an ethical guide to inclusive design
incorporating representation without appropriating marginalized communities
This document contains general advice on adding diversity in our design practices. As well as providing questions to ask before involving ourselves with projects about representation in an ethical way. The provided perspective is derived from my own experience with inclusion as a freelance disabled graphic designer.
Being physically disabled myself, I understand there are intersectional aspects within marginalized groups. There are privileges that I have within my own community; so it is important to address that this guide has been created through the lens of a white woman’s perspective.
I believe accountability is a necessity within the ethical practice of representation. We must be able to learn and grow beyond our own experiences. If you come across information in this document that could be harmful or misguided to what it represents, please click here to get in touch. I am more than happy to revise the content of this guide.
adding diversity within our daily work
At the base level, incorporating diversity into our client’s brand work, photography, or illustrations should be constant. As designers it is our job to bring visual identities to businesses, and are responsible for the lens in which companies (large or small) provide the masses.
We need to ask ourselves, if clients are not open to representing marginalized groups — BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Colour), Latinx, Asian, Jewish, Trans, Non Binary, and those discriminated against for their religion, class, gender, sexuality, body size, age, and disability — within their project, should we accept the work?
The short answer is no. Even with “target audience” consumerism, there is no justified reason why the work we create cannot be inclusive. This isn’t simply to “check the diversity box”, but to represent the society we live in… Which last time I checked, includes members of marginalized groups.
Within our own work we can show support. Art is expression, and if we want to show our support for diversity, we need to incorporate those values into our creations; without overshadowing the art and culture of a marginalized community.
This idealism brings up questions. How do we know the intent of a diversity project from our clients? Within our work, when does our expression begin to overshadow/harm the very group we are trying to ally for?
when to step down on projects involving inclusion/awareness for marginalized groups
As privileged individuals (yes myself included), diversity within a design is vastly different than creating/participating in projects intended to bring awareness to a community we will never fully understand. True support lies in our ability to move aside and give the opportunity to a member of that community.
But how do we know when to step down? It has to do with questioning the intent and purpose of a diversity project, whether it be one of our own creation or requested by a client. The following are a few internal questions to ask in each scenario. Please note these are based on my own practices throughout the years, and is only a suggested place to begin. Conduct further research for every project proposal, and the community it intends to represent.
questions to ask before accepting a project on awareness/inclusion
- What is the business model/values of the company starting this project? What is their stance on diversity as a business, and what are they actively doing to support that claim?
- What is the purpose/intent behind the project? Is this simply a “diversity box check” or is it going to provide a valuable resource to the community they intend to bring awareness to?
- Do they have representatives of that community involved in the project? Do they plan to hire and compensate consultants who are members of that community? If the answer is no to either of these questions, it is unethical to take on the project.
- Can this work be done by a member of the community the project represents? If no one from that community is collaborated with or working directly on the project, then we must step down so a person of that marginalized group can take on the project.
- Where are the proceeds going? If it is a profitable project, there needs to be transparency in where the money is going, and who will be profiting off this project.
questions to ask before starting a personal project on awareness/inclusion
- What is the intent of the project? Are you a member of the group or showing support as an ally? Does the message behind the project inflict negatively upon another marginalized group or intersectional overlaps?
- Have you done research/consulted with members of that group? It is easy to misrepresent a marginalized group you’re not part of, due to a lack of education on the subject. Misinformation is harmful to the group you are trying to advocate for (whether accidental or not). If you are a member of the community, have you considered intersectional aspects?
- Would the work be better suited for someone in the community you’re supporting? Why take away the work from skillful members of marginalized groups? Instead of creating something, reach out to people in that community for a collaboration.
- Will you be profiting off this project? Profiting includes financial and self-promotion (exposure/growth). If you are benefiting from this project without the inclusion and benefit for members from that community, it is unethical.
Still have questions? Whether we are marginalized people, or wanting to show support, accountability in our involvement with inclusive work is imperative. It ensures a project is executed in an ethical way. If there is a design project created to promote inclusivity, diversity, and awareness for marginalized groups, we need to remember:
when in doubt
Consult with actual members and organizations of the marginalized group before starting a project. Additionally, put in the research and educate yourself.
Collaborate with members of marginalized groups, and be aware of the intersectional aspects to representation within a project.
Credit and compensate (financially/promotionally) the people/organizations of marginalized groups who put their energy into these projects, or who inspired its creation.