It is with some sadness, but with deep conviction, that I will not renew my membership to AIGA–The Professional Association for Design and the local AIGA West Michigan Chapter.
As an entrepreneur and designer, I’ve been a member of this industry-leading non-profit organization since 2009 and served as a board member during the formative years of the local West Michigan chapter. AIGA is a 100-year-old national nonprofit professional organization dedicated to the promotion of design & creativity in business and society. It has over 25,000 members and 70 chapters, including the West MI Chapter. However, I cannot continue to support the organization as a paying member.
Over the last couple years, I served on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the AIGA West MI chapter. We made respectable progress infusing diversity and inclusion by crafting a dedicated mission and vision. We worked hard developing programming for the chapter, including efforts to encourage the growth of creative professionals of color. However, myself and other members felt a sense of exclusivity, continually encountered doubt of our committee’s intentions, and perceived an indifference to the principles of inclusion. Our impression was that diverse programming and aesthetics were delegitimized, and as a result we felt that the leading voices of our committee were being suppressed.
Because of this, I can no longer consider AIGA West MI to be a relevant resource for local professional development or a beacon for designers and creative professionals in our region. Most importantly, I feel it no longer aligns with my own values or that of my team at Vias Latino Marketing Consultants.
How we do Multicultural Marketing
At Vias we pride ourselves in our intentional approach to multicultural marketing. We value diversity, encourage criticism, justify strategy with well documented processes, and we respect aesthetics that don’t agree with our own personal tastes. We no longer live in a world where designers and marketers can succeed while ignoring diverse world views. Likewise, organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate in an environment where ignoring multicultural communities doesn’t pay dividends. Homogeneity is not only strangling, but costly.
How can an organization foster a culture that can successfully connect them with diverse communities? This is how we do it:
We proactively seek perspectives different from our own; and respond accordingly
Empathy is one of our best allies. It requires us to step out our perspectives and consider how other people see the world. But empathy can only take us so far. Ultimately, we have to employ perspectives from the actual source; for the sake of delivering strategies that are culturally intelligent and relevant.
We make decisions based on research and anecdotal evidence, not personal assumptions
Yes, as members and allies of multicultural communities, we find most of our assumptions are bankable. That doesn’t mean that we can use them to justify a strategy. We are accountable to our clients for our expertise, just as they are accountable to their audience. And, we owe them not only our competence, but also unbiased and validated evidence that our professional recommendations have merit outside of our personal spheres.
We use aesthetics as a tool to deliver creativity, not as a rigid strategy
I will never forget one of the first projects I landed in Latino branding. I created several logo concepts for a new restaurant. The owner specialized in authentic Mexican cuisine and wanted to augment his eatery with a professional mark. I walked into the first logo presentation meeting, concepts in hand, feeling quite confident that what I was about to share would exceed his expectations. A few short minutes into the presentation, he stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Don’t treat me like a big shot”. What he meant was that my work was professional and well-crafted, but it was too pretentious for his patrons. He was right. I learned a valuable lesson, one that I value to this day: not everyone views or validates aesthetics in the same way.
We encourage criticism, even if it means we have to rethink our plan or change directions
We don’t claim to know it all. Yes, we have several years combined professional experience and accolades to boot. But we’re human and prone to occasional missteps. When it happens, we own up to it, try to make it right, and learn from the experience. We have learned to embrace criticism as tool for professional development. By wearing our professional hearts on our sleeves, we have earned the trust of the people we serve which we value much more than focusing on short-term returns.
Diversity and inclusion fosters creativity
Growing the value of an organization can’t happen in the absence of diversity and inclusion. Making a change toward that end is not easy nor can it be achieved through accidental well-being. Diversity and inclusion needs to be purposeful and intentional. Purpose and intent is what creativity in design is all about and how you produce effective results. Diversity and inclusion are no different.
We’ve learned these principles through our work at Vías and we intimately understand the ramifications of not embracing them in this day and age. Understand that it is not just your professional acumen, but also your values as an organization that will guide you within an increasingly diverse and multicultural world.
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