Accessible DesignEssay

How To Stand Up For Inclusion In Design

by Grace Bonney

The Oscars are known for stirring up controversy, alongside memorable fashion moments, every year. This year’s show had plenty of both, but one of the moments that stood out the most was Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech that ended with the words: inclusion rider.

I had to Google the term because I’d never heard of it. But as soon as I read the definition I knew it was something that could be helpful and important for our creative community. To quote NPR, an inclusion rider is, “a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.”

From the moment those words were broadcast on live television, I watched social media explode with a range of responses and I found myself having dozens of conversations (both public and private) on social media with people in our community who wondered why this wasn’t being discussed more in the world of design.

You don’t have to look far (heck, just look back at the majority of the first 10 years of Design*Sponge) to know that there are many, many people who are omitted from coverage, celebration, and support in the world of design. Whether they’re omitted because of their race, gender/gender presentation, sexuality, religion, disability, or a range of other factors, there are many people in our community who have not only been left out of the story, they’ve been actively discriminated against and ignored at just about every level of participation. They’ve been left out of funding, press, design school admissions, scholarships, trade shows, conferences, and publishing contracts.

These omissions aren’t just upsetting, frustrating, and detrimental to the people experiencing them, they hurt our community as a whole. Because our community is stronger, better, and more inspiring when it represents and includes ALL of the people in it.

So how do we, as members of the creative community or passionate supporters of it, use our voices and choices to support the inclusion of all members of our community?

There are many ways to speak up, but first, I’ve found one of the most powerful ways to start is to just listen. Listen to people who have different experiences, identities, and stories than you. They are the ones who can best express their stories, needs, and concerns. Follow people on social media, listen to podcasts, books, magazines, and blogs that are about or by people with different backgrounds and identities than you. This listening never ends, and it’s an important reminder to always ground yourself in listening first and talking/acting second.

Okay, back to supporting inclusion. How do those of us in the design community (or any community, really), speak up when we’re invited to be a part of something that isn’t supporting as many members of our community as it could? It may not always be comfortable to speak up, but it’s important. As Blake Von D said in an interview with, “It’s not enough to get through the door if you close it behind you.

Here’s the email I usually write when I have the chance to speak up about an opportunity that’s come my way:

I usually get one of these three responses:

  • No response (crickets…)
  • Someone who will send me a list of names (that are not inclusive), but who is not interested in talking about it any further.
  • Someone who is open to expanding the inclusiveness of the event but needs assistance with that*.

Only one of these responses (the last one*) is something that can turn into a conversation, so I always try to hop on a call or email to talk about the event, their goals, their budget, and how I could be of help in finding someone from a different background or identity to take my spot or add to the event. I usually spend a few minutes thinking of any people I know personally who would be a great fit and then send those names and contacts to them directly.

And then I always end with links to some of the many websites that exist to highlight and connect people with underrepresented artists/designers/writers, like People of Craft, Women Who Draw, Writers of Color, and the Black Interior Designers Network. Sites like these are just one of the many ways people organizing events or opportunities can easily access a database of talented people who are just one click away.

Inclusion and equity are about making more room at the table, and it can be helpful if those of us who have already had those seats offered to us can help pass the chance to someone else who hasn’t had that same opportunity. Ultimately the goal is to get people to realize that, in most cases, there is always more room at the table. And expanding all of our platforms and our digital spaces to make more people feel seen, heard and welcomed is an important part of our community’s growth.

Here are just a few more ways all of us in the creative community can continue to evolve and support inclusion and a broader range of viewpoints and experiences in our world:

  • Attend and support conferences and events that celebrate underrepresented voices.
  • Download and buy podcasts, books, and magazines that celebrate underrepresented voices.
  • Follow and listen to the feeds, blogs and channels of people from different life experiences and identities than yours. Whether that’s someone from a different part of your country, a different financial background, a different race, religion, gender, sexuality, or someone who lives with a disability or chronic illness.
  • Listen to their stories, support their projects and show up whenever you can.

