’s design or what “good design” even is?
In my first year of ‘high school’ in Italy, before moving to the UK, after being briefed to create a champagne bottle sticker with the new Adobe Illustrator tricks we’d just learnt, I was later quite happy to share my pattern extravaganza design, which was jokingly referred to as “exotic” by my teacher, maybe given the fact I was 1 of the only 2 black people in the class. While she meant well, it’s something that, in hindsight, underlines the need for design education and history to be stretched far beyond the borders of what we’re used to, which in turn can only yield a broader, innovative and status-quo-breaking range of work everyone can benefit from. Now, imagine if that notion was applied to other industries like STEM ones, what ideas from Zambia, Cameroon, Malaysia or Peru could usher novel solutions to ideas the West still struggles with today?! 🤩
As I looked deeper into what various players, like Antionette D. Carroll, in the creative industry are doing to advocate, discuss and usher Design Equity for BAME communities and decolonize design at its roots, I can’t help but respect and admire them all for having these uncomfortable discussions with other industry leaders and give them both a reality check of what our communities and people at large really need, and shatter some of the legacy frameworks that’ve held us from making real change.
While I am no design leader, nor do I intend to be one, I’m realising that even as a black, aspiring junior designer it’s my responsibility to start diversifying where I find my visual inspiration from, what I consider to be “good design” and most importantly start taking myself out of the equation when designing for an audience that I don’t represent, as well as adding my experience as a minority to the equation when something is being designed for the BAME community.
With more thoughtful notions about the potential of my design and motion work, I look forward to riding out the remaining months of DPS, getting out of my shell and connecting more with the DPS cohort however possible, and hopefully share some of the high & lows we’ve all undoubtedly had... and some good memes of course 👀.
Thanks for scrolling this far 👋🏾
- Antionette D. Carroll: Understanding Identity, Power, & Equity in Design Leadership
- What Does It Mean to Decolonize Design?
- Q&A with Sandy Speicher —Where are the Black Designers?
Graphic & Media Design
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