Category: Diversity & Inclusion

I am, we are… different by design

This week’s Baseline Shift welcomed our student-led diversity team – I am, we are… different by design – to organise a workshop and a talk about inclusivity and diversity in design and how we can encourage it more within the graphic design, communication and the arts. Diversity and inclusion has been more so than ever a burning issue for all of us this year, and staying aware is crucial for all of us to change our systems for a more overall inclusive society. The I am, we are… different by design team help us all to understand how as a designer you can make a change, and start discussions with the right tools.

The meaning of ‘inclusive design’

‘Having the conversation is a huge step towards inclusion in our field.’

In order to first do so, the team discussed the meaning of the term ‘inclusive design’ with students. Some students said:


‘Designing for everyone by everyone’

‘Acknowledging and being interested in difference’

The team picked up on the word ‘culture’, and explained that it is a common misconception to think that everything to do with inclusivity in the industry ties itself to culture. In fact, they explained that the term grouped much bigger aspects of design that, in daily life we don’t necessarily pay attention to.

The team presented ‘inclusive design’ as a wide circle of possibilities. Extending beyond culture, inclusivity begins with considering the disabilities people may have, their gender, sexuality, age and more. For your design to truly cater to everyone’s needs, it is important to understand where the definition of inclusivity lies.

Designing for everyone

By understanding what inclusive design is, you automatically set yourself up to design for a wide audience. This entails a careful consideration of the spectrum of your user’s expectations and needs when handling or seeing your product. A good example of this was American artist and graphic designer Susan Kare’s creation of the mailbox icon.

Susan Kare’s mail box icons featuring (left) the approved proposal and (right) the unapproved first proposal she made.

Kare’s first proposal for the email icon was refused (see second icon in the image above). The reason why was because mail boxes like this one are a common way for Americans to receive mail. An American user would know what the icon meant but for a non-American user, the icon would’ve been unrelatable and seem foreign. Conclusively, Kare’s envelope icon was a success in terms of making it relatable on a global and worldwide scale.

Learning how to be more inclusive is an increasingly prevalent concept throughout the duration of the course. In Part 2 you take on app design, and you are encouraged to consider how to tailor your app to a target user, carefully considering their needs and the problems they may encounter.

Understanding your user

Understanding your user is the first step to creating a product that feels relatable and personal. In order to successfully achieve that in your designs, doing some research into your target audience is a great place to start. As we have seen previously with Kare’s icon proposals, gaining knowledge from the people you are designing for is essential. If you are creating an app for a certain age, say seniors, you would have to consider any disabilities they may have, such as vision problems or arthritis, and how they would interact with your app. The use of a light and dark mode for people with visual impairments is a great example of an inclusive feature of an app or a website for people with astigmatism. It is about adapting your designs to a more diverse audience.

‘It all comes back to the user.’

Light and dark mode.

The next step to understanding your user is to create user personas. They help you with empathising with your target audience by outlining specific problems that users may encounter with your product. The more you define clear problems or inconveniences your users may have, the more precise your solutions will be in satisfying your user’s needs.

An example of a successful understanding of your user needs, would be in the designing of a label on a product. Say your product contains certain allergens that could be lethal to anyone who is allergic; if your user has a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, you would want to make sure your use of typography, contrast and size is suitable for your user’s needs.


The main point we can take from this session is that learning about each other is crucial. Understanding your users comes first through doing a sufficient amount of research about them. This research doesn’t only just come from using the internet, but also through talking to your peers, whether they be of a different nationality, speak a different language and people who may be of a different age than yourself who may have a different way of perceiving and experiencing our society. Listening is the key component of learning from each other. 

You will not only be building strong links with people who know your field, but also be broadening your mind and knowledge about how different people would use your product and resonate with it.

Getting involved

The course offers lots of opportunities for you to get involved with actively making design and the arts more inclusive. You can join the diversity team. Doing so offers a great deal of discussion about diversity within the arts and provides you with a set of valuable skills that you would benefit from after graduating. In previous years, the team have helped organise the Tate Exchange, where they get to host a workshop at the Tate Museum in London for people from all walks of life, and creatively think about a common topic.

Work produced at this year’s Tate Exchange workshop on the notion of ‘power’.

The team also published a zine fr the past three years in which they cover various topics regarding diversity in design, and interview people that are embracing it and celebrating differences. Issue 3 is now out, in which the team interviewed Greg Bunbury. You can pick up a copy in the department.

The cover of issue 3 of the zine.

The diversity team is a splendid example of the freedom you get as a student here in the department, to use design to make your voice heard. When the team was formed in 2017, they worked together with our lecturers to create the Part 3 module ‘Design for change’.

By getting involved with the team and letting your voice be heard, you learn how to overcome the challenges of using design to fight for what is right to you.

‘Challenge yourself and try and be more inclusive.’

A spread from issue 3 of the zine discussing the ‘Design for change’ module.


Inclusive design is at the forefront of the industry right now. Consciously looking to be more inclusive whilst also partaking in the opportunities that the Department offers is the best way to build your confidence in what you can do as a student, and to create more impactful designs on the course. Being a part of something bigger than the curriculum is beneficial not only for your career, but for your practice as a designer. In the long run, having an understanding of the power you own as a designer is the greatest tool you have to create change for the better.

The team at the Tate Exchange earlier this year.

If you would like to join the team, feel free to contact the team via our Instagram: @uortypography 


Students’ thoughts

‘I really enjoyed the subject matter that was discussed as I feel it’s something which needs to be discussed more and actions need to be taken into account especially how things are politically. What I valued most was how the team organise projects and work together and spread out the workload.’ – Part 1 student

‘Learning about the ways to become more inclusive in design was extremely useful, as graphic design is design for an audience.’ – Part 1 student


Diversity team Tate Exchange 2020


I am, We are… Different by Design is a student-led group from the School of Art and Communication Design advocating for diversity and inclusion within our creative field. For the last two years, we were kindly presented with the opportunity to host a workshop at the Tate Exchange in the Tate Modern. The Tate Exchange is a programme which encourages the connection between society and art. It invites the public and their associates to share a collaborative space where they can explore the impact of art on individuals, communities and societies. This year, as the new leaders of I Am, We Are…Different by Design we were responsible for organising and planning a two-day workshop.


This year, the school had decided on the theme of ‘Power’ for the Tate Exchange. There were multiple different directions they were thinking of taking this: power as an individual (people’s understanding of the word), power as a community (how power related to a group of people individuals are in), power in technology (how power is distributed to technology), and power in art (what power does the value of object have and is art powerful?). Our job was to relate diversity in design to one or more of these aspects. What we did was completely open, we were allowed to decide our activity and our audience. This real job is different from any other one you’ll come across since it wasn’t about physically designing an object but creating an event for the public to give them access to design.


When we were first given the theme we were working with, the entire team immediately saw potential. There are many different meanings of power, and empowerment is often linked to diversity. When trying to come up with different ways we can interpret the specifics of power, we realised that we can allow people to show off their own idea of power and when they feel powerful for everybody to see. With the success of last year’s idea of the public making a design and us printing it on tote bags for them, we decided to keep that aspect. It is much more fun for people to show off their creative work and express their diversity than to just make something for themselves and keep it inside the Tate Exchange.

The whole event was planned through weekly meetings. This was a crucial step in the project. We got together with as many people on the team and our supervisor to discuss our developments and how to continue with this. Because of these weekly meetings, we had many opportunities to bounce ideas off of each other and fine-tune things as well as ensure we were on track. Without these weekly meetings, we probably would not have been as prepared as we were and would have been panicking to get everything done in time.

We will admit that we probably had it a little easier than the leaders did last year. Most of the basics had been rolled over from the previous time we helped at the Tate Exchange. However, it did still teach us how we have to adapt and update things, and it shows how it often works in the real world with the first person doing something having the most work. A basic budget and item list had already been made, but we had to update this with new suppliers and other materials that we didn’t need last time. Further, the technical aspect of the printer setup had also been created last year. But there were also many things we had to do differently, whether it be an improvement to last year or a different aspect we had to include.

Member of the public creating their visualisation of power

Due to the success of last year’s event, we were given more dates to do our workshop. For this, we had to check with our other teammates what would be best suited since it would take place during a weekend and we all still had other coursework. Choosing to do two rather than three days and giving ourselves the Sunday for other commitments was what we agreed would work best for everyone. In the end, we also got some volunteers to help because others had to cancel. The numbers worked out perfectly as we had more people available on the Saturday when it was busier compared to the Friday. 

Another change we decided to make was creating templates to help guide the public in creating their visual definition of power. These templates had prompts that allowed people to think about it further rather than just taking the first idea they had along the lines of power. We had noticed last time that some people would derail or not stay within the size constraints due to the printers and wanted to keep it more under control this time. The templates used the font from the zine we made last year, however, we kept away the many bright colours we used. This way it was still neutral and wouldn’t take away from the individual’s design while still keeping our group’s identity. 

An example of five templates we made
An example of five templates we made

Lastly, we changed the way we presented people’s designs while we were at the Tate Exchange. Last year we put images into a grid and displayed that on a large screen. This wasn’t very dynamic, and many people didn’t even notice it. We tried coming up with different solutions, such as a dynamic grid. However, with how busy it gets and with limited time, we decided a simple PowerPoint that automatically loops through the slides was the most efficient way to do it. It worked out great, we occasionally had groups of people pointing out different designs to each other and it was funny to see kids wait for theirs to show up and then get very excited when it did. Using PowerPoint did mean setting up the laptops a bit differently, but we did all this beforehand. 

As said before, this real job is different from most. Because of that, we also had to work with different kinds of equipment and required a health and safety briefing. We managed to get together the entire team and all the volunteers to have the briefing at the department a few days before the Tate Exchange. We all needed to know what to do since we were using technology and extreme heat in public. It’s something you don’t often consider when you are creating something yourself but suddenly becomes very important when there are liabilities. 


Production of the tote bags

Based on positive reactions and engagement we can safely say the outcome of our workshops was a success once again. There was constant public engagement with our workshop throughout both days. The audience truly enjoyed the workshop. We saw excitement from people of all ages and backgrounds ranging from children to adults. While waiting for their bags many people expressed how cool the idea was and some even returned to the busy tables to create a second design. All the time and effort that went into the success of those two days at the Tate seemed to pay off as the reactions expressed by our teammates were also positive despite the long hours of working and travelling. Being able to provide people with a creative outlet, and seeing their excitement was rewarding in itself. It was also nice to receive positive feedback from Eric who praised the success of our workshops and our brilliant teamwork.


Although the outcome was successful there were things we could learn from and have done differently for the process to run smoother. As it got closer to the date some members of the team had to commit to other responsibilities and so were unable to attend both dates. Therefore, our biggest issue became ensuring we had enough volunteers for both days. We had to find a way to quickly recruit volunteers at short notice. To prevent such an issue from occurring we could have made a list of volunteers and roles earlier and continuously updated it to identify where we were lacking people. This careful preparation would have prompted us to look for volunteers sooner.

Working with laptops and printers to create the tote bags

Planning, organisation, communication, time management and leadership are key skills which apply to most typical real jobs. However, due to the nature of this real job the skills translated differently, especially in terms of communication and planning. As the Tate Exchange was in collaboration with the School of Art and Communication Design, learning to liaise efficiently between groups and individuals was essential. Also, directly interacting with the audience required a different kind of professionalism and manner where you must be mindful of the way you speak and behave when delivering the workshops from start to finish. Planning for this real job was different in the way that you must be thorough and prepare right until delivery as there is not a stage for trial and improvement. As meticulous as you are with planning, it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen on the day.

We were challenged to truly consider the perspective of the audience and learned to empathise with them. We built confidence in our communication skills and teamwork and learnt to be responsive and adaptive to changing situations. The skills gained from this real job can benefit and assist us in becoming well-rounded designers in the future.