Designer Diversity: Constructing Bodies and Backgrounds through Contemporary Design Theory

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Because design is ubiquitous in popular culture, design theory and practice have been increasingly criticized and analyzed in multiple domains including conceptualizing, planning, creating, and branding ideas, products, social spaces, geographies, social issues and problems, and concrete entities (Foster, 2007). However, we have not yet come to discuss and thus understand the power of design in fashioning diversity categories. Design is a significant social and economic influence on category delineation, internalized and assigned identity of category members, social status, and worth of members of diverse groups.
In the proposed paper, we examine the history of diversity as it moved from a concept of variation to one that has become primarily euphemistic for bodies and backgrounds conceptualizations such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and more recently disability. We then look at the central role of design as intentional, purposive, political and powerful, in both fashioning and being shaped by popular culture notions of standards, acceptability, membership, and desirability, in creating identities that are “in” and out”, high brow and low-brow, oppressed, excluded, ignored , exploited, and revered. Through analyzing designed image, fashion, food, products, art, professional practices, social roles, politics, and even welfare, civil rights movements, and affirmative action processes we critically explore and indict design as a prime mover, brander, and political force in creating and reifying diversity categories and group identities.
We propose that design subverts attention from social and economic inequality, and suggest how this understanding can and should be used to rethink diversity, expand equality of access, and promote distributive justice.


Keywords: Design, Branding, Diversity
Stream: Aesthetics, Design
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , , Designer Diversity


Dr. Stephen Gilson

Professor, University of Maine
Orono, Maine, USA

Dr. Stephen Gilson is currently professor of Interdisciplinary Disability Studies at the University of Maine, focusing his scholarship and theory on diversity policy and the promotion of universally tolerant environments. He has authored and co-authored over 40 articles and books, and recently has co-produced multi-media, universally accessible texts with co-author, Dr. Elizabeth DePoy. Dr. Gilson is currently pursuing several collaborative research agendas all aimed at advancing universal access to community resources including web and electronic information. Dr. Gilson presents his work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally and has collaborative relationships with international scholars. In service, Dr. Gilson works through ASTOS, a non-profit organization that engages systematic thinking and action to promote social justice and human rights.

Dr. Elizabeth DePoy

Professor, University of Maine
Orono, ME, USA

Dr. Elizabeth DePoy is currently the Coordinator of Interdisciplinary Disability Studies at the University of Maine, focusing her scholarship and theory on design, embodiment, and diversity. She has authored and co-authored over 50 articles and books, and recently has produced multi-media, universally accessible texts with co-author, Dr. Stephen Gilson. Dr. DePoy is currently pursuing several collaborative research agendas all aimed at advancing progressive criticism and contemporary theory of diversity and linking these to the fashioning of tolerance in global communities and environments. Dr. DePoy presents her work locally, regionally, nationally and internationally and has collaborative relationships with international scholars. she conducts her service work through ASTOS, a non-profit organization that engages systematic thinking and action to promote social justice and human rights.

Ref: H08P0543