It makes a difference and it makes our community stronger as a whole. If you’ve had experiences where you spoke up or used your platform or saw someone that did and it inspired you, I’d love to hear your stories. I’d also love to hear the stories of anyone who feels underrepresented or underreported. If you’re comfortable sharing those stories, we would love to hear them here. (There is no pressure, no one’s stories are owed to any community.) Thank you to everyone for being a part of this conversation and thank you to everyone reading here who has been patient and understanding as my and our understanding of inclusivity as evolved over the years. I know it has not been easy as times and I thank you for your patience. xo, Grace

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  • In fact I start follow D*S after see you on Marie Tv show
    Love your story, love design but frankly I stay because of your message about diversity, community, implication.

    Even I feel my self in your audience…when I read the essay I realize that’s since I follow D*S I never see a home from people over 45 ( I May be wrong).

  • Grace, I’ve been reading this blog for what feels like a long time – over 10 years, I think! and I love that you are using your platform and resources to promote others. Your essays are always so thoughtful and they push me to consider aspects of my own life, citizenship, and outlook that I can improve. Thank you for continuing to be a force for positivity, inclusion, and compassion. Keep it up!

    • Thanks so much, Maggie.

      If you have any other thoughts or questions, feel free to open them up here. I want to hear from people in all different parts of our community about this issue and see if we can open up a bigger dialogue, since this is a topic a lot of people are thinking about and aren’t necessarily comfortable talking about as openly.


  • Hello! I applaud your initiatives in diversifying D*S and the design world at large. I often feel that people with disabilities are left our of the “diversity movement”. 1 in 5 people identify as having some sort of disability and we are also a group of people experiencing bigotry, stigma and bias. I would encourage people to also think about ways to include people with both visible and invisible disabilities.

    • Natalia

      Absolutely. This is a big part of our content moving forward and while I regret it took us so long to focus on stories related to people living with disabilities, I’m glad it’s something that will be a bigger part of our coverage from now on.

      I’m working on a piece now about how people with websites can improve their content, tags, and design to be more accessible to those with visual impairments.


      • Thanks, Grace!

        As a woman with mobility and other physical issues, I would really like to see more great design that’s also accessible for people such as myself. You did a great home tour of a woman who needed a wheelchair some time ago and it was fantastic — wonderful woman, beautiful home!

        So many of the things we need for assistance are downright ugly and personally I hate anything that looks “institutional.” I’m always on the lookout for things like decent looking grab bars for the bathroom, etc. but it’s not easy. It would be great to see homes that have found a way to incorporate these things beautifully.

        And I will “ditto” what Natalia said about the stigma that people with disabilities face — including what people assume our homes will look like. I recently had an experience with a realtor that made me realize that she assumed that because I was disabled that my home would be crappy — messy, dirty –and I would have no design sense whatsoever. It was obvious in the homes she showed me and some of the comments she made.

  • What an elegant way to promote inclusion, and one that many of us can take and adapt to our own lines of work. Thank you!

  • Grace! First of all let me just reiterate how much i love you…. and THIS is why! I love that your actions say you will not let this conversation die down. I love that you not only ask “how can i help”, but that you actually DO. I couldn’t agree more when you say there’s so much power in listening. I think the other piece to that is acknowledgement. It’s hard to acknowledge there’s a problem especially when you either don’t or try not to see it. I loved seeing Blake quoted here as well. She’s one of my good friends and I love how she’s using her voice in the creative space to bring light to this as well. Such a good read Grace. Thank you again.

    • Shavonda

      Thank you. I could not agree more. I think acknowledgement is such an important step. I spent so long making that mistake of not owning all the mistakes I’d made (and still make, but am working on) and taking responsibility, but it’s such a necessary step in working toward knowing better and doing better.

      Thanks so much again for your support and for reading.


