TO START OFF
Let me get it off my chest right away:
OPEN up design,
to allow the margins to emerge and explode in all its complexity and beauty without compromise, NOW.
As a designer, I have come to terms with the fact that what and who design history has been interested in canonizing, up to this point, does not reflect me, my cultures, my values, and many of the tenets that make me a citizen, a designer, and a teacher. I don’t see myself reflected in much of the narrative of design—not in the history, the theory, the practitioners or the outcomes. People of color: Hispanics, Latinx, African-Americans, Native Americans, Women, LGBTQ people—those labeled “minorities”—have been relegated to the margins at best, or often just excluded. In recent history, we have been part of the field itself, albeit in small numbers, but our narratives and ideas have remained marginalized, at times appropriated and abused by design for the sake of style and fake diversity/inclusivity.
In reality, the design history we currently have is fractured, incomplete, and biased. It is a monopolized, myopic narrative that has advanced a particular, narrow set of ideas and values, at the expense of many people and their beliefs, values, and cultural systems. What this history has left us is with a “Canon” which is narrow, not inclusive, not diverse, not open, not global, not fully engaging with a wholly multidimensional, diverse set of ideas.
MAKING/TEACHING: some questions
As a practitioner, and teacher I have long pondered questions about the “Canon” and the narrowness of design thought and pedagogy. I have remained silent, possibly due to the power (and, honestly, my own reverence and admiration for parts of design history and theory) of the “Canon.” It’s just lately that I have come to realize the validity of this inquiry and the fundamental importance of expressing and engaging with these critical questions. Here are a few questions I have posed to myself, and I now pose to you:
- How does our engagement outside in our world manifest itself in our art and design narratives (the field, the work, the examples) that we advocate, exemplify, and teach?
- If we march on the weekends for equality, inclusion, and equal rights, how are we “marching” in our making and our teaching?
- Are we hypocritical designers and teachers when we don’t challenge or question existing canonized pedagogies?
- How do the pedagogies we advocate reflect our current complicated, openly political, and diverse cultures?
- Are we just perpetuating the same system we criticize when marching by continuing to manifest/glorify/sanctify/canonize this design narrative?
- How do we do work, develop curricula, and advance our thinking and making to make openings for these IMPORTANT and NECESSARY narratives to emerge and become essential parts of the story of design?
- How do we combat this narrowness in the pedagogy?
- How do we expose—and blow up—this canon?
Answers to these questions will be complex and multifaceted. I continue to grapple with them even as I write this and think and re-think while developing syllabi for classes. What works do I show students as examples? Who made that work? Who developed that idea? Who do I highlight as exemplary figures that present an openness and diversity? It’s not about ignoring or neglecting, but rather about opening up passageways for the marginalized to march through.
DECOLONIZE (queering/colorize/othering/ make room for the margin to be a central tenet of the pedagogy/the field) as an action.
The current canon has to be actively and forcibly, if needed, toppled, thrown-off, punctured, covered, ruptured, revised, suspended, and elements of it erased and filed in the dustbin of history.
Allow for the narratives, examples, theories, stories, forms, divergent thoughts from our diverse, political, queer, feminist, racial, cultural views of others to emerge.
I think about it as Decolonizing design.
WE MUST DO THE WORK, all of us!
Let’s generate and create structures, platforms, and spaces that
open the pedagogy for the missing histories, narratives, and ideas to emerge, colorize, queerize, and otherize. Design needs this loud/aggressive jolt, and we must seek to actively and responsibly revise and expand the discourse—make it a fluctuating/expansive/open one—by facilitating, inserting, and highlighting voices from the margins.
Decolonizing, queering, colorizing as an action requires that we take ACTIVE steps to break the dam (the confines, the grid, the systems, the safety) design traffics in. Create openings for the neglected perspectives and ideas from the edges of the grid to explode outward—not seep out, but explode. Make spaces (big spaces) in your book shelves, leave spaces in our syllabi, literally leave spaces blank
to explore this idea/action responsibly; leave spaces for other to talk and share their non-western, nonbinary, non-“designed” work. Simply get out of the way and let others occupy the space.
Let’s go beyond style and hipness and more towards opening up, to quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her lecture “The Danger of a Single Story,” to “total humanity.”
telling, making, writing,
focusing, canonizing, glorifying,
Teaching, and allowing for systems that generate a single story that excludes to continue being the status quo.
OPEN UP THE FLOOD GATES!
Ramon Tejada is an independent Dominican/American designer and teacher based in New York City and Philadelphia. He works in a hybrid design/teaching practice that focuses on collaborative design practices working with not-for-profit and educational organizations. Learn more.