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The design and art world has long diverse cultures as inspiration, but it has long excluded people of color as creators in their own right.

This weekend’s New York Times Style section highlighted the rise in prominence of ethnically diverse talent within the design industry. The creatives of color come from a range of backgrounds but have one thing in common- they were largely ignored by the design establishment.

With the recent expansion of global markets, consumers in Asia, Africa and Latin America have underscored the consumer power of an eclectic audience and helped brought more designers of color to prominence. In addition, the rise of digital has allowed communities of Black women to see the art being created by sisters like Andrea Pippins of Fly and Karen Young of Hammocks and High Tea.

While the euro-dominated industry has often used ethnicity as a novelty, today’s designers of color have shined by letting their work, not only their background, get them to the top.

In the piece, “Design Gets More Diverse”, prominent graphic designer Gail Anderson commented on her experience saying:

“I really haven’t encountered any problems. When I worked at The Boston Globe way back, someone at the front door asked if I was a messenger. I thought: ‘Are you kidding?’ Every person of color has ridiculous stories like that. But I don’t think the creative industries focus on the color issue as much as others may. It’s all about talent and your ability to communicate effectively.”

Despite the rise of many designers of color, relatively few black teens are choosing to pursue careers in design. Enrollment numbers for the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, the number of black students fell from an already low 2.5 percent to 1.65 percent.

Speaking to the New York Times, Joel Towers, executive dean of Parsons The New School for Design said “The overall proportion of African-American students at degree-granting institutions in the U.S. tracks fairly closely to the population at 13 percent or 14 percent, but African-Americans are not going to art and design schools in the same numbers, it’s closer to 4 percent.”

While the increased visibility of designers of color has allowed many of our own to shine, the enrollment rates are a worrying sign. Though traditional schooling is certainly not the only route for success in design, the lack of students of color in learning environments is discouraging especially when their perspective and talent is contributing to the uplift of the art form as a whole.

Who are some of your favorite designers of color? What’s your take on the low enrollment numbers for black students in design school? Tell us what you think Clutchettes- share your thoughts!

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  • WoW

    Oh God where can I find that rug. It is soooo hip and timeless. I can’t stand all this beige boring brown stuff.

  • Black Designer

    “Though traditional schooling is certainly not the only route for success in design,”

    It is for Blacks. To make the kind of impacting change on the HIGH design world like Eddie Opara and Gail Anderson featured in the article, not going to school absolutely won’t cut it. I see a lot of creative black people who don’t have the credentials necessary to impact change. The legitimacy of going to a good school cannot be beat and I say that as a black formally educated designer. The article starts off with Eddie saying that he and his mates did longer studio hours than white students, that hasn’t changed. So not attending at all really doesn’t help. The major problem as touched on this article is that it is a culture and exposure issue. Black kids simply aren’t encouraged or exposed to design or other creative professions at an early enough age, nor is art education taken seriously in the black community.

  • Gam

    I am a designer and I have gone to Design school. You have to work twice as hard to get anything done. It is so dominated by White Males, its hard to see straight, but I know we can make a mark.

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  • The lack of exposure is what prompted me to do the ebook last year 28 Days of DIversity in Design and cater my design blog to a global more inclusive perspective showing designers of color. I even hosted a panel during design week last year including HGTV and design magus discussing the lack of diversity in design. It is very important that we promote our own work as well as other designers of color.