Past and Present: Black Creators in the Design Industry

As Black History Month draws to a close, we want to draw attention to the many vital contributions that so many black creators have made to our industry throughout the years.

It is well known that ethnic minorities are under represented in the world of design, but to ensure the industry continues to progress, it is essential that we listen to the widest range of creative voices. We must have a large and varied collection of contributors in order to bring diversity of thought.

As Black History Month draws to a close, we want to draw attention to the many vital contributions that so many black creators have made to our industry throughout the years.

Charles Dawson

Born in 1899, Charles Dawson became infamous in the late 1920’s for his illustrated advertisements.

Having fought prejudice and bias as the first black man to study at the Art Students League in New York, Dawson went on to create bespoke illustrations for Valmour Products and became the curator for the George Washington Carver Museum.

Dawson’s powerful efforts undoubtedly paved the way for many black artists and students to come. Learn more here:

Sylvia Harris

Sylvia Harris was an African-American graphic designer and design strategist. Born in 1953, Harris experienced racism throughout her childhood, attending a desegregated high school.

Harris was the creative director for the design of the 2000 Census for the United States Census Bureau. This focussed on redesigning the user-centered form to encourage Americans, specifically, those who were previously underrepresented citizens, to participate.

Harris is widely recognised for her commitment to utilising design to improve the civic experience and for influencing the next generation of designers as a teacher and mentor, having received the 2014 AIGA Medal.

Learn more here:

Eddie Opara

Born in Wandsworth, London, Opara is a contemporary graphic designer known for his work encompassing strategy, design and technology. Opara has won numerous awards including a Gold Cube from the Art Directors Club and honors from D&A, and joined Pentagram’s New York office as partner in 2010.

He has worked with the likes of Samsung, The New Republic and St. Regis Hotels and appeared in publications such as Wired, Fast Company and Creative Review. Learn more about his work here:

Sheila Bridges

Named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by CNN and Time Magazine, Sheila Bridges founded her company in 1994 and has since worked her magic on residential spaces from Harlem all the way to Iceland.

Her book,’Furnishing Forward- A Practical Guide To Furnishing For a Lifetime’ was a resounding success in helping readers find their personal sense of design, set budgets, and use colour. Read more about Sheila on her website:

Hassan Rahim

Hassan Rahim is a Los Angeles based artist and art director. Having worked with brands such as Nike and Urban Outfitters, Rahim is certainly leaving his mark on the industry and references his unique approach as a ‘bi-product of his eclectic upbringing as a 21st Century youth.’

His frequent use of inversion, subversion and monochromatic designs gives his work a signature look that is somewhat moody, yet modern.

Rahim has also used his platform and talent to highlight pressing and poignant issues surrounding race. His recent work for The New York Times is particularly noteworthy; his photo illustrations focus on the challenges of being Black in America, featuring renowned Olympian Jackie Joyner Kersee.

Read more about his creative process here.

David Adjaye

Sir David Frank Adjaye OBE RA is a British-Ghanian architect, renowned for designing many buildings of note around the world including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management.

In 2017, Adjaye was both knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and recognised as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME Magazine. More recently, he has also been named the 2021 RIBA Gold Medal winner for his contributions to the industry. This makes him the first black architect in history to win the prize.

Adjaye is also renowned for his ethos for community-driven work, and often speaks of the "ethical pride" behind his studio.

Learn more here:

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