Latham Fellow

Antionette Carroll on activism + impact, design + diversity, our purpose + our problem


As a pre-conference 2019 Latham fellow, Antionette Carroll spoke to the design community on March 6, 2019, at ID. Antionette focused on activism and impact, one of the main topics of our upcoming Design Intersections conference (May 22–23, 2019). Following is a selection from the transcript of her talk.

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On design + diversity

I like to highlight that I am a designer but I’m also a DEI specialist (which is a diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist) and usually those worlds do not intersect, they don’t really cross over.

DEI specialists don’t really understand design, if they even know what design is. At the same time, the design industry doesn’t always understand diversity, equity, and inclusion. Understanding both, I can specialize in this work.

So how do I show the intersection of the space and that we are actually working towards similar things? It’s just the variations of language and access that kind of keeps us apart.

What is the role of power? How do I leverage my power for others? I encourage all of us to think about this. How do we shift our power to others, and if we’re not, why not? Because that is the big question you need to ask yourself: why are we not willing to share that power?

On Creative Reaction Lab

We brought together activists, designers, and technologists and had them look at the St. Louis racial divide and come up with their own interventions. And the reason why I was very intentional on having designers at the table was because I believe designers are navigators of complexity and ambiguous situations.

If you look at the reality of our society and our world, design was innovation before it became a word. Design was disruption before disruption became everything in Harvard Business Review. Design has been there, it’s always been in the fabric of our society and at the end of the day, we make something out of nothing every single day.

You give us a blank sheet we don’t shy away, we’re like, “OK, I can make a building out of this.” It’s just the truth. And if we are able to do that, why are we not at the table when it comes to addressing systemic oppression? Why are we not at the table when it comes to social justice? Why are only called when it comes to commercially- based projects but not things around social good?

I wanted to flip that on its head and have us actually be the majority in the world and kind of lead our own kind of path with the activists.

On our purpose + our problem

We need to hunker down right now, we need to focus. Racism is a public health issue. It is something that is embedded in our culture. Why are we prepared to talk about class and not talk about race and not talk about racial inequities and how it drains the life of our communities?

And that is a problem that I cannot fix alone. We all have to do the work. There’s plenty of situations I know people are dealing with every day, swallowing it, that they have to sometimes tuck away because work tells us that we can’t show up with it even though it’s still there. We all have to address in some form or fashion.

So that led to my purpose.

An African proverb says that any system produces what it was designed to produce. You may have the greatest intentions but yet communities still are not invited to the table over which we can flex our power in some form or fashion. And so for us at Creative Reaction Lab, this is central to our work of equity by design.

Even after everything I’ve been through, I believe that will be able to lower levels of gun violence. I believe there will be able to actually increase life expectancy for communities of color, I believe that we can do that.

I have my personal mission which is just three words: challenge, champion, and change.

But again, it goes back to all of us. And so I want you to think about your personal purpose. I want you to think about how that shows up in the space that you work in. At Creative Reaction Lab, we created this kind of Mad Libs-style pledge that anyone can take on our website.

Really think about what do you want to do make your community better, and how are you going to do it?

On design as action

The power of design is that we’re already action-oriented.

My work is not just around interpersonal conversation or what someone says around the water cooler, it’s around systems and understanding that systems were created by people. That means that we can shift them and mold them and recreate them.

As an organization, we understand that we have to change the way people address the system of oppression and inequities.

IBM for decades has been defining design as an intention behind an outcome. That means that everyone is a designer and everyone has a responsibility to play in designing.

At Creative Reaction Lab, we are very intentional about understanding that intentions are not enough. You have to think about the impact of your work. If you only say “I have the best intentions,” but don’t think about the impact, no offense, but you are also part of the problem.

You have to think about what is the real impact, what are you leaving behind. It is always going to have an impact negatively or positively. Always.

I’m trying to get people to become a new type of leader. We call it equity designers and design allies. We need help for that to happen.

One person explained it best when they said: ‘With equality, we have in mind access to the same opportunity, but equity is about people having the same outcome.’ Understand that opportunities and outcomes are not the same thing.