Good Reads: Deem Journal is all about democratising design

As Deem Journal publishes its third issue, Envisioning Equity, we speak to the team behind the magazine about why they want to redefine design as a social practice

If the dictionary definition of the word ‘deem’ is to consider something in a certain way, the ambitious mission of US-based indie mag Deem Journal is to reframe our consideration of what design is – and ought to be – today.

“The idea for Deem is based in the reality that the design industry has a limited scope regarding the issues that it engages with, and we felt a need to create a platform that could help to democratise design and create space for voices that aren’t often heard in design conversations. Through the lens of exploring design as social practice, we want to be able to harness the power of socially engaged art as a means to provide a level of community engagement and accountability, as well as a tool for reframing various perspectives in the design process,” say the magazine’s founders.

Deem Issue Two

Those founders are Alice Grandoit and Nu Gote (both of whom are also co-founders of community-centric design studio Room for Magic), alongside Marquise Stillwell (who is the founder of Openbox, a studio focused on human-centred approaches to designing cities). “Our creative backgrounds intersect between design, community engagement, and urbanism.… Deem is a creative partnership between the two studios as a means to commit to the rigour and depth we need collectively to evolve our research-based practices,” they add.

The first issue of the publication, Designing for Dignity, addressed the fact that when we question the popular metrics for ‘good’ design, we are typically grappling with Eurocentric and post-colonial legacies of rationality, quality and beauty that continue to pervade our perceptions of the world. Deem, however, is more interested in probing the intention behind the design.

While it would be easy for the magazine’s editorial and art direction to get weighed down by an overly academic approach, the team’s solution is to consider complex and theoretical issues with real world context. “We are interested in elevating subjective experience and singular perspectives by compiling an intersection of voices across identity, discipline, geography and generations,” they explain.

“Relationality is also an integral part of our approach and is considered at every touchpoint, from outreach to forming the interview guide to reviewing and co-editing transcripts together to ensure fair representation. Throughout this journey, our team creativity builds a relationship with the text and images, and through our editing and production processes we highlight the interrelationship between the texts. To us, this mirrors the process of making a mixtape — a recipe that is relational, intentional, and intuitive.”

Deem Issue Three

In its latest issue, Envisioning Equity, the team addresses another growing debate through the lens of design. “Over the past year, we noticed that terms like equity and equality have landed at the foreground of pop cultural conversations, but are frequently used interchangeably and erroneously. While equality means each individual receives the same resources or opportunities, equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome,” they say.

The new issue unpacks these differences through a variety of features and interviews, along with criticism on interdependence, reparative architecture and reconstruction, and new interpretations of equitable reform. To coincide with the new issue, the founders also launched a pop-up reading room in Los Angeles called the Reference Room. The idea was that people could come and spend time with a selection of curated materials, but it also became a place in which like-minded people were able to meet one another.

“Deem is full of rich stories and features, but what sometimes doesn’t make it into the final print is the research and references used to develop each issue. We saw an opportunity to create a platform that was meant to provide more context to the publication and allow people to engage deeper with the material that inspired us and our contributors,” say the founders.

The team has ambitious plans for the future of the magazine. “We are excited to share Deem beyond print and digital. One of our beliefs is that design is a shared experience. Being able to create moments, like the Reference Room, that allow for people to participate in design is one goal that we hope to explore more in the future. In addition, we want to continue to find more ways to open up the world of design to more voices and perspectives.

The Reference Room

Deem Journal Issue Three is out now;