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Survey: Design Is 73% White

A major census of the design industry by the AIGA aims to help make it more diverse.

In 2014, when Antionette Carroll was tapped to lead a task force on inclusivity for the AIGA—the professional organization for designers—she found that the organization’s primary reference materials for diversity in design was a 1991 article entitled “Why Is Graphic Design 93% White?

“I thought, it’s good that we’re looking at these things, but these numbers are entirely inaccurate,” says Carroll, who is the founder of Creative Reaction Lab and president of AIGA’s St. Louis chapter. Not only were the numbers on race not up-to-date, but there was no resource for gender, sexual orientation, and disability for the industry. Then there was the fact that in 1991, the design industry looked completely different than it does today—jobs like data designer and interactive designer, which now make up a growing portion of AIGA’s membership, were not even on the map.

Carroll decided that if the AIGA was going to lead an effort to make the design industry more inclusive, it needed to have an accurate picture of who makes up the profession today. Now, nearly three years later, the AIGA has published the results of that effort in its 2016 Design Census Survey.

Google was brought on by Material Design lead Jonathan Lee, who is also the AIGANY president, and the company provided the funding and built the site. The partnership, along with the support of AIGA chapters nationwide, helped the census reach beyond just AIGA members. It ultimately polled 9,602 designers internationally about topics more diverse than just their salaries, offering the most nuanced and extensive snapshot of the industry from an AIGA-led survey.

The data is open-source and available to anyone, which the AIGA hopes will encourage designers and agencies to help communicate about issues of inclusivity and welcome people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives into the field. The AIGA is also encouraging designers to analyze and visualize the census data from their own perspectives, the results of which it’s publishing on the site’s gallery.

It’s the first of what the organization hopes will be an ongoing effort—either annually or biannually—to show the shifting forces of an industry that is “morphing every day,” as Julie Anixter, AIGA’s executive director, puts it. The final results paint a picture of that shifting industry, touching on educational background, diversity, job satisfaction, and the future of design.

How Diverse Is Design Today?

The results listed on the site offer a broad overview of the key takeaways from the survey, but the gallery is the place with the most interesting perspective of the results.

For instance, an infographic designed by Timothy Hykes, vice president of the AIGA St. Louis, shows that 55% of those surveyed were male and 44% were female. In terms of ethnicity, 73% of those surveyed were white, 7% were Hispanic, 8% were Asian, and 3% were African-American. These are better numbers than the 93% of the industry that was white in 1991, according to the AIGA article mentioned earlier, but it’s still nowhere near reflective of diversity nationwide, which is 17% Hispanic, 13% African-American, and a little more than 5% Asian. Anixter says that being on par with the U.S. census should be the goal for the design industry—one that will only be reached if design leaders commit to hiring for diversity, looking for and exposing the work of those outside of their own design circles and studios, and checking their unconscious biases.

To drive the point home, artist and designer Ekene Ijeoma took the census statistics on ethnicity and created a lovely web tool called “The Ethnic Filter” that captures your face via webcam and overlays a filter based on ethnicity. The image visualizes the field’s lack of diversity with the user at the center; the less your ethnicity is represented in design, the more opaque your image becomes.

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