Last June, Luci Creative made a statement in support of the Movement for Black Lives. We used words like “commitment,” “ongoing,” and “accountable.” One year on, we wanted to honor these words with a reflection on our own internal discussions and its place in the broader discussions within our industry.

It was important to our team that we do this work ourselves. If we’re willing to open our minds, find something new, and listen to each other, we can succeed in developing a better understanding of the world around us and our place in it as designers.

We wanted to commit to not just a few short-lived discussions but to folding something into our regular practice and the rhythm of our work. We decided to start out with monthly conversations as a full studio before transitioning to bimonthly sessions.

To give us a little structure, each of our informal learning sessions follow a rough formula: a grounding question, a relevant reading, a brief presentation, small group discussion, and large group share-out. Structure is important for these discussions, but they rely on the buy-in of their participants to truly shine. And to our team’s credit, they were actively engaged in with enthusiasm, grace, and open minds.

Below are a few samples from our sessions, resources, and key learnings. 

WHAT IS SYSTEMATIC RACISM?

The Reading:

Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm by Kashmir Hill published by The New York Times

Mr. Williams, a black man from the Detroit area, was arrested based on improper use of a faulty facial recognition algorithm. Despite having a clear alibi, and police verbally acknowledging he didn’t match the photos from the crime, Williams was still detained for an extended period of time and charged for the crime.

What We Learned:

Our small groups covered a lot of ground, discussing unconscious bias, how race and class intersect, police systems, gentrification, the courts and legal system, how technology in general is developed, and how algorithms in particular can reflect the biases of their programmers. 

The team showed up for our first conversation with enthusiasm, courage, and open minds. Seeing our willingness to listen and learn from one another was infectious, fueling our appetite for subsequent sessions.

HOW DO SYSTEMS BECOME AND STAY RACIST?

The Reading:

Nice White Parents, Episode 1 The Book of Statuses

The podcast episode we listened to, and the other four in the series, detail how the motives and actions of white parents have enormous power in shaping school systems, and the consequences these actions have for non-white students and communities. It’s easy to see the flag-flying, hateful racist, but these individuals don’t maintain racist systems alone. It is through everyday, unconscious actions that much of the work of perpetuating racist systems is done. 

What We Learned:

Together, our small discussion groups talked through a wide range of interrelated topics. Gentrification, segregation and integration, diversity, language, politeness, white saviors, clashing cultural values, Eurocentrism, democracy, and privilege all came up throughout the course of our session.

With a predominantly white staff at Luci Creative, some of which are parents, many of our team members drew parallels to their own experience. Teammates mentioned how they saw this happening in their own children’s schools. This workshop gave us another moment to reflect on our own personal unconscious bias, and consider how we can confront them.

WHAT ASSUMPTIONS DO WE MAKE IN OUR OWN WORK AS DESIGNERS?

The Reading:

What Does It Mean to Decolonize Design? By Anoushka Khandwala published by AIGA Eye on Design

Our discussions of systems and racism gave us a solid background for turning inward. With our new understanding in hand, it was time to start making these conversations directly applicable to our work. We decided to wade into a heady and involved topic: decolonizing design.

In our reading, author Anoushka Khandwala neatly sums up the link between design and colonization: The work of designers is inspired by taste, and taste is derived from the societal forces that shape us and what we’re exposed to as we grow and learn.

What We Learned:

The article spurred a great discussion during our session, including subjectivity, the role of education in shaping taste and our understanding of “good” and “bad” design, the distinction between art and craft, the (rich, white) founders of graphic design and architecture in the West, and cultural appropriation. 

Reflecting on our own work, both personal and professional, and considering our own involvement in colonial thinking can be a hard pill to swallow. A part of decolonizing design is recognizing your own mistakes, acknowledging them, and educating yourself on how to move forward and do better.

WHAT ASSUMPTIONS ARE MADE IN DESIGN AND HOW MIGHT WE DE-EMPHASIZE PROBLEM SOLVING IN DESIGN?

The Reading:

Excerpt (pp. 92-94) from Roundtable Discussion by the Decolonising Design group.

We plunged headlong into the decolonizing design discourse, looking at an excerpt from a roundtable discussion by the Decolonising Design group. In the excerpt we chose, sound artist Pedro J.S. Vieira de Oliveira questions the value of a design ethos that sees the world as a problem to be solved, and how this notion is tied to a colonial mentality.

What We Learned:

Each team member identified a moment from the text that resonated with them as they read the excerpt. A few trends emerged, including ideas on the Western notion of design as a task of “problem-solving,” challenging our own assumptions and forms of knowledge and design language, and pushing the idea of offering a “seat at the table” to non-Western ways of knowing.

We pride ourselves on our ability to become “subject matter experts” for our clients. Yet, we must recognize the limitations of our own knowledge, and be willing to turn to other voices when appropriate, especially when an exhibition project deals with cultural subjects other than our own.

REFLECTION BY TREVOR CUNNIEN, TEAM DISCUSSION FACILITATOR

We remind ourselves that more discussion and work remains. Indeed, this is a project that is never truly finished. Could we have covered more ground over the past year? Of course. But, on balance, considering the realities of our day-to-day work and the course of our projects over the span of months and years, we’re grateful and impressed by our team. We embraced the opportunity to come together regularly to learn, converse, and listen as we make our first steps on a long journey.

Still, this is no reason to call our work and learning complete, and we recognize the need to push ahead. In fact, reflecting back at this work gives us energy to redouble our efforts and keep challenging ourselves. After all, we now know that it isn’t such a scary thing.

OUTSIDE RESOURCES

These conversations are unfolding across our industry and others. To see some of the work that others have been doing, we’ve collected a few examples below.

American Association of Museums

BlackSpace

Big Break Foundation

Design Justice Network

Design Museum Foundation

OF/BY/FOR ALL