I’ve been thinking a lot lately about diversity in design. I graduated in 2021 with a degree in Graphic Communication (which is a Graphic Design degree without the BFA). My classes were full of women, but we never learned about female designers. I think we did learn a bit about Paula Scher, but only because a student in class did a project on her. My campus was voted one of the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses, but we never learned about LGBTQ designers.
The standard of work that was presented to us was from a white, male, European lens. Granted, my history of graphic design professor stopped teaching class during the pandemic so I really didn’t get a chance to learn anything about the topic, but still. I’ve realized my disappointment in the lack of diversity in design spaces, as well as the lack of representation that I experienced.
I recognize that not everyone has had the same experience as me, and that’s also totally ok. I’m sure other folks have had an incredible experience in their design journey. I also recognize my privilege in being able to attend school for design, but I also see the ways in which my education and experience had it’s issues. Because of the lack of education I had in school regarding this topic, I’ve taken it upon myself to relearn what it means to be a designer, and I want to shout out the following literature:
These books have challenged the way I think about design and have been the first times I’ve seen myself and my friends represented in an academic way. This isn’t sponsored in any way! Just genuinely loved the material and highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about the history of design from a new perspective.
In my opinion, the current standard of design is male, cis, and white. So, I’ve compiled a list of my current favorites that challenge that. My own top 10, if you will. Plus a few. These are my favorite non-white-male designers, and I hope you think they’re just as cool as I do. All information has been taken from the artist’s websites + social media accounts.
1. Kel Lauren
“Kel Lauren (they/them) is a Graphic Designer on unceded Cowlitz Land (Portland, OR), specializing in merchandise design and music branding. Currently freelancing for Bravado/UMG and EPIC Records.”
2. Julia Fletcher
“Julia Fletcher (she/her) is a music-based graphic designer and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY with over a decade of digital art experience. She has her BFA in Photography + Art History from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and taught herself everything she knows about graphic design by experimenting with Photoshop after hours of previous jobs.
Inspired by clashing colors, repetition in patterns and shapes, and maximalist compositions, she brings a colorful and nostalgic feeling to musician’s identities through a contemporary lens. Her process involves collecting found imagery, patterns, and textiles from the late 70’s and early 80’s to re-contextualize and collage archival material to give it new life. She finds inspiration in new wave bargain bin album artwork, art deco, Memphis architecture, Italian horror movies, and vintage Rafaella sweaters.
She currently works as an in-house designer for Secretly Group (Dead Oceans, Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian, Saddest Factory) and freelances for various clients such as Bravado (UMG), Live Nation, Red Star Merchandise, Grand Jury, Fire Talk Records, and more. Previously, she was designing at VMP (Vinyl Me, Please) and Second City Prints.
When she has free time, she's road tripping to hear live music, learning how to play bass, record shopping, or at a movie theater.”
3. Emma Bers
“Emma is a self-taught Brooklyn-based designer who works in the advertising and music industry.
She believes that play, humor, and joy all have a place in design.
Clients have included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Andy Grammer, Fitz & The Tantrums, Outside Lands, Broken Social Scene, Trey Anastasio, Jason Isbell, Flipturn, Turnover, She & Him, and more.”
4. Gina Sterling
“Gina is a 25-year-old visual artist and digital designer based in Maine. With a strong background in graphic design and a passion for creative expression, Gina has honed her skills through various projects and internships, working with clients in a range of industries including music, food, and film.
In 2020, Gina graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in German and Communication Arts, and also completed her minor and concentration in graphic design. Currently, Gina is freelancing as a graphic designer and content creator, and working remotely for a web design agency in Chicago.
Gina's interests include capybaras, animals with unusually long noses, Pokémon, British music, and fashion.”
5. Michelle Chen
“Based in Malaysia, Michelle Cpy or Michelle Chen (She/Her) is a Graphic Designer and Illustrator who forms deep love in expressing her artistic creativity that revolves around mental health, self-love journey and most importantly - self acceptance.
