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The Future Must be Different from the Past: Embracing an Anti-racist Agenda

July 3, 2020

ID launches a new event series with a discussion by ID professor Chris Rudd and guest panelists Cheryl D. Miller, Christina Harrington, and Norman Teague

ID professor Chris Rudd led a discussion with Christina HarringtonNorman Teague, and Cheryl D. Miller on advancing anti-racism in the field of design, and how design practices can be used to end systemic racism.

Celebrated graphic designer, Cheryl D. Miller, detailed her historic career, how her brand identity firm defined the civil rights era, and her personal archive at Stanford University.

When I got back on this journey after raising my kids, I found nothing had changed, except right now, in this very moment. This is not the first time I have seen reparations, this happened after the civil rights era. But I am hopeful in this very moment. If you had asked me that before George Floyd, I would have said we’re going around this rodeo over and over again. But I’m getting calls now and outreach now that I’ve never had.

Designer and qualitative researcher, Christina Harrington, discussed how her work in human computer interaction and healthcare innovation is shifting design approaches in healthcare technologies to address the needs of Black Americans. She laid out clear steps for pracitioners to center anti-racism in technology design.

The U.S. has failed poor Black Americans and human centered design is not enough. Human centered design and human computer interaction have been slow in dealing with racism and looking at race as a construct, and as a determinant in how people interact with health technologies. Often poorer Black Americans, poorer Black older Americans especially, have been left at the margins of our considerations when these technologies and these systems have been designed.

Chicago educator and industrial designer, Norman Teague, talked about the importance of creating space for Black joy. Through Back Alley Jazz, his project with Fo Wilson, Norman brought together artists, performers, and architects to take over a block in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, bringing the Hyde Park Jazz Festival to residents’ back yards.

Ultimately, I’m thinking of making things of course, but as a community person who has seen the marginalization of our neighborhoods, I always try to find ways in which we as designers can collaborate and deliver what I want to call Black joy.

ID professor and community designer Chris Rudd, discussed 51 Futures, a project with ID students and Boxville Market, which brought design tools to help people imagine and build the future they wanted. Starting with a framework, “The future of ____ has to be different than the past,” the community designed for a future where the perception of Black folks was completely different than the past.

We thought about how to make inanimate objects anti-racist, and if we could do that, we could start to build anti-racism into all the things design creates: processes, technology, services.

And Chris illustrated how an organization could map its own systems of oppression, an exercise that ID students recently completed.

Following panelist presentations, Chris sparked a dynamic conversation with the following questions.

  • “States are now removing confederate statues and companies are removing symbols of racism, but as we see with Aunt Jemima pancakes, design has played a role in creating and making racism digestible. What is the rebel flag or confederate monument of design to you?” Watch the discussion.
  • “Around the country, businesses and universities are declaring that they are going to embark on a more racially just path, ID included. So, what do design schools, studios, and the field in general need to do to become anti-racist. No inclusive, not just diverse, but anti-racist?” Watch the discussion.
  • “Racism has been designed into every system we know. So, what would it take for design to end racism?” Watch the discussion.
  • “Can each of you share something that you learned through your anti-racist design work that can help other designers?” Watch the discussion.

In closing, Chris said:

How do we get together to stop the oppression? I think design has a particular part in history to help facilitate those connections, to help illuminate these new futures, to make the invisible visible. They’ve embedded racism so well into our structures, most of the time people can’t see it. And I agree with Christina, I think Black folks, because of our special nature and relationship with racism, can point it out pretty quickly. So, trust us when we say it. But to dismantle and destroy it, it’s going to take all of us together playing our parts.

The Future Must Be Different series is part of ID’s ongoing commitment to anti-racism work. This webinar is the first in a series of events addressing design’s role in this work, extending the traditional design triad of viable, feasible, and viable to focus on solutions that are inclusive, just, and sustainable.

Watch the full video