  • While many Home Tours show homes of young creative or professional people I do believe I have seen quite a few older people’s homes as well. There was the fantastic Los Angeles home of a famous artistic couple (forgive me I am not American and not familiarised with local artists). There was Maira Kelmann’s home, and another artistic couple I THINK from somewhere in Pennsylvania (or perhaps Philadelphia) which was an artistic hub – the item I remember from this tour was a cardboard table designed by Frank Gehry. There have been many more I am sure but the owner’s age isn’t always broadcast. That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to see more! (And yes I am over 45 myself). Often these tours are the most interesting because you see a lifetime of collecting and editing and get a real portrait of the person whose home it is. They usually get a great response from readers and lots of comments and discussion. But overall I think Design*Sponge does a great job of trying to show the diversity that’s out there and is improving all the time.

    • Thanks Margot

      I agree that homes owned by people with more life experience are often the most interesting and storied spaces to share. They often are the types of interiors that have that feeling and richness of layers and history that you just can’t get without a lifetime of collecting and decorating :)


      • The Los Angeles artist I was thinking of was Wayne White (you shared the link above!). It was SUCH a memorable house along with the other 2 I mentioned. There’s a thread though – they are all artists!

  • This is awesome. I have enjoyed watching how you have developed your voice through the years with this stellar blog without loosing site of the original idea. I have wondered how it was going to work out for you sometimes, but I was always rooting for you.

    • Thanks so much, Amy.

      Jury’s still out on how it will all work out in the end, but hey, we’re still standing and I’m happy and thankful for that ;)


  • Grace, you are always ahead of the crowd, so it’s lovely to read this and see how you are working to make inclusion successful.

    I want to add my voice to those creative women who are 50 and over. Until you have had someone laugh in your face and say that they are only interested in working with someone with a younger point of view who is more in touch with current trends, you haven’t lived. It’s super important for all of us to remember that ‘age’ is the one thing no one can avoid, and that every creative who ages will at some point personally feel the sting of predjudice based on age alone.

    Being unemployable, rejected and astonishingly invisible means this group too needs the same recognition as every other underrepresented group. In the future, when you list marginalized populations that need inclusion, please include us too.

    • Jen O

      Thank you so much for sharing – I absolutely agree that people who have lived longer lives are absolutely underrepresented and are very much a a part of this issue and we are actively working to right that wrong here at DS and in our print projects as well.


  • This is just so wonderful and refreshing. I am a young woman working in decidedly man’s world (I work in international security) and when I get invited to things I feel like I *deserve* a spot at the table, but I never stopped to think that maybe my spot could also be going to someone else who’s view is even less represented than mine. This article will force me to really assess my relative position of both power and powerlessness compared to those around me. I only hope I can address this with as much grace as you have (it also occurs to me that you are aptly named). Thank you for sharing.

    • Rachel

      Thank you so much for sharing your point of view. And you absolutely deserve a seat at the table. The misconception that so many organizers put out there is that there isn’t enough room – but there’s always more room. It’s about speaking up and reminding them of that- and demanding that if it comes to it. Keep up the great work :)


  • This is so important and I’m thrilled that you are demonstrating the way. I would like to call attention to two people worth mentioning in this conversation: interior designer Angela Belt and photographer David Land. For the past few years, Angela Belt has been profiling designers and artists of color every day of Black History Month because she felt the lack of representation in her industry. It’s a powerful movement that I wish got more notice and traction. You can see more of this here: I know you’ve featured David Land’s book Corner & Compass on Design*Sponge before as well as his own home, but I just wanted to bring his efforts into this conversation.

    Your book was magnificent in many ways, one of which was your efforts to show the breadth of diversity in creative industries. I loved it.

    I became incredibly frustrated several years ago by what I saw as a very monochromatic showing of the types of people working in and interested in design. The problem is in all forms of media, especially social media, and it truly saddened me. While I am just one person, and only a wannabe interior designer, I decided that I needed to show myself and my culture more on social media as a way of representing that there are plenty of people with a passion and skill set in design worth knowing and following and paying attention to. I also write about this issue on my blog (I actually got to interview Angela Belt about this, which was thrilling) and I hope to do more to help represent diversity in design fields.

