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Facing duality as a community
The Queer Design Club is cultivating ownership of design narratives within gentrified corporate structures.
Creatives have been working to continuously shine light on the fact that the design world, like all professional spheres, is greatly influenced by the patriarchy—specifically the white, cisnormative male narrative.
We’ve been fortunate that publications like AIGA’s Eye on Design, Design Week, and others have been elevating the voices of women and people of color in design, yet there has been a lack of voices, platforms, and resources that support queer designers. Although designers are talking more about the issue of overt whiteness and maleness in our profession, there should also be an increase in outside awareness and support for those of us who don’t fit into the mold.
Professionalism is often coded as passing for cis-het, both in our physical appearance and in terms of the conformity of work. This is further enforced as design becomes more synonymous with corporatism. While design was once difficult to define, and visual storytelling was generally approached as a multifunctional, diverse experience, it is now often seen by some as successful only if it is delivered in a certain way. With the design field growing more saturated and cutthroat every passing day, what society sees as professional and successful design is shifting. But is that because designers are objectively better? Or is it because their work and narratives conform increasingly to a normative concept of professionalism that has bled into the creative sphere?
Enter the Queer Design Club (of which I am a proud member): a free, cross-platform community that went live earlier this year. The QDC holds two primary functions: 1) as a designer directory, and 2) as a community Slack group. The directory, with over 300 designers and growing, acts as an almanac of global LGBTQ designers with diverse skills and backgrounds. By making such a resource publicly available, businesses now have less excuses for not readily hiring queer folk.
The Slack forum is where the community truly engages and comes together through discussion, networking, and support. With queer designers representing from all walks of life, the Slack community provides a sense of safety and encouragement to share stories and content about the intersection of our personal and professional identities.
Resources like this have not only created a sense of community, but also the type of camaraderie that only develops within tight knit, familial social groups. An essential catalyst of this is seeing our struggles and history of being misunderstood mirrored in others, as well as finding inspiration in the triumphs of individuals in our community. This shows queer designers who are younger in their careers that there are pathways for us. It creates potential for mentorships with individuals who will not only understand our goals, but also our stories.
The Queer design Club was founded by Rebecca Brooker, a Buenos Aires-based designer working at MediaMonks and her own freelance studio Planthouse, and John Hanawalt, the lead designer at Stitch Fix in San Francisco. The motivation for founding QDC in part arose from Hanawalt’s own experiences existing outside the mold. “At my last job, I was the only queer person in the design organization. And living in the Bay Area, I’m in the middle of the tension between the LGBTQ+ community and tech’s contributions to gentrification and other forms of queer marginalization. But I don’t feel like I can choose between those identities, so I have to figure out what it means—for me—to be both,” explained John.
As design roles continue to bleed into the tech sphere, our narratives as creatives and storytellers follow close behind. Professionalism, especially in the world of technology, is performative in a corporate fashion that frequently diminishes queer work and culture. This leads to a duality in creatives, especially designers, between a) telling stories and creating content that is vital to passing on and representing our culture, or b) being valued as a designer in society. Because we’re often rewarded for sacrificing parts of our identity to fit our rapidly technicalizing world, we struggle internally with how our identities as queer individuals and designers play into the gentrification of big tech.
Silicon Valley’s tech boom has had a seismic global impact, but has had no greater influence on society and culture than in the Bay Area. There is a ruthlessness to the gentrification of already marginalized groups, especially queer individuals and queer people of color. While the arrival of tens of thousands of new programmers, developers, and designers in San Francisco over the last few years generates massive amounts of money, it has also resulted in one of the highest inequality gaps of any major city in the country.
Another issue in the design and tech sphere is the lack of intersection, according to QDC co-founder Rebecca Brooker. “A big part of my goal and driving question behind the work is ‘how can we examine the biases in our own queer communities?' How can we use QDC to propel not only queer designers, but queer designers of color? Are we uplifting everyone’s voices, and not just the loudest voices?”
Often, in the marketing and design world, we see brands and businesses attempt to gain publicity and allyship points by rainbow-washing their branding or prioritizing the narratives of individuals who are cis, white and gay rather than representing the breadth of what it can mean to identify as LGBTQ+ in 2019. And on the other side, there are companies who explicitly exclude and repress queer people of color, the trans community, and gender nonconforming individuals. Because white, cis-gay individuals are often seen as more palatable, this can create a perception of increased corporate and professional value. The gains that the community has made in that regard have been important in moving society forward, but a vital part of being a queer designer is creating spaces and using our voices to advocate for an increasingly intersectional approach.
Our work as queer designers is hugely significant, yet we remain vulnerable as a community. Being a queer designer means coping with duality and the compartmentalization of our identities. It is the dissection of the professional versus the personal, not only within ourselves, but also in how we impact the world around us through our work. Ellen Lupton coined the phrase ‘design is storytelling,’ and it is through this vital medium that we pass the story of our culture down. Not only to future generations, but to LGBTQ individuals around the world that thrive through our representation.
How frequently do you see marketing or design that is representative of queer culture?