She’s mainly a companion to everyone via experimental designs.
Passionate and self-taught designer, she’s constantly spreading love in her practice by using nature-alike illustrations, visual diagrams, graphical structures and typography to produce a variety of works spanning from personal projects, digital medium and physical products.”
6. Caroline Deitl
"Caroline Dietl is a multidisciplinary one-woman design studio based in Germany, focusing on graphic design and art direction.
Well-known for her self-initiated Daily Poster project, spanning from July 2020 to July 2021, she gained a lot of notoriety for her colourful post-punk influenced designs. Her work is inspired by her love for everything dark, working with gothic imagery and typography to create haunting visuals. Always interested in finding something fresh between the past and the future."
7. Rachel Dempsey
“Dempsey Studios specializes in multimedia design, illustration and printmaking. Our work is a mixture of fun & witty humor, most importantly bold design.”
8. Alyssa Nguyễn
“Alyssa is a NYC-based, self-taught creative + head of ATNN Design. She founded this studio in 2019 while studying at Princeton, where she discovered her love for creating spaces for WOC. As a 2nd generation Vietnamese-American, empowering women like her is her life’s work. Her design philosophy is that it should be like life: fun, freeing, and fulfilling.”
9. Gracie McNabb
“Gracie attended Savannah College of Art and Design and obtained an undergraduate degree in Advertising and Branding, specializing as an Art Director and Designer. Gracie holds that role dear—directing art and designing various projects. With years of experience at Cultivator (a Denver-based advertising and design agency) and Made Movement (an advertising agency in Boulder), Gracie has now transitioned into a full-time freelancing career. When not gazing at a screen, Gracie crafts ceramics and reclines in the grass, wrestling with existential thoughts about the purpose of it all. One can only hope that if you're reading this, you're a splendid individual thinking, "Ah, this woman is precisely the talent I've been seeking." If not, well, that sentiment can be kept private.”
10. Elyssa Abi Karam
“Elyssa graduated from AUB's business school in 2016; however, the degree didn't quite resonate as the right fit for her. Design, on the other hand, captured her heart, and the art of merging functionality with aesthetics swiftly evolved into an obsession. Progressing from an intensive design course to hands-on learning and self-exploration, Elyssa proudly claims the title of a self-taught designer.
Vibrant color palettes, the beauty of nature, and the allure of the beach serve as constant sources of inspiration that fuel Elyssa's creativity. Her design philosophy often draws from these wellsprings of creativity, imbuing her work with a unique and distinguishing style. Authenticity, innovation, and a sense of elevation define her approach. Elyssa loves to experiment with illustration and graphics, occasionally indulging her creative spirit with a film camera. When she's not found behind her laptop, you might discover her lost in contemplation by the beach (pun intended), creating culinary delights, or thoroughly enjoying a Netflix binge.”
11. Oriel Davis Lyons
“Oriel used to be a chef. But he got sick of the long hours, intense pressure, and being shouted at by men with knives. So he got into advertising. Now, Oriel is a Creative Director at Spotify in New York. He's won some awards, which is nice. He's worked with some talented people, which is nicer. And there's less knives. Which is great.”
12. Julia Stanton
“Design by JRS is a branding studio based in CT & NY. Julia designs custom brands with a sprinkle of strategy & a whole lot of funk!”
Alright, wrapping this up: The world of design is vast and filled with so many incredible voices. This list is just a glimpse of the awesome talent out there that’s breaking the usual mold. This list isn’t comprehensive, as there are a million and a half graphic designers out there doing amazing work. These are just some folks that inspire me and my work.
It's 2023 and about time we broadened our horizons and gave everyone a spotlight. So here's to finding fresh inspo and celebrating all the creative voices that deserve more recognition. Let's keep exploring and pushing for more diversity in design. Peace out! 🌈✌🏽