What would a decolonised world (within design and beyond) look like?

The concept “Decolonise Design” represents a multitude of ideas about how we should be changing the way we think about design. It acknowledges the false ideas we have of right and wrong and explores privilege and oppression. It reviews “Western culture” and emphasises how large parts of what is considered “Western” or white, is in fact stolen or appropriated from other nations and cultures through colonisation and the system of oppression that still persists today.

Miro board linked at the end of this post.

Before I get further into this, I should note that I, as a white European, have limited scope and a lot to learn. I acknowledge my shortcomings, even in my assumptions, which are inevitably built into this research. I open myself up to having my mind changed, and I question the things I thought I knew.

Through this open-ended research, I would like to explore what a decolonised world (within design and beyond) would look like. This change will include both a change of mind(s) and a change of system(s). It will require a systemic approach, as opposed to a top-down or bottom-up approach. Individuals must support the system, but the (new) system must also support the individuals.

There are many areas around this topic that I would like to explore, where I see the potential for designers to engage. Starting at the very core of what is widely known as design: the design canon. This differentiation of design vs. craft, the people (mainly white males) we are told to look up to, and the identity we adopt as designers. We as designers have a responsibility to question where this knowledge comes from, and who decided what can and should be called what.

We also have a responsibility to reflect on our own role and our opportunity to support the change within our industry, agency or team. Anoushka Khandwala puts it perfectly in her article “What Does It Mean to Decolonize Design?” when she writes: “To avoid taking charge of another’s narrative, or appropriating what isn’t yours, recognize when a project is not yours to take. When it’s not, promote someone more appropriate to take your place.” Essentially, know your limitations and see them as an opportunity rather than a failure.  

And through it all, I would like to question the language we use to speak of these things. In my research of decolonising design so far, I sense an overwhelming academic elitism. The language is simply not accessible. This, of course, is not only an issue within this particular topic, but something that I often question in the academic world in general. I wonder if this is truly necessary. Perhaps it is simply our job as designers to translate it into accessible language and tangible actions, but perhaps we should still at least reflect on this. Who decided that we need to speak a certain way to be taken seriously, and who is then, by default, excluded from the conversation?

This blog post really only scratches the surface of this topic, but in this Miro board I have explored more questions and topics, as well as available resources.

3 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading this post, Henriette, a very much needed perspective! I think it is very important to have that double reflection on our practice, both recognising what is imposed from a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist perspective, and what is stolen, or misappropriated. There is a lot of work to be done. Had you seen this link I shared on the group Miro board on white supremacy culture characteristics (https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html)? It’s not about design in particular, but I believe they can be found and dismantled in design to support the decolonisation of our practice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing Floris, I hadn’t seen that. But yes, I think it’s often the case that certain characteristics are not only present in one discipline or industry, but are characteristics of society that may take different shapes in different disciplines.

      Like

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