The key to success for every industry, whether private or public, government, nonprofit or retail, is the ability to adapt to the constantly changing market. At no time in history has that been more evident than it is today.
Since the dawn of commercial design, graphic artists have been tasked with illustrating products and services in ways that reflect the character, tastes, and the look of the marketplace.
As a designer, if you haven’t seen the changing flavor of the market, now may be a good time to look. Yes, there has been a sea change — resulting from the growth in number and buying power of ethnic populations and changes in cultural influences. According to University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, between 2010 and 2020, Asian American buying power grew by 111%; the buying power for those of Hispanic ethnicity grew by 87%, Native American buying power grew by 67%, and African American buying power grew by 61%, equaling and estimated the buying power of $3 trillion in 2020.
For designers, this represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Graphic designers are on the front lines of market evolution. Whether laying out brochures or designing logos and ads, what we design is often a critical touchpoint for our clients. We help keep them connected to their market, even as it is changing. So, designing for today’s multicultural audiences is mission critical.
As a multicultural firm, diverse and inclusive approaches to design are core values. We know that approach is important. The change is real, and it calls for our industry to evolve.
From the 1950s through most of the 90s and even into the 2000s, the approach to multicultural design has been to make the new audience look a lot like the old one. The aspirational message was, “you want to look and feel like these people, so buy this product to treat your hair or use this service in your home.” Even the images, though used sparingly, were of those who most closely resembled the old market.
Well, not today. This market is “not the one” for that approach. Today’s market is confident, fully independent, and financially capable. Its aspiration is to see and serve itself, fulfilling its own needs, and that requires a different approach to design.
Designers need to become well versed in new cultures and trends, from color and pattern, to imagery, language, and artistic attitude. Diversity and inclusion in design are no longer buzz phrases for a half-hearted effort to recognize that “other” people exist in the marketplace. These are now demands for recognition of full scale, social, cultural and economic change.
Clients have always depended on designers to stay abreast of the kinds of changes that influence the success or failure of products and services in the marketplace. While this time in history is no different, the challenge to our firms is certainly more intense and immediate.
For some of us the shift is critical - challenging core beliefs and forcing new approaches to graphic design. For those whose agencies are easily adapting to the new cultural design space, it’s a chance to breathe new air and bring new energy to what we love to do.