The UK design industry “isn’t representative of the society it serves” say the founders of Design Can, a new tool aimed at increasing diversity that launched yesterday.
The online resource and campaign offers practical ways to address the lack of diversity in the design industry, as well as a manifesto for change.
“At present, the design industry in the UK isn’t representative of the society it serves,” said Design Can’s founders.
“It’s 78 per cent male, only 13 per cent of employees are from BAME backgrounds, and worryingly there are few comparable statistics for people with disabilities, and none that are recent or particular to the design industry,” they added.
Design Can has been set up by a group of industry leaders and activists including editor of architecture magazine Icon, Priya Khanchandani, and designer Yinka Ilori, in collaboration with communications agency Zetteler.
Its founders aim to push the industry to better represents women, people from BAME backgrounds and people with disabilities.
It is split into five sections – read, watch, listen, follow and attend. Readers can discover the work of emerging and established designers, read selected articles relating to the industry, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and keep track of design events.
An open submission section invites people to send in the work and stories of under-recognised designers and organisations, as well as any relevant articles, events and reports.
“I want to drive forward Design Can because the design world is a place that’s accessible to the privileged few and it’s about time that changed,” said Khanchandani.
“When I once asked a magazine editor why he didn’t commission more diverse design writers, including women, he said: but where are they?”
“Design Can will hopefully help us rebut the ‘but’,” she added. “It will show that people of all backgrounds have something valid to say; they are simply underrepresented because they aren’t in the right networks.”
Designed and built by multi-disciplinary design collective Not Flat 3, Design Can’s online tool will be “a two-way conversation”.
The website’s landing page opens with the campaign manifesto, which states that design can disrupt the status quo, tell untold stories and confront its prejudice.
By celebrating new voices and sharing talent that has hitherto been ignored, design can be stronger, the declaration states.
A tin can motif acts as a symbol of “the hidden potential waiting to burst into the forefront of the industry”.
According to figures released this month by the Department of Culture Media and Sport, since 2017 creative employment has grown twice as fast as the wider UK economy and now accounts for two million jobs.
However figures from the Design Council demonstrate the lack of diversity in the creative sector.
A 2018 report shows that only 13 per cent of employees in the design industry come from BAME backgrounds and just 17 per cent of senior design roles are occupied by women.
“Design Can might not solve the problem, but it’s a refusal to accept the status quo,” said Sabine Zetteler, founder and director of Zetteler.
“We want to stop the standard excuses and expand the narrow view of what design can be,” she added. “This is another step towards an inclusive industry.”
The website also features a section called You Can, which offers a set of practical steps to allies and mentors on how they can join the campaign and help empower change.
These tips include recognising your privilege, and using your influence to employ and commission people from a diverse range of backgrounds, genders and abilities.
Other contributors to the project are Ella Ritchie, co-founder of art programme Intoart, Ansel Neckles and Steph McLaren-Neckles, founders of learning platform Let’s Be Brief, and Jane Norris, associate professor of creative and digital culture at Richmond University.
Last year, research by the Design Museum revealed that just one in five designers in the UK are female, despite the fact that more women than men study design to A-level.