Back in 2019, when Design Twitter was a “thing,” there were heated debates that weren’t actually debates but frantic chest thumps declaring that if you worked for the “evil company” of the day, you were complicit and, therefore, also evil.
I found the entire spectacle amusing.
It’s easy to label others as complicit when you refuse to acknowledge or confront your complicity. It’s far more complex, humbling, and interesting to face one’s self—without inhibition.
Even today (2023 as of this last update), I still notice designers touching on ethics from a place of justified agitation that doesn’t hold consideration for one’s relationship to the roots of societal ills we all deal with by virtue of legacy and short-term memories inherently.
So, I decided to make a reading list to help y’all out.
What do they cover?
The following books go beyond “design,” while emphasizing, analyzing, and critiquing history, law, race, culture, feminism, civil rights, psychology, white supremacy, sociology, and more because I firmly believe we need a baseline understanding to engage in dialogue around design ethics effectively.
Quite a few of us require a new baseline because many design schools (at least in the US) teach that design is separate from everything else—it’s not. These books will provide a clear understanding of how we got here and where we’re going.
Though I’m providing this as a resource, I hope that these books encourage you to ask more questions, challenge the world around you, and seek answers. Use the knowledge available to you to form your ideas, perspectives, and beliefs.
Why am I doing this?
As designers, we should be able to engage in difficult conversations with nuance. I hope that by sharing these books, you’ll apply what you learn to think critically about what is happening around you and your impact while also understanding how to cultivate compassion and righteous anger that stirs change.
To effect the positive change we want to see, we have to start with ourselves. And to do that, we can look at the people and the work they’ve done that came before us.
I’ll keep adding to the list as I think of more books to add, too.
If you find this list of value, please consider sending me a cup of tea or purchase the books listed below using my Bookshop link (I receive a commission of sales purchased via my link).
This list is, by no means, exhaustive or definitive. Take what you need/can, leave the rest. All books on this list link directly to Bookshop.org, which will provide you with the direct link to your local and/or indie book seller.
Academic papers are denoted by the following: 📄
Finally, make sure you’re using the Library Extension, which can check your local library for books. Support libraries! ✊🏿
- Accounting for Slavery by Caitlin Rosenthal
- Black Feminist Cultural Criticism by Jacqueline Bob
- Black and Blur by Fred Moten
- But Some of Us are Brave edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith
- Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays by Édouard Glissant
- 📄 “Decolonization is not a metaphor” by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang
- 📄 “Decolonizing Design Innovation” by Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall (This is also included as a chapter in the book Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice)
- Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire
- Emergent Strategy by adrienne marie brown
- In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe
- Poetics of Relation by Édouard Glissant
- The Politics of Design by Ruben Pater
- Power, Privilege and Law: A Civil Rights Reader by Leslie Bender and Daan Braveman
- Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin
- Sylvia Winter: On Being Human as Praxis edited by Katherine McKittrick
- The Womanist Reader by Layli Phillips
- Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis