We Design, Design Museum’s Latest Exhibition

By Sam Aquillano, Executive Director, Design Museum Foundation


I found design by chance: a random pamphlet in a college financial aid office. I think many designers would tell a similar story — if you don’t know what design is, you don’t know you can become a designer. At the Design Museum, we want to be an accessible, interactive, fun, and important part of every future designer’s journey into the creative industries.

As we work to introduce more young people to design, we need to turn a mirror on our industry, an industry that is predominantly white and male: 86% of graphic designers are white, despite the interior design industry being more female than male, only 25% of firm leaders are women, and only 2% of licensed architects identify as African American. How can we claim to be a human-centered process and industry with such staggering inequities? How does this affect the design of objects, communications, systems, experiences, and environments? We must first acknowledge we exist in a system and society currently designed to preserve white privilege and white supremacy. That’s the uncomfortable reality we have to live with and talk about. We can’t stay silent on a reality that is often life and death for people of color, because nothing ever changes by not talking about it.

Pictured clockwise from top left: Sabrina Dorsainvil, Denise Rush, Saba Ghole, Phil Kongtcheu, Debra Latour, photos by Nancy Carbonaro; Phil Freelon, photo by Mark Herboth.


As a white, straight, cisgender male, my voice need only be heard in the context of changing that reality, and I will say that Design Museum will lead and support efforts to build diversity, equity, and inclusion into the design world. We’ve built this work into our strategic plan, training ourselves, and diversifying our staff, board of directors, and councils — this work is never finished. In service of that work, I’m excited to share our next public program, We Design: People. Practice. Progress.

Marian Wright Edelman, Founder & President of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” We Design is an exhibition designed to inspire teenagers and young adults, particularly women and those from underserved communities of color, to explore the careers possible in design, creativity, and innovation. We Design will explore the need for more diversity in the design industry while featuring designers of various ages, genders, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities, showcasing their unique career paths through stories and photos, along with examples of work from throughout their careers.


We Design launches tomorrow in Boston as we bring a pop-up version of the exhibit on the road in a newly-designed trailer to Roxbury, Mattapan, Cambridge, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway — here’s the mobile exhibition schedule, come say hello! The full exhibition will premiere in Boston at the Roxbury Innovation Center October 3rd with an opening reception at the Boling Building. The exhibition will debut in Portland in early 2020. We Design will form the foundation for our version of a permanent collection — after the premieres in both cities, we plan to have this exhibition on-view somewhere in Boston and Portland throughout the year, every year.

I invite you to join us in this important work and learn about our process for creating this new program: designmuseumfoundation.org/wedesign