How changing the design canon will change the industry

US designer and Rhode Island School of Design professor Ramon Tejada’s ongoing project Decolonizing Design aims to make the industry more accessible. Here he talks about the importance of changing the narrative both for his students and the industry as a whole

Decolonizing Design is a culmination of thoughts and ideas that had been ruminating inside of Ramon Tejada for a long time. For the designer, the fact it’s now 2021 and our understanding of design, and graphic design specifically, is still so narrow is a huge problem. “Design history, theory, and practice, from what I can tell in North America and in Europe, is just very monolithically white. Let’s just be honest,” he says. “The field has parked its narrative in a very specific geographical place, which is very Northern European, and that creates a problem when most of the world is not Northern European.” 

It is certainly true that the most celebrated or emulated design work is typically work created in the last 100 years or so, particularly Bauhaus or Swiss Design. “We have to realise that our design history is not the history, it’s one of many histories,” says Tejada. “It’s almost like there is one single textbook that tells you about the history of the field. At this point it’s useless, and we need to be aware of that.”

Decolonizing Design aims to undo this and help people to shift their perspective, open up design and make room for other narratives. “‘Decolonising’ is a complicated word, so I would encourage people to really do some self digging in terms of what it means,” says Tejada. “It can mean a lot of different things, depending on where you’re coming from. For me, it is about opening up spaces for all those narratives, stories, ideas, theories, and concepts that we’re not giving space to,” he says. “It is also about having an awareness that a lot things have been stolen, including land, histories, people and labour, and realising the value people have gotten from that.”  

Top: Tia y pa pink pattern, Notes from being a Dominican York by Ramon Tejada. Above: The Decolonizing Design Reader, v2, printed. Compiled by Ramon Tejada, 2019