    Thank you for continuing to lead the way. I hope others follow suit.

  • Grace,
    Thank you for opening up this conversation. I do want to bring up a couple of points. As a WOC, I think that it’s important to not assume someone’s race, gender identity, etc. I don’t think you you are doing this, but I did want to clarify that a list of conference speaker names and even doing a little digging may not bring up a person’s identities. As someone who is light-skinned, I am often mistaken for white. I am not ashamed of my race and I acknowledge that I have privilege in my skin-color, but POC also have no obligation to shout their race from the rooftop— if they don’t want to. I’ve often heard “obligation” to educate being described as a tax. I do not have a solution for this issue, but I think talking about it and self-education through scholarly and interdisciplinary works is the first step.
    I also think that you are beginning to connect the dots here with your essay in handmade vs big box stores, but marginalized groups are often economically disadvantaged, as well. It can be difficult for these groups, myself included, to achieve a cohesive (or popular) design esthetic with very little money. I’m not saying it is impossible— there’s thriftiness, upcycling, etc., but it is significantly more difficult.
    Again, I’m not sure how to solve this multi-pronged problem. (Hosting free design webinars or teaching disadvantaged kids design principles may be a start?). But I did want to expand on a topic that is very nuanced.
    I also want to again thank you for giving this space to talk and freely express our feelings.

    • Melanie-

      I hear you, thank you for sharing your thoughts here. First and foremost, I apologize if it came across in any way as if I felt POC, or anyone who has been underrepresented, has an obligation to do anything. I could not feel further from that idea. I whole heartedly agree that no one has any obligation to disclose anything, from race to religion to gender identity, to disability or sexuality.

      I completely agree that the issues we touched on with the box store essay are 100% tied to the issues being discussed here. Race, class, gender, disability, etc- they are all connected to every single aspect of life in our culture. I wanted to break them into separate discussions (but still mention them as major factors each time) so these larger, and for some, more uncomfortable, concepts might be more easily digested and processed. But I 100% agree that people from marginalized groups are more likely to experience not just oppression and bigotry, but economic disadvantage, too.

      I don’t pretend to have any solutions, but I feel that for our community here at DS, the first step is talking about these issues more openly, pointing out the connections between these systemic problems and oppressions and the “pretty” things we talk about– and, most importantly, making room for people who experience these oppressions and challenges to tell their stories and for the rest of us to listen and learn. (Again, to clarify, I do not think anyone has the obligation to share their story and “teach” anyone.)

      There are some excellent design education programs (Tina Shoulders runs an amazing one for younger people in NYC) that aim to support under-supported youth populations, but I agree it’s only one part of a very complex and nuanced topic.

      I’m so grateful for your thoughts here and of course welcome any more you have- I think we can all stand to benefit from talking about these nuanced issues and listening just as much.


  • I’m so happy that you are willing to educate and put yourself out there Grace. I absolutely adore this about you. I hope that it opens the door for others to walk through and do the same. As a woman of color, I would like to also mention, that when we get invited to the table the expectations of our presence has to be equal to everyone else there. If I’m invited to an event, I should not have to represent all black people. My mistakes are my mistakes. The expectation many times is that we have to work harder to prove ourselves because if we mess up, another person like us might not get the opportunity again. I only say this because, most of the jobs I’ve worked in, I was usually the only black person in the front. The feeling that I had to be perfect was overwhelming and felt unfair especially when you see that your white colleagues have the freedom to mess up without damaging the reputation of their race. I’ve personally had someone say to me that they are planning to hire more black people because I did so well. An entire race should not be held accountable for one person’s actions. Inclusion is about all of us, so has to come with equal expectations.
    Thank you, Grace, for always stepping up to the challenge.

    • Ronni

      Thank you so much for everything you said here.

      “An entire race should not be held accountable for one person’s actions. Inclusion is about all of us, so has to come with equal expectations.”

