Wednesday June 17, 2020
When I started Designers Available (D/A) in 2016, I didn’t see opportunities for graphic designers to directly connect with social justice work. While organizers and designers like Antionette Carroll and Creative Reaction Lab led conversations around community-engaged design from a racial justice lens and Dori Tunstall was writing about decolonizing design, the mainstream “social impact design“ and “graphic design for good” conversations were diffuse and continue to be today. Our professional organizations failed us in many ways but especially to connect those of us interested in learning what it looks like for designers to do the work. Black Lives Matter was cast as fringe and our idea of what designers could do for the cause was limited to protest posters. The differences between what this moment feels like (to me) and what the post-election moment from which D/A was born are vast. The need for the Black Lives Matter movement returns again and again as we are confronted with the murders of Black people at the hands of white supremacists. For white and white-adjacent people who might sat out the last few waves of what simply felt like bad news for other people, the urgency to speak and act against the violence wrought upon Black people has caught up to the speed of privileged lives. Many people have noted that this moment feels different in so many ways. We are called upon, once again, to dig deeper and we understand better than ever what is at stake. We are obligated to search for and address the patterns and practices of white supremacy in ourselves, our fields, and our communities directly.
Four years after starting this network, through working to define what this initiative could be, I can see with a certain clarity that we need Designers Available less than ever before. I’ve staked my professional and creative life on the belief that design is political and it can make material change in the world. I also believe that we each have gifts and perhaps, it is our purpose in life to align those gifts with opportunities to seek justice, create knowledge, and forge bonds. But I have doubts that what we need most now is graphic designers doing graphic design. I think we need more designers who will pick up the phone and make calls. More designers with means who are willing to give cash to the point of discomfort. More designers who are willing to give up jobs and opportunities. More designers having difficult and critical conversations with loved ones and colleagues. More designers using their privilege directly and strategically. More designers who are not willing to let the names of Ahmaud, Breonna, Tony, or George (or Trayvon, Eric, Sandra, Michael, Rekia……) disappear from our hearts and minds.
In my attempts to lead and shape D/A over the last few years, I’ve learned some things. I can and have summarized some ideas about how you might approach pro bono projects in a shareable resource. But I think the best insight I could share, what I wish I understood in 2016, is this: The only good and worthy thing is to try to connect with one person and to make meaning together. You can’t do this work alone and it is not worthwhile to try. We all have to give something up and it’s more than a little free time in the evenings and after work. Slowness. Take time to learn from real people and real experiences. Grace, patience, vision, and clarity.
So, this is not a message letting you know that you’ll be receiving an influx of opportunities to contribute your skills to support social justice work right now. I know it’s likely been disappointing and unsatisfying for many people to not have been connected with an opportunity to work on a project through this network. Instead. I’d like to encourage myself and this community to take a step back from responding as a designer right now and to instead step more fully into just being a person, being someone’s child, being a colleague, being a friend, being a partner, being a witness, being someone who needs love and care and can give love and care. I’d even warn against seeking pro bono work right now. The work of relationship building that brings project opportunities to your inbox is hard and slow work, and while I believe it is worthwhile, the moment demands urgency and action. To put it simply, one of the reasons we partner with nonprofits on design collaborations is to try to facilitate greater visibility and reach for organizations to increase their donations, supporting their work and making sure it can continue to reach people and effect change. My recommendation is to cut to the chase and give organizations money now and tomorrow and the next day. Encourage your friends and employers give. I recognize that, particularly as we face varying levels of precarity, giving money might not be an option for all of us. So for those of us with means and privilege have to find our own way to give and give up — resources, time, and power.Commit to the deep and lifelong learning about the liberatory visions and work of social justice leaders, activists, and thinkers outside of the flawed non-profit industrial complex. Plant the seeds of relationship building with organizations now. Learn more about what issues and organizations you're most motivated by in in your neighborhoods or in your hometowns. Sign up for their newsletters. Show up at their (for now, virtual) events. Find a different way to volunteer. Talk to your friends about their missions. Again, give as much money as you can and do it over time.
Designers Available is not actively seeking new project opportunities to connect you. I’ve updated the site to notify visitors that Designers Available is accepting project requests specifically from Black-led organizations and Black-owned small businesses (That’s something new for us! We generally only support not-for-profit work), so that we might be responsive if called upon. However, the significant work of outreach and networking to solicit applications is on hold. The world looks very different from the way it did when I started Designers Available. I saw a need and I’ve worked hard to fill it, continually rebuilding and reimagining this initiative. That need is constantly shifting — in the last few weeks, I’ve seen so many individual and organized efforts to offer pro bono design support for the movement for Black lives, which is both heartening and complicated. Even more encouraging and indicative of the difference between “now” and “then” is the richness and depth of resources available to us about the role of the designer in white supremacy, how to show up in our identities, and take direct action now. I’m so eager to hear from you about what you think Designers Available can be now and in the long term, what you’re learning and thinking about, what tactics you are bringing to the movement, and how designers can show up as people right now. I hope you’ll get in touch. It’s important to me to continue building based on a vision for how I want the world to be, not what it already is. I hope that you can join me in imagining a better world and continuing to reach beyond the narrow scope of our own imaginations, so confined by white supremacy, to liberation for each and every one of us.
PS. I want to follow my own lead here and be direct. Please reach out to me with any feedback you have on how you’d like to see Designers Available mobilize now and later, what you can contribute to D/A, and any resources you’ve seen that might be relevant to the community. Contact me on instagram, via email, or through this form I’ve set up this form for comments.