Meet Queer Design Club, a community connecting LGBTQIA+ designers and a vital data project

We speak to co-founder Rebecca Brooker about creating a hub of queer creativity and the design industry’s first ever field-wide survey on the LGBTQIA+ community.

Date
30 May 2022

A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. In each edition, we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.

This week, we’re sitting down with Queer Design Club, a community and directory for LGBTQIA+ designers, to talk about two central aspects of the platform. The first is its extensive work to counter feelings of disconnection for queer designers, creating online and offline spaces – via social channels like Slack – for creatives to find each other and share work. The second is the first data project of its kind on the queer design experience. Below, co-founder Rebecca Brooker speaks about how the organisation hopes to foster change in the industry, and how, in just three years of the Queer Design Count, it has revealed vital insights into its community – including the fact that queer designers are underpaid, overworked and more likely to experience microaggressions and homophobia at work.

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Queer Design Club: Queer Design Summit 2022 (Copyright © Queer Design Club, 2022)

It’s Nice That: What about the creative industry are you aiming to change and why does it need changing?

Rebecca Brooker: For the longest time, I’ve been searching for queer people of colour who were interested in design, like me. Growing up in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago, I didn’t know a lot of graphic designers or have many queer friends during my teens. When I moved to New York to study design at St. John’s University, I began wondering where I would find friends or colleagues that understood my perspective. I followed some queer designers on Instagram and Twitter, and knew a handful from school and my internship – but I didn’t feel like I really knew them or could connect with them personally.

Looking past my own bubble and into the creative industry, it felt and looked overwhelming white, cis, and straight. Thumbing through my canonical design history books, I often only saw white men’s names and faces being credited as the giants of graphic design. I wondered if design had a place for me, for others like me, for others not like me, and if I had fooled myself up to this point. I searched online for information, clubs, groups, or places I could meet other LGBTQIA+ designers, but it felt disconnected and like conversations were being had in silos. It wasn’t until I came across the Blacks Who Design website that I was first inspired to create a similar space.

INT: What have you built, and how does it tackle these industry issues?

RB: I co-founded Queer Design Club with John Hanawalt in 2019; it is an online community for LGBTQ+ persons in design. We represent and highlight the work of contemporary LGBTQIA+ designers through our online directory and our social media platforms, while connecting and providing opportunities to our queer design community through our Slack channel and jobs board. We currently have over 4000 members worldwide across our various platforms.

One of our early realisations launching the community was that there was hardly any data or information about who our community was. While other design surveys asked a question or two (“Do you identify as LGBTQIA+?”) there was no in-depth data specific to our community. In 2019, we surveyed over 1000 LGBTQIA+ persons in design; the design industry’s first ever field-wide survey specific to queer people. We produced the 2019 Queer Design Count and conducted the survey again in 2021. Our hope is to continue conducting the survey every two years to deepen understanding of the queer experience in design, and broaden the conversation around diversity and inclusion beyond the silos of race and binary gender categories in isolation.

Some of the key findings we made in our 2021 report highlighted ongoing issues around income, race and gender in the workplace in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, 64 per cent of respondents were full time, compared to 47 per cent in 2021. In 2021, we saw 18 per cent of respondents identify as freelancers compared to seven per cent in 2019. 41 per cent of transgender respondents lost employment during the pandemic in comparison to 29 per cent of cis designers.

INT: What other organisations are out there like Queer Design Club, and what sets yours apart?

RB: While there are several general community groups for queer people in tech, such as Out in Tech, Lesbians Who Tech, Trans Tech, and more – we are one of the only design specific communities that encompass the entire spectrum of the queer identity.

Our proprietary research into the design community, through the Queer Design Count, sets us apart as an archive of queer data, that can be used as an industry benchmark and pulse check on the improvement of equity, equality and inclusion of queer folks at work. It’s also one of the cornerstones of our mission, as it helps us to better measure how we improve the lives of queer designers in the workplace.

INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing?

RB: Our data tells us that LGBTQIA+ designers are often underpaid, overworked, and most likely to experience microaggressions and homophobia at work. While usually attracted to design for the creative freedom and expression it allows them, over 40 per cent of LGBTQIA+ designers reported having to point out design decisions that excluded queer people, while 13 per cent were asked to do work for anti-LGBTQIA+ clients. Our data also revealed disparities in income, with 22 per cent of respondents of colour reported making $25,000 less annually compared to 15 per cent of white respondents. In our 2021 survey, Middle Eastern, Black, and Hispanic/Latinx individuals make up larger percentages of low incomes than high incomes.

We have a long path towards equity in design, and the work to re-imagine a queer future is collective. As a self-funded organisation, we’re exploring new ways of creating a sustainable path forward and enabling us to continue doing the work we’re best at. We want to grow our audience and reach more LGBTQIA+ persons around the world. Our ideal outcome would be to partner with a larger organisation that supports our mission and vision to continue growing our community and support and represent queer designers.

INT: What can the creative industry do to support your mission?

RB: Work with us! We are open for collaborations and opportunities that get queer designers paid. We are looking forward to being able to create programs that redistribute corporate wealth to queer folks and open new channels for opportunities to further their professional development. We are interested in partnering with companies that want to create a better and safer environment for LGBTQIA+ persons in design at work and are serious about taking the steps needed to get there.

INT: Talk us through some of your most recent projects or initiatives.

RB: In July 2022, we’ll be hosting a one-day summit that celebrates the full release of the 2021 Queer Design Count report, along with our third birthday as an organisation! The summit will feature LGBTQIA+ speakers and panellists gathering to discuss the data and stories we heard in the Queer Design Count, and their queer design experiences on the main stage. It’s our first large event so we’re going to be doing it big! More information is coming soon so stay tuned to our socials and newsletter list! Sign up via our website and follow us @queerdesignclub on Twitter and Instagram. To get involved as a member, volunteer or sponsor, send us an email!

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

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