The Future Of Inclusivity In The Design Industry Is In Our Hands

Change doesn’t happen passively. Creating an inclusive, equitable, representative industry is active work.

Represent us all. Disrupt the status quo. Celebrate new voices. These are three of the mottos of Design Can, an equity activist group for the creative industries. The group came together in response to frustrating conversations about inclusion that never resulted in any action. “It was increasingly obvious to us back in 2018 that equality and representation were massive problems for the design industry,” says Sabine Zetteler, founder of Design Can. “But, many of us were operating as though someone or something was going to address these, or that the issue would just get magically sorted out.” 

The launch of Design Can in 2019 was also prompted by the Design Council’s Design Economy 2018 report. In it, the statistics on inclusion were particularly shocking – such as the fact that only 6.3% of architects in the UK were people of colour. “Change doesn’t happen passively,” Zetteler continues. “Creating an inclusive, equitable, representative industry is active work. Design Can was set up, primarily, to share that realisation with the people with the power to do that work.”

In its drive for change, Design Can offers resources, newsletters and networking opportunities to transform conversation into action. The group is also actively researching the subject of inclusivity – and while we’re here to celebrate 20 years of success and progress in the design industry, it’s clear there’s still a lot of work to be done. 


What’s the state of play now?

Design Can’s most recent survey spoke to individuals across architecture, arts, design, fashion, graphic design, technology and more – with responses from junior designers to business owners of all ages, racial backgrounds and abilities.

The Design Can survey findings showed that:

  • 60% of respondents believe that while awareness around inclusion has increased, nothing has meaningfully changed.

  • Among respondents, 40% of directors, managers and business-related professionals don’t feel able to publicly call out injustice in the design industry.

  • 26% of respondents thought that some change had taken place, yet only 11% thought significant change had taken place.

What challenges need to be overcome to create change?

A shared belief across many respondents in the Design Can inclusivity survey was that there is a lack of awareness among decision makers about how to implement inclusive policies; and at times, a lack of interest beyond surface level changes. 

Feedback from the Design Can survey respondents reports that:

“Too few people want to take the time to understand the complexities of the issue, and want to show up with short-term, quick-fix solutions.”

“A lot of companies just don’t know where to begin. They are also afraid of what change will do to their individual positions.” 

“It requires structural and systemic change – this goes beyond creative programming alone. Changing actual power structures will be the most impactful pathway to change.” 

What can we do as part of the industry?

“Three years since its launch, Design Can is in a position where it can become independent and self-sustaining, supported by the design industry through patronage and Patreon,” says Bisila Noha, project manager at Design Can. “We’re excited to see some real creative-sector heavyweights getting behind the cause and recognising their responsibility to support the movement; while our new Jobs Board will help creative organisations who are serious about inclusivity to actually deliver it.”

Zetteler notes that to create meaningful change across the entire design industry, everyone is responsible for moving things forward. “Today, our challenge at Design Can is to empower the community that we’ve built – they are the future of the sector.”

At LDF, we are working in partnership with Design Can to engage with industry leaders, in order to learn from these findings and change the statistics. We’re determined to move forward in the next 20 years by positively and actively engaging and educating through our shared networks – for a truly inclusive industry.

Read the full report at: