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Over the last couple of weeks, the world has erupted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Iconic Design fully support and stand by the values of this movement and the social justice it’s hoping to achieve. 

It’s so important right now for people to stand up and take accountability for the part their complacency plays in racism. If you’re not actively helping to dismantle racism in the systems and institutions around us, you’re being a bystander to the afflictions that black people and BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) continue to face. We want to show you some ways you can help create change around you, and on a wider scale. 

But first, as a BAME-led design company, we’d like to do our part by recognising and calling out how far our own industry has to go to correct the effects of racism. We have personally faced discrimination in the design industry and seen the effects of it on our peers – we speak from experience as well as research. 

Let’s start with you asking yourself some questions:

How many black graphic designers do you know in history? 

How many POC are working in your design studio? 

How many POC students were on your creative degree? 

Very few people will be able to answer that they know anybody to fit into any of these categories. Why? Because it is objective that the design industry is, and always has been, predominantly white. 

Design agencies in Leeds are scarce of BAME employees, but this is the same all across the country. These same agencies we see with a lack of diversity in their workforce are the ones we are seeing making posts in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Did somebody say ‘performative activism’?! 

In a recent study by the Design Council into the demographic data of the UK’s design workforce, the results suggest that the industry is predominantly straight, white men who are under the age of 44 and from higher socio-economic classes. Their prominence in the workforce is overwhelming, and much higher than the wider UK workforce. Approximately 88% of the design workforce is white. 

This data evidences a substantial lack of diversity within the UK’s industry workforce, and this matches with data from the wider world – approximately 86% of professional designers in the US are white according to AIGA. From a mathematical standpoint, this is disproportionate and an issue specifically for the design industry as the wider workforce includes higher levels of diversity.

As well as overt discrimination in hiring and within workplace cultures, systemic racism plays a huge role in why the design workforce is so white. 

Exactly how systemic racism influences these figures might be surprising: 

Representation. It’s hard for young people to imagine lives and careers for themselves in places where they don’t feel like they belong. With a design industry so white, how are young BAME meant to feel welcome? In 2017, The Guardian reported that there has been no black academics working in senior management positions in any British university for the three years prior – more black people were employed as cleaners, receptionists or porters. With no BAME teachers, no BAME workforce, no role models - what is meant to tell young black people that they’re allowed in the creative industry? It’s discouraging and evidences why representation is so important. Universities and employers need to be held accountable.

Classism. A huge barrier to entry of the design industry is work experience, with most designer job listings asking for at least a year’s industry experience as a requirement. This is what leads so many design students to look for internships, the majority of which are unpaid and limited to London. The average cost of living is meant to be around £1100 per month, so moving and living there without a source of income is so difficult for young people without socio-economic advantages or a pre-existing network. For BAME students, studies show a considerably higher proportion of BAME households are low-income in comparison with white households. And with a lack of BAME in the industry, you’re hard pressed to find a likeminded network. It’s difficult for anybody to find an internship, but the systemic socio-economic disadvantage that BAME people face make unpaid work experience an extremely difficult option. Social mobility – or changing socio-economic class – is made difficult for BAME people due to wider systemic racism, and as access to the design industry is so inhibited by socio-economic class, this is a massive factor. 

[Check out to see a compiled list of paid internship opportunities in London]

There are effective ways that we can actively dismantle this system through raising awareness, creating and supporting networks & platforms to support each other, and encouraging people in power to positively discriminate and create opportunities.

Here are a few of the changes the industry needs to make:

  • Ending unpaid internships as they are discriminatory against people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, or simply just requiring less experience.

  • Blind recruitment – not screening personal details i.e. name, address, age, on applications - to avoid prejudice & discrimination in the hiring process.

  • Frequent training for staff & management on diversity and inclusion to encourage a better workplace culture.

  • No tolerance policies on racism and discrimination.

  • Positively discriminating in the opportunities they offer – offering work experience, portfolio reviews, workshops to BAME students and lower socio-economic communities to help encourage creative careers to those who are disadvantaged.

  • Supporting charities and organisations that fight systemic racism, and ones that support BAME kids into creative careers.

  • Collaborating with the BAME community when working on projects for a BAME audience. It’s important for people’s voices to be heard and understood.

What can you do to help?

  • Support the Black Lives Matters movement. Donate, sign petitions, educate yourselves on the history of racism. We’d recommend visiting

  • Be a better ally. Support black and BAME people even if they aren’t in the room – be active in helping them get into the room too. Don’t shy away from the difficult conversations – it shouldn’t be BAME people’s jobs to do all of the educating and emotional labour. We’d recommend watching this:

  • Encourage the support of black & POC creatives and businesses. Making sure your money and resources go those who need it more than wealthy white creatives & businesses makes a world of difference. 

  • Supporting charities and organisations that fight systemic racism, and ones that support BAME kids into creative careers, using your money, your voice and your social media platform. 

  • Encourage these changes in my own workplace. Whether you’re in the design industry or not, many of these changes will help dismantle systemic racism across the wider UK workforce – but not without people standing up and making their voices heard. Make sure their performative activism turns into real changes. 

BAME Platforms you should support:

What About The Black Designers? – “an initiative which aims to give a platform to creatives of colour. By connecting designers, educators and creative leaders we hope to start a dialogue about change in and out of the design industry.” | @wherearetheblackdesigners )

Race Zine – a Leeds based “non-profit collective that collates healing, empowering and informative content made by and for the BAME community. We hope to inspire a sense of defiant unity through our online platform and events, be that club nights, talks and workshops, or our annual zine” | @racezine )

Sable Radio – a BAME-led, independent non-profit online radio station broadcasting out of a former Convent turned digital arts space in Mabgate, Leeds. 

( | )

Fuse Directory – “a community, creative platform and directory dedicated to creatives of colour in Greater Manchester, working towards a racially diverse and inclusive creative industry.”  

( | @fusemanchester )


Iconic Design

This blog was brought to you by Iconic Design and our Junior Design Leon.

"I'm Leon Davis, a Junior Designer at Iconic Design. As a young, mixed race designer I have witnessed and researched how racism exists within the groundwork of the design industry - in hiring, in creative education, in workplace cultures. Iconic Design supports the current #BlackLivesMatter movement, and I want to address this systemic racism within the design industry too. It's time that the creative world gets held to account. #BlackDesignersMatter"

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