Fall ’22 — Design History and Practice Reading Questions
Please write a short (1-2 sentence) reflection, comment, or question about each reading below.

I thought this reading was very important. One part that I found especially crucial was when the concept of recognizing when a project is not yours to take was discussed; Though it is incredibly important to pay attention to causes even if they do not affect us personally, when making a statement about it it is important to amplify the voices of those personally affected, rather than speaking over them and taking on the whole role. 

This reading was eye-opening for me and made me realize the importance of decolonizing art and design. Through the instrument of capitalism, countries around the world have been influenced by Western culture. Expanding on design, the beauty and fashion design industry are standardized by the ideals of the West. European colonization attribute to the absolute beauty standards across Asia influenced by the ideal European figure with light skin and light colored eyes. These standards are ingrained within our society and decolonization is a process — but becoming more aware of these unspoken, socially adhered guidelines within any systematization is incredibly important. Art history classes in the U.S. teach mostly about the European male designers and artists who set the basis for what is considered “art” as well. 

This article made me think about what it means to decolonize design in the context of “accessible design.” In Western society, accessible design may involve specific typefaces, colors, layouts, etc.  However, this is inherently influenced by bias embedded in our ideologies. For example, while we may deem one typeface to be highly legible in the US, such a typeface may actually be more difficult to interpret in other societies. This brings into question how we can create universally accessible designs.

This is a complex topic that intersects with (at the very least) history, language, culture, socioeconomics, and politics. Due to that complexity, I appreciated when the article moved away from summation to give specific, concrete examples of the consequences of colonialism in design (for example, Ncube's comparison between Western and Japanese perspective). There were great points made about design accessibility, and how the "standard" rejects ways in which design could be more accessible for the sake of aesthetic. The section at the end that described actionable approaches to decolonizing design was also very thoughtful and thorough—though many of the suggestions are in direct tension with the capitalistic context in which the industry operates. Abdulla's point that "capitalism 'is an instrument of colonization,' and therefore that it's almost impossible to truly decolonize in Western society at present" and the commodification of art are issues that I would be interested in reading more about.

The concept of inclusion and diversity — in the design industry and beyond — has become a hotly debated topic in more recent years, and certainly has began to make an impact in modern societies around the globe. However, after reading this article, I now understand the importance in distinguishing between diversity and decolonization, and the actual reasons why diversity in the design industry is crucial in the journey to decolonize design work. In fact, promoting diversity is merely one approach in solving for the greater issue of decolonization. Whether its design, television, or even sports, the concept of diversity holds little weight without understanding the concept of decolonization, and the underlying issues that which being inclusive aims to repair.  

The article concludes with describing ways to integrate a process of decolonization into everyday practice; stating that there isn’t a clear vision of what we’re working towards, but rather staying curious and continuously educating ourselves is crucial in evolving on this journey. Still, earlier in the article, Danah Abdulla recognizes capitalism as an essential tool in colonization; making it “almost impossible to truly decolonize Western society at its present”. 

This made me wonder — although seeing Western societies and systems working towards widespread inclusion seems very promising for the future, as long as capitalism exists, will these systems ever actually recognize decolonization and work to undo the history has set these standards? What if capitalism didn’t exist? Would there be an endpoint to this journey?