Diversifying and decolonising the field of graphic design, Sold Out Publishing celebrates underrepresented references

Founded by Bakhtawer Haide and Betty Brunfaut, Sold Out is a platform facilitating multiple perspectives based on plurality.

6 August 2020

Graphic design is just one of many industries subject to an unequal gender and racial balance. Countless narratives, references and stories are left out of the academic and practical canon, and with this in mind, Sold Out Publishing is dedicated to rectifying the disproportionate scape. In an attempt to diversify and decolonise, Sold Out Publishing – created by Betty Brunfaut and Bakhtawer Haider – publishes underrepresented references in the field of graphic design.

The initiative began when Betty and Bakhtawer met during their master’s degree at London’s Royal College of Art. They noticed an acute lack of diversity around them, not just in the student body, they tell us, “but also in the staff and references we were often given in class” minus a few valuable exceptions. Over time, they realised this unequal makeup stretched far beyond the walls of the RCA. London’s famous multiculturalism has never been reflected in its graphic design industry and with such realisations, Betty, Bakhtawer and other classmates “wanted to take action” and do something about this imbalance beyond observing.

From that point onwards, the pair established active discussions within their cohort; all of whom were tackling underrepresented topics within graphic design. “We figured, there’s so much knowledge, so many references and so much fascinating work going around in our cohort,” explains Betty, “it’s often just under the radar, it simply goes unnoticed and under-referenced.” Having both studied graphic design undergraduate degrees before enrolling at the RCA, Betty and Bakhtawer’s respective backgrounds gradually led to this work which would become Sold Out Publishing.

They started working together under a mutual pretence of using graphic design to tap into a host of other disciplines; from book writing to publishing, infographics and research. “The evolving role as a graphic designer and its collaborative aspect is probably what drew us in the most,” adds Bakhtawer. However, she continues, “with that role comes the responsibility on what values and systems you continue to perpetuate within graphic design and visual culture.” Since starting work on the research for Sold Out, they also wanted to redefine the term for themselves, an attempt to further develop and understand their practice. “We might have fallen in love with graphic design because of Frutiger or Joseph Muller, but it is because of people like Mitzi Okou, Danah Abdulla and Eddie Opara that our flame is kept alive.”

In turn, Sold Out tries to bring in as many narratives and perspectives as possible. It publishes stories from a wide-ranging arc of narratives with the ultimate goal of looking at how graphic design can diversify and decolonise going forwards. Featuring publications which simultaneously comment on the industry while posing as beautifully designed objects, Bakhtawer and Betty talk us through a few highlights published under the umbrella of Sold Out Publishing.

Siddhi Gupta’s Karmkram 0/Act0 – The Dot acts as both a series and a tool created by the Kalakarm Curriculum Collective. “Siddhi believes that every educator can be an arts educator and every learner can be an artist,” says Bakhtawer. “Karmkram is an accessible tool and exercise book to enable anyone to teach art anywhere.” Elsewhere, Clem Rousset’s Grey Stuff investigates the notion of grey. Using grey as its anchor point, the publication delves into the liminal and the non-binary. Touching on the limits of categories and the weights of labels, the publication also touches on topics such as chimeras, neutrality, memories and an old fable about a clever bat.

In a turbulent year full of unprecedented challenges, it’s been an unpredictable first year for Sold Out Publishing. Despite this, Bakhtawer and Betty have learnt to relinquish control from time to time and focus on the fundamental goal: to publish and distribute graphic design material which is currently under-represented. For now, they’re pushing these five authors’ work as much as they can out into the world with the hopes of bringing on more authors and designers in the future.

As for the near future, this October, Sold Out publishing is releasing Not a Reference Yet, a collection of research and investigation into the mechanisms around referencing in academies and the practice of visual communication. The book looks into decolonisation and diversification theories and what that means for the graphic design field. And if that wasn’t enough to look forward to, Bakhtawer and Betty are also in the process of setting up their own studio, Plan B. Hoping to practice what they preach, the studio will centre around educating (not only themselves but also their clients), helping to push graphic design “beyond the boundaries of white, heteronormative privilege and Eurocentrism.” Finally, the pair go on to say, “If you’re reading this and are interested in publishing with us or collaborating on a design project through Plan B, feel free to reach out.”

GallerySold Out Publishing

Share Article

Further Info

You can support Sold Out Publishing here.


About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.