Envisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design is a monograph written by Maurice Woods. The goal was to identify, from Black culture, an aesthetic in design that is easily recognized as arising from the uniqueness of the Black experience. The pretense is in support of increasing the value of diversity in design, one of Inneract Project’s future goals. We will release chapters of this monograph throughout the year. Share if you like these.
Defining a Black aesthetic in graphic design is a challenging task for anyone wishing to see it evolved and used. Development relies on many factors that exist outside the scope of literal interpretation (Kente cloth, red, black and green, African masks, etc.) and more towards the values of social, political, and economic life. I believe for there to be a Black aesthetic in graphic design, there must be a collective consciousness of Black identity in America as well as healthy individual identities. Currently, many Blacks do not put emphasis on the role design can play in advancing and extending the level of business practice or self image–Blacks have to become participants productively engaged in upholding Black identity in the face of American culture. Secondly, Blacks must be able to identify some of the historical contributions of Blacks in art. Understanding the viewpoints associated with Black culture are a start; however, it takes much more than this. Establishing a Black presence in design is inseparable from knowing Black history and culture.
Within this essay lie grounded principles of the Black aesthetic that can be used to describe an aesthetic in graphic design that is entirely unique and overwhelmingly progressive. Just as entertainers have deployed creative new forms of expression within their prospective fields, so does the Black designer, should he or she take the initiative to design with the responsibility of advancing the images of Black existence. This does not mean ignoring one’s duty to communicate objectively the goals of clients, but to engage in work that presents issues that enlighten the majority.
Personally, I chose to write about the Black aesthetic in graphic design because I was frustrated going to bookstores only to read or buy books that celebrate the work of others. While I found the aesthetics of others interesting, I was always interested in what aesthetic collectively upholds notions of Blackness. As a practitioner within the discipline of graphic design, I have always embraced my heritage and wanted to use my talents for empowering others. Graphic design has given me the vehicle to communicate to a wide range of audiences and provide messages that support, not exploit Black people. Black aesthetics in graphic design provides a critical language in describing Black thought and experiences that sometimes cannot be effectively communicated except through graphic representation. Overall the purpose of a defined aesthetic to me would be to create work, as Edmund B. Gather said, that “ …introduces a body of material to a race-conscious public in order to force the public to recognize its existence and its quality.” For me, using a deployable Black aesthetic means drawing from my own individualistic perspectives to produce work that contributes to the progression of racial pride for Blacks throughout the world.