Revealing and unlearning racialized design.

Diversity and inclusion are emerging as prominent topics on campuses in the United States. In the last few years, multiple institutions of higher learning have outlined diversity and inclusion goals and actions. Some of the challenges they have outlined to address are geared toward advancing a more positive campus climate. One common recommendation is to “infuse co-curricular programming and services with components that create engaging cultural competence learning opportunities for students”1and creating “new courses, curricula, and pedagogy are needed to respond to experiences of underrepresented and under served students.”

Our goal is to facilitate workshops in academia and with organizations in the public sector to identify forms of Racialized Design – design that perpetuates elements of racism. This toolkit walks participants through the design research process to assist in cultivating learning environments to further explore issues of race and racism.

Our goal is two fold: 1) to guide educators and students to utilize design research methods and processes to solve systemic problems, and 2) to inspire further work in the public sector to identify forms of Racialized Design in an organization.

These three hour workshops are focused on:

  • Critically analyzing and identifying artifacts of Racialized Design; (more obvious)
  • Shared experiences of microaggressions and implicit bias; (less obvious)
  • Systemic forms of racism and how we and our culture perpetuates them. (essentially invisible)


The discussion will be supported by historical research methods that reveal and define the tropes and archetypes that designers use to perpetuate systems of racism. Throughout history, there have been many examples of the exploitation of people of color and non-mainstream cultures. For example, the ready-mix products by the Aunt Jemima Mills Company made popular for its reference of the “Mammy” archetype icon that parallels a slave persona from the 1800’s “slaving over a hot kitchen stove.” And while there are many historical examples of blatant racism, these racialized designs continue today with national sports teams like the Washington Redskins who “vowed to “never” change the team’s nickname” (Fig. 1).3We will provide examples of designers from the African-heritage, Latinx/Chicanx, Asian, Native American, and allied communities who are using their creative skillset to participate in social justice movements and disrupting societal norms.


Personal experiences have proven to be a key element in empathy building across a variety of disciplines. In fact, real-world storytelling is the first step in the design research process and integral part in understanding the audience the designer is creating for. We plan on introducing this concept through the personal experience of an actual person told via audio with the assistance of a video illustration. The video and audio will serve as a tool to help educators and students alike associate with the experiences of marginalized populations and explores storytelling as a problem framing tool. We’re hoping that hearing stories of everyday racism will help provide support to the historical narrative and assist students as they breakdown how racism shows up in society today. An example of one of our stories, we see how implicit bias plays a role in defining racism.


While there are many examples of explicit bias and racism within design, such as the Washington Redskins logo mark, lesser known examples that depict Racialized Designwill also be discussed and broken down. We will focus on racial dogmas that are so ingrained in our culture they are essentially invisible. For example, Robert Moses a prominent Urban Architecture and a person considered to be the “master designer” of our public roadways from the 1920s-1970s, developed a highway system that became the favorable way of developing mass transit. He developed a bridge system that discouraged the use of public transportation. The bridges were built 9 ft tall, not allowing the 12 ft tall public busses to use the highway system in New York City. In doing this, he purposely excluded people of a lower socioeconomic status, mainly people of color, who primarily use public transportation from specific areas of New York City. This is a strong example of a systemic social inequality that is still in existence today. Moses stated, “whites of upper and comfortable middle class would be free to use the parkways for recreation and commuting.”4Racism like this is heavily ingrained in many systems which designers have the power and privilege to help change. An analysis of urban architecture, education, healthcare, and criminal justice systems are just a few to begin conversations about how design research can make positive changes.

Potential Outcomes

We’d like to offer solutions on how these Racialized Designs can be introduced in dialogue while allowing critical thought and analysis of our culture. In these workshops we will foster a space to develop tools to create historical contexts, through a case study we provide, that would empower faculty to further understand these concepts. We’d hope that by completing this workshop participants would leave with the necessary tools to identify, develop, and integrate anti-racist concepts into their own environments. In doing so, this opens the door even wider for interdisciplinary processes to analyze real-world systemic racism. The methods we have defined highlights successful principles for innovation; creating a space for discovery, and “making” through the process of design research.

The period of discovery could include, but will not be limited to, personas, empathy mapping, heuristic analysis of existing work, the human ecology theory, and developing cross-disciplinary and community partnerships. Our plan is to break down project development using these five areas:

  1. Context: Elements of Racism
  2. Define: Methods and Theories to Define the Problem(s)
  3. Ideate: Artifact, System, or Experience
  4. Prototype: Low, Mid, and High Fidelity Design
  5. Test: Learning Objectives & Conceptual Understanding

Participant will leave the workshop with tools and resources to guide projects focused on anti-racism. The aim of the research is to provide a space to ideate on how to incorporate anti-racist themes into ANY space. We will learn from participants through successful ideas, pain points and limitations the participants have with the tools resources provided and their implementation of them. We hope this session will enlighten participants on new ways to identify how racist systems were created, how they are perpetuated, and in turn help to dismantle them.