The general understanding and professional practice of graphic design have been shaped by the perspectives, needs, and desires of white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men in imperialistic, capitalist societies. The tools, substrates, professional networks, institutions, processes, theories, grammars, and values that have come to define the discipline have been shaped from this position. Consequently, graphic design primarily serves the needs of the settler in settler colonial regimes like the United States. Such a reality has prompted many designers like myself who do not fit neatly into this rubric to question the framework of the discipline and our position in it.
My thesis is rooted within this broader inquiry, which for me, as a Black and Indigenous person, began a few years ago through the emergence of two decolonial movements in my home communities: the BlackLivesMatter movement in Minneapolis, Minnesota, following the live-streamed extrajudicial killing of Philando Castile by a White police officer; and the NoDAPL movement in Standing Rock, North Dakota, which sought to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across the river my tribe depends upon for water. The inquiries that evolved from the social and political contexts in which I began my formal design education have particular salience now amidst current manifestations colonial oppression: a deadly global pandemic that has disproportionately claimed the lives of Black and Indigenous people due to the violence of structural inequities in the United States; the resurgence of the Keystone XL oil pipeline threatening the sovereignty and ecological well-being of numerous indigenous communities in the Midwest, including my own; and the nationwide uprisings sparked by the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. My background and the urgent socio-political contexts surrounding my design education have forced me to seek out creative and subversive methodologies to bend a design discipline defined for the service of settler colonialism towards ongoing decolonial movements in Black and Indigenous communities. Using design in the service of decolonial movements will require new articulations of tools, substrates, networks, institutions, processes, theories, grammars, and values. Fortunately, there is a long tradition in marginalized communities of repurposing tools not designed for us to meet our own needs.
Decolonization is not a destination along a binary array. Rather, it is a vector traversed through a lifelong practice seeking what lies beyond the decolonial horizon. Design and the product of design is not an end in a decolonial design practice, it is the work that leads to and through the personal, interpersonal, and systemic work that is required. Process is the product. Design is a vehicle for the beyond, one of many possible methods that activate the decolonial moments, gestures, and utterances between people that triangulate new vectors for our collective liberation and help carry us there.
U+16E99 is one articulation of a decolonial design practice uttered through the poetic grammars of Black, Indigenous, Queer, and Feminist thinkers, makers, and organizers. It is an attempt to define a vector for my own creative practice that centers my values, needs, and desires, while navigating the demands, precarities, and limitations of the academic institution and settler colonial context in which this mapping takes place.