      This. Thank you. I think this is such an important point and one to recall and remember remember over and over and over again.

      “I should not have to represent all black people.”

      Yes yes yes. The idea that any one person can represent any entire group of people is so problematic. I’ve seen so many panels just turn to the one person of color or the one queer person or the one disabled person on the panel and say, “well what do YOU think”, in this very thinly coded way of asking what ALL people from one group think. It’s deeply problematic and the more voices we work together to lift up, the better we’ll be able to understand that all humans and all groups are vast and different and nuanced and don’t have one set of beliefs or opinions because of one identifying factor.

      Thank you so much again for sharing, Ronni.


  • Grace, thank you for bringing the comments and thoughts I have with my fellow designers of color to light! I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to flip throw shelter magazines and see no one that looks like you. No one in the group of “up and coming designers” or “ones to watch.” What I love most about what you shared is your response about how to ask the questions. This is an important takeaway, you’ve provided the language to help make a difference. THANK YOU!

  • Wonderful ideas for standing up for more inclusion, Grace. For your readers who donate or volunteer with nonprofits or serve on boards, they can ask if the nonprofit has an inclusion rider. I am on the 826 National Board. We have an inclusion rider. For example, we don’t conduct a first round interview until at least 50% of the candidate pool includes individuals who would identify with an 826 affinity group (e.g. POCs, LGBTQ).

  • Grace!! I loved reading this and watching your Q&A stories! So much is to be learned from here. As a Latina, I often feel alone when it comes to the design world. I am
    Constantly looking for more representation, especially in the Interior Design world. Thank you for sharing your heart on such an important topic!😘

  • This was a great read and I think it’s so important to use power and privilege to lift up voices less often heard. It’s so encouraging to hear this happening in the design world! I would also encourage you to include disability as you have those conversations. So many accessibility issues could be solved through design and the disabled are a group often left out of the diversity conversation.

    • Danielle

      Absolutely, thank you for the reminder. Disability support and representation is very much a part of the discussion for us and a big focus of our content this year, too.


  • “There is ALWAYS more room at the table.” Beautiful and true!

  • Hi Grace, I started reading you years ago for the design articles. While I still appreciate that content, I am so impressed with your heart as big as the moon, your courage and curiosity, your willingness to adjust your path when you believe you have not shined your brightest self, your leadership. Know that I, a woman way outside your demographics, is cheering you on and learning from you right across the Hudson as I knit myself into a new community and keep growing. Susan

  • As a woman, WOC, fat, queer and disabled it is exhausting listening to white women with blogs come to these inclusive aha moments like the concept ofjust happened. I remember when this Blog was new mentioning to you and your readers (respectfully because can’t be an angry black woman) how incredibly racist some of the content was and to be blunt you Grace were so snottily condescending and the pile on by your obsequious uncritical readers was TRAUMATIZING. Glad you’ve evolved I was enthusiastic about design and frankly have the coolest VA waterfront home filled with literally all the cool things. Feeling rejected by design blogs who only see in whiteness made me super motivitated to create places for my voice to be heard. I still come around DS to look at pics but I am under no illusion that people like me are welcome.

    • Ange

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. You’re right. I did allow and write content here in the early days that I am thoroughly embarrassed of and disappointed in myself for running. I completely agree that that content, and my defensiveness of it in the earlier years, could have, and probably did, make a lot of people feel unwelcome here. For that I am deeply sorry. I have no excuses. It was unacceptable and ignorant on my part.

      I have discussed and owned that behavior frequently over the past five years (and will continue to do so), but I recognize that only making those efforts for the past 5 out of 15 years does not make up for that earlier behavior and defensiveness.

      I am so sorry that you feel unwelcome here to this day. I’d love to talk more about this, because I speak for all of us here that you are absolutely welcome here. I trust and believe your feelings re: how you feel when reading our site, but I’d love to hear more of your thoughts so I can better understand what we’re doing currently that’s making you feel unwelcome. (I am going to email you as well to open the line of communication if you feel comfortable to talk.)