My OBData hit my email a couple of weeks ago. For those that don’t know, OBData is the newsletter of Organization of Black Designers. As usual, I’m reading through the items when I damn near fell off my chair reading that Pentagram had just made a black designer a partner… A PARTNER. Pentagram!? The elite, prestigious, albeit, white bread design firm was actually making some one of COLOR a partner. Eddie Opara, a British graphic designer who heads the NYC design shop, MAP, was the one being made partner.
First, let me say to Mr. Opara…CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! I’d only heard about Mr. Opara a few months early while investigating who was behind the design of the promotion I received from one of the design orgs I’m a member of. That’s when I first learned of MAP and was delightfully surprised to see one of the heads being black. I was like HOORAH!
Second, while I’m ecstatic that Mr. Opara has been made partner at the same time I’m still disappointed and frustrated that this is major news. It’s 2010 and from the time I graduated Pratt in 1989 to now, Mr. Opara is the first designer of color that I’ve heard of being a HEAD at any major design firm. That’s 21 years…twenty-one!.
Let me clarify a point—when I talk of a person of color I mean someone who’s not in the same hue range as the majority of the design community, i.e. Caucasian. I specifically point this out because of the subtle (or not so subtle) perception that people with darker skin tones are less than desirable, less relatable. How many have heard the rebuttal to the question “Why aren’t there more designers of color hired, contracted, speaking, awarded, written about, etc.?” So many times that answer would be “why we can’t find any/we can’t find anyone who work is up to par!” If Mr. Opara exists, don’t you think there are other designers like him? Or is it more like some just don’t want to change the status quo? Many folks fall into the disillusion that design is a colorblind profession; that the works speaks for itself but the reality is that’s just naive or just dumb-ass blindness. The ad industry is a PRIME example of this.
The way we practice design is changing whether it be due to technology or business models, it is changing. Why not change the social model of design as well? Instead of the same old club with the same old “superstars”, why not embrace what has been looked over for far too long? It starts with Eddie Opara…let it not be singular event.
Good luck and congratulations again Mr. Opara.