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Cultural diversity in design

13 May 2022
By: Barella Roberson
View article on Shots
or read below

It’s a new day. According to the US Census Bureau, last year the white population declined for the first time in the history of the United States. 


									

Conversely, over the past decade, the LatinX population grew by 23%, the Black population increased by 5.6%, and the Asian population has surged by over 35%. We knew this was coming, and some brands have done a better job than others at keeping up with the wants and needs of a more diverse populace.

Those that can create product solutions for the widest range of people, as well as authentic, effective and innovative products that address concerns for niche markets, will continue to win the hearts and minds of consumers. Companies that are walking the walk when it comes to servicing and uplifting those of us who have been neglected, silenced, and ignored by society, industry and design, will be rewarded with not only consumer dollars but elevated status over their competitors.

George Floyd's murder was a wakeup call for non-Black Americans.
Image sourced from Shots article

The tragic murder of George Floyd in the Summer of 2020 was a wakeup call for non-Black Americans, many of whom have been wilfully naïve about the state sponsored violence and oppression that African Americans have been screaming about and protesting against for generations.


									

Cooped up in our collective quarantined nests we all bore witness to the indifference and disdain aimed towards Black life that has plagued this country since the arrival of the first slave ship in 1619.

Without the usual distractions of everyday life, the excuses and ‘what about’-isms seemed lamer than ever. Non-Black Americans, particularly those of European descent, began to take ownership of their wilful ignorance, de-centring their own privileged experiences to gain empathy and seek accurate information on the Black experience in America in droves.

Brands jumped into the social justice and systemic racism conversation too, some cynically offering little more than lip service in the form of anti-racist tweets and black squares, while others made real commitments and investments. Unilever’s US offices celebrated Juneteeth, long considered the real Independence Day for African Americans.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Linda McGhee hosted healing circles for Unilever employees.
Image sourced from Shots article

They also used the holiday as an opportunity to deepen their commitment to Black employees by hosting Healing Circles, led by clinical psychologist Dr. Linda McGhee.


									

Safe spaces were created to have open discussions about systemic racism, the Black experience and identity in America, encouraging employees to become allies and agents for change. And, finally, Unilever took a step back to assess their brands’ contributions to the social justice movement and their efforts to uplift not only African Americans but all marginalised communities in the United States.

Reducing unintentional harm and adverse consequences in design is tricky stuff. Design aims to make emotional connections with consumers, and the potential for harm is great when done cynically or executed poorly. Conventional wisdom tells us to avoid appealing to consumers of marginalised communities with visuals and language too closely affiliated with such groups. Whether designing packaging solutions for ethnic hair or skincare, or attempting to broaden the market potential of universal products, new partnerships and actions may be required. Diversity and inclusion in design means that we must first acknowledge the need to include members of these communities in the design process.

1HQ's work for Vaseline was a collaboration with creators in China, India, South Africa and Latin America.
Image sourced from Shots article

The New York design team at 1HQ was tapped to create a limited-edition collection for Vaseline’s The Healing Project, a global aid initiative in partnership with humanitarian non-profit Direct Relief.


									

Vaseline provided product, dermatologic care and medical supplies to help heal the skin of impoverished people in crises around the world.

Tasked with creating purpose-driven branding to drive social awareness, the New York team collaborated with creators in China, India, South Africa and Latin America. The vibrant designs and textures featured on the labels represented artwork from the Maasai tribe in Kenya, henna tattoo designs of India, refugee murals in Jordan and Batik aesthetics of Indonesia.

Another way to leverage members of marginalised communities is to partner with organisations whose goal is to uplift the people the brand is trying to reach. Unilever’s Vaseline team has partnered with Hued for their Skin Equity for All initiative. Hued is a platform aimed at reducing bias, harm and the exclusion of people of colour in skin health and dermatology that leads to misdiagnoses, untreated conditions and higher rates of mortality for Black people. The commercial interest in targeting underrepresented consumers without appearing disrespectful and contemptuous is obvious. Marginalised people can smell inauthenticity a mile away and they respond with repulsion, sprinting to grab a competitor’s product off the shelf.

A brand’s resilience and success has always been rooted in their ability to adapt to changes in culture and the marketplace. Being mindful of the cultural shifts and increased diversification in this country and using it as an opportunity to intentionally diversify design teams opens up opportunities for diversity of thought, consumer bases, product solutions and drives net positive impact on society and industry.

It’s a new and beautiful day, indeed.

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