Another successful WhyDesign event took place in the Sugar Club, Dublin on March 9th 2023 to mark International Women's Day. The speakers Nat Pearce of The Future Kind Collective, Julian Thompson of Rooted by Design, Grace Enemaku of DesignOpp and brand strategist Nick O discussed the theme 'Embrace Equity'. Volunteer member of the WhyDesign working group, Sabhín O'Sullivan reflects on the event.
By Sabhín O’Sullivan
Rain battered down and bitter winds swept the nation, but the freezing temperatures did not deter the Irish design community from coming together to celebrate WhyDesign’s sixth annual International Women’s Day event. As the storm howled outside, we took welcome refuge in the cozy booths of The Sugar Club, sipping cocktails as we listened to a star-studded line-up discuss how we can all embrace equity.
For the past six years, IDI’s WhyDesign initiative has been striving to promote gender equality within the Irish creative sector. But as our initiative has matured over those six years, so too has our mission: we need equity not only for female creatives but for all minorities and underrepresented communities, including People of Colour, people with disabilities, people with neurodiversities and members of the LGBTQI+ community. We need to explore not only how we can promote diversity within our industry, but what our industry can do for diversity.
And on Thursday 9th March, our four speakers of the night, Nat Pearce of The Future Kind Collective, Julian Thompson of Rooted by Design, and Grace Enemaku of DesignOpp and brand strategist Nick O’Laoire explored exactly that.
IDI’s Chief Executive Officer Charlotte Barker opened the night by shining a light on a recent addition to Dublin’s growing outdoor gallery; the Minaw Collective’s “Women, Life, Freedom” mural on Dame street. The mural is a perfect example of how creativity can raise awareness of social injustices and instill urgency within us. Seeing design activism on our daily commute reminds us that severe human rights violations are still rife in today’s day and age; we have the power to use our creativity to amplify the voices of those who are on the receiving end of those violations and stand up against their perpetrators.
“Equality is the ideal. Equity is how we get there.” O’Laoire
The energy of the room lifted every time our sparkling MC Nick O stepped into the stage. It was impossible not to smile as he leapt gleefully across the stage, flourishing high kicks and re-enactments of dancing with your granny to the Liveline theme tune. The need to embrace equity was summed up simply and perfectly with his statement of “Equality is the ideal. Equity is how we get there.”
After an invigorating introduction from Nick, Julian Thompson took to the stage. Julian is the founder of Rooted By Design, a strategic design and futures company with the ambitious mission to transform the experiences Black Communities have of life and society. Passion emanated from him as he shared his personal experiences and his vision of equity with us, telling us “designers and people who practice design are powerful… they help the pursuit of dreams and the building of better futures.” But in reality, who really gets to dream and whose dreams get to come true?
“Design has contributed to the exclusion of Black experiences, it has been unresponsive, shallow and exclusive…" Julian Thompson
Designers have a responsibility to listen to everyone and to consider all human experiences before we put our work out into the world. “Design has contributed to the exclusion of Black experiences, it has been unresponsive, shallow and exclusive… more is required from design and more should be done.” There is no denying that biased design has denied numerous People of Colour access to necessary services and spaces, but design can also be the remedy to that exclusion. We need to do more to create belonging for marginalised communities, decolonise the curriculums we teach the next generation and continue to make people uncomfortable with our pursuit for equity over equality.
"We need to conceive a better world to design a better life". Julian Thompson
Once our glasses were refilled, Nick kicked off the second half by hyping up the incredible Grace Enemaku. As an esteemed illustrator, branding designer, design activist and long-term friend of WhyDesign, Grace has too many accolades to name, but the spotlight of her talk was her work as Co-founder of DesignOpp. DesignOpp is an IDI initiative that champions diversity for People of Colour in the Irish design and creative industry. Their important work creates spaces for people to connect, promote themselves, build their skills and share their experiences.
“If we make diversity a pillar of our industry and take on that unconventional hire, we will have a much more colourful future.” Grace Enemaku
Listening to Grace for just five minutes will make the benefits of diversity crystal clear to anyone, but there is still a significant gap between knowing that diversity is a good thing and actually putting it into practice. However, if we make diversity a pillar of our industry and “take on that unconventional hire, we will have a much more colourful future.”
"In Ireland, POC are over 5% of the population". - Grace Enemaku, Design Opp.
The final speaker of the night, Nat Pearce, had the challenge of following our first two phenomenal speakers, but she effortlessly rose to that challenge and finished our night with a bang. As a founder of the Future Kind Collective, inclusivity is in Nat’s DNA. The entire objective of her company is to create kinder, fairer and empowering cultures within industries. As previously highlighted by Julian and Grace, Nat reiterated that we have discussed inclusion for long enough; “Words alone are cheap. Cultures are not created through words, they are created through habits and actions.”
“Words alone are cheap. Cultures are not created through words, they are created through habits and actions.” Natalie Pearce
Equity is intrinsically linked to diversity and inclusion, something Nat referred to as The DEI Party. Diversity is being invited to the party (representation), equity is choosing the music (opportunity) and inclusion is feeling comfortable enough to dance (belonging). We need to invite people from various backgrounds and communities into the world of design, we need to give them the opportunities to express themselves and we need to make our industry a welcoming space. With this in mind, Nat suggested that we need to add two additional steps to the design process; at the beginning we should have Notice, where we simply open our eyes, acknowledge our own privileges and notice how those privileges create friction for those who don’t experience them. At the end of the design process, we should have Reflect, where we critically analyse if our design is exclusionary in any way and if it achieves The DEI Party goals.
"Small incremental changes create big impact". Natalie Pearce
As each speaker presented, you could have heard a pin drop. No one stirred or murmured as we all hung onto every single word, occasionally disrupting the captivated silence with laughter at light-hearted comments from the presenters. Even though embracing equity can be a heavy topic, our four speakers reminded us that we need to remember the importance of joy. Including more people and championing diversity within the thrilling world of design should be a joyous, delightful process, and thanks to our speakers, we are all raring to get that process started.
Thank you to our wonderful host and speakers, Nick O, Julian Thompson, Grace Enemaku and Natalie Pearce. Thank you to the IDI for their continuous support of WhyDesign and to the staff at The Sugar Club for facilitating another wildly successful International Women’s Day event. And finally, thank you to everyone in the audience who braved the elements and came to the event, you truly showed your dedication to creating change within the design industry and further afield.
“Racism and inequity are products of design. They can be redesigned,” - equityxdesign
Keep on making a difference. Keep on challenging the status quo. Keep embracing equity.
Let’s design a more inclusive society, together.
We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Photos of the Night on our Facebook Page.