Contemporary Issues in Design Education Friday, June 8th, 2018

In-process research study: Student Designers of Color and Their Experiences in Higher Education

Anne Berry, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Cleveland State University

The experiences of students of color as they navigate their design education trajectory is a necessary yet largely untold story within design culture at large.

Despite the depth and breadth of discussion surrounding the AIGA Designer 2025 Trends, the subject of ethnic and racial diversity within the field—to say nothing of the potential digital divide students of color face—is noticeably absent. Understandably, focus is placed on making, doing, and the skills designers must demonstrate regardless of race or ethnicity. Yet design/communication is not a cultureless, context-free endeavor. Finding ways to bridge racial gaps in the profession is also, arguably, an important part of bringing greater authenticity to processes that prioritize community, collaboration, and human-centered design.

Without seeing diversity and inclusion represented in design curricula and design culture at large, particularly in an increasingly globalized world context, students may not comprehend the value of their perspectives or contributions. This narrative inquiry research study, consequently, addresses the theme of experience from within the design profession and via the stories of students of color as they navigate their design education trajectory. The objectives of the study are threefold:

To understand why students of color choose to study graphic/visual communication design in higher ed;
To gain an informed perspective on the educational experiences of students of color, i.e., how they were exposed to design and technology, how they experience the classroom environment, their fluency with technology, and what kind of academic support they are receiving; and
To determine how critical events, like events, and other events—as defined by Using Narrative Inquiry as a Research Method authors Leonard Webster and Patricie Mertova—in the lives of students of color shape decisions about pursuing design careers.

As a result of this study, I hope to contribute to the limited body of existing knowledge regarding students of color, advancing conversations within academia and professional practice about the relevancy of culture to current design pedagogy.