Isabel Pintado
Isabel Pintado Image Credit: Supplied

Diversity — be it of race, gender, age, religion or culture, forms the basis of a true creative environment.

“Creativity comes from challenging the norms, the preconceived ideas and the inherited value system that we all assume to be ‘the given’,” says says Isabel Pintado of Wilson Associates, one of the leading design studios in the region. “We have found that when an environment is created where all team members are empowered to challenge the discussions at hand, that is where we come up with our best work.”

To achieve this dynamic workplace, transparency and representation are integral. When the design studio — or for that matter, any workplace — gives its team a sense of being ‘seen’, and a platform to be ‘heard’, its gives them the confidence to bring their personality, background and experiences to the work at hand. And that enriches the quality of solutions found.

“My favourite part of the design process is exactly that sweet spot when colleagues start challenging what the most experienced designers have proposed and it sparks a different approach to the norm,” says Pintado. “It’s those moments that keep me motivated. Those are the moments where true creativity comes to life. The balance of not being limited by the status quo or being held back by those with years of experience is the secret to those moments.”

Still Euro-centric

Whilst the design industry is all encompassing and requires the collaboration of people from different parts of the world and with a diverse set of skills, education and expertise, in many ways, it is still not representative of the very diversity that makes it tick. At the top, the design industry is still very Euro-centric, with proportionately lacking representation of POC and BAME in leadership roles.

“A lack of representation of our different cultures will ultimately stagnate any industry,” feels Pintado. “Without bringing different points of views to the table we cannot evolve. There are many businesses — in design and otherwise — that were once very successful, but in recent times, have shrunk or entirely disappeared. One of the main reasons is that their values and attitudes have not kept up.”

Diversity is as good for business, as it is for the creative process. “As we approach our projects we always undertake research which factors in a sense of place and location,” explains Pintado. “We believe without addressing cultural traditions of the projects at hand the results are never as successful nor do they age as well.” It helps, to have diverse perspectives feed into the creative conversation, to ensure the final results are not caricatures or a collage of clichés.

Speaking up

“During my career as a manager of design firms I have encountered various scenarios where racism and sexism were rampant and if there is one thing I have learned is that change can’t come from silence. We all need to speak up against behaviour and attitudes that are inappropriate and damaging to individuals and the work culture.”

From the way businesses are structured and the opportunities they provide, to how we live outside of our offices, inclusion, representation, respect, understanding and openness to learning must become our modus operandi. Change at the workplace has to come across multiple levels — from transparency in the hiring process and higher standards of accountability within the business, to actively seeking out clients and collaborators advocating for positive change.

One thing is certain, even in a trend-ridden world like design, diversity is not a seasonal issue. “Diversity is a necessity for any creative environment, we must make it non-optional and lead by example” says Pintado.