Why more diversity makes for better design

Limited edition Brighton Gin for Brighton Price, designed by ODA.

Sarah Westwood, creative strategist at ODA, tells us why agencies should be reminded to take Pride in diversity within the design sector.

As we approach Brighton Pride this weekend, I’m confidently expecting the usual snippiness from some quarters of the LGBT community about the involvement of brands.

It’s easy to be cynical – to assume brands are just putting a rainbow on it to trumpet their virtue and tap into the pink pound. And of course, in some cases this view will be justified. Goodness knows, many companies aren’t above a bit of capitalist appropriation.

But I invite you to park that cynicism for a moment to consider the good that comes from brands’ involvement with Pride. For me, there are some examples where it just feels right.

Skittles (catchphrase: Taste the Rainbow) is going all-white for Pride again this year because ‘only one rainbow matters …’. It’s a witty, self-deprecating approach that cleverly aligns the brand with Pride without any suggestion of inauthenticity conceived by the agency involved, Adam & Eve/DDB. 

We’re proud to have worked with Brighton Gin to produce limited edition designs to celebrate Brighton Pride for the last two years (top: this year's). It would be easy to sneer at it as an attempt at rainbow appropriation, but look more deeply and you’ll find a team that’s highly diverse.

It's also a team that has been involved in the LGBT community for years, and a team that’s giving a cut of the sales of the Pride limited editions to The Rainbow Fund, a local grant-giving fund for LGBT+HIV organisations.

And Absolut vodka has been supporting Pride and the LGBT community in general since the 1980s in partnership with Stonewall – including last year’s ‘kiss with pride’ ad by Bogle Bartle Hegarty that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Again, there’s no suggestion of inauthenticity or cutesiness – just a sincere and creative expression of support.

All three brands are doing their bit to visibly support the LGBT community and mainstream visibility helps to normalise – just like the inclusion of Pearl Mackie’s lesbian character Bill in Doctor Who did. And mainstream adoption can make a real difference because of the sheer pervasiveness of big brands.

Absolut's 2017 'Kiss with Pride' campaign (Image: Campaign)

So when it’s done with authenticity and creative originality, corporate support for LGBT issues is okay with me. Just like many people, I’ll cut you a lot of slack if you impress me or make me laugh. But lots has been written before about why commercial involvement works when it works and doesn’t when it doesn’t. What I’d like to focus on is the effect these associations have on employees.

On a Pride march in London last year, I was struck by a display in the window of M&S on Oxford Street. ‘Don’t let anyone rain on your parade’, it said, tying into an internal campaign called ‘Be yourself’ that promotes support for its LGBT employees. For LGBT people in M&S, seeing this would make a massive difference. It would tell them they don’t have to hide – that they can be themselves.

To a young kid growing up in a small town where attitudes might be very different to those we experience in our metropolitan bubbles, the sight of two people of the same sex kissing on TV, or the knowledge that the shop their mum goes to supports LGBT issues, can be literally life-changing.

Sarah Westwood, Creative Strategist at ODA, believes diversity makes for better design

The importance of tolerance and diversity in the workplace feels like a complete no-brainer to me. We know the multiple perspectives of a diverse team make for better design. We know that people who feel they can bring their true selves to work are more confident and produce better work. We know diversity makes for better leaders and a happier, more relaxed workplace. It’s really not that complicated. And it’s what we’ve always strived for at Our Design Agency.

You’d think agency bosses would be falling over themselves to diversify their teams as much as possible. But they’re not. We have a long way to go as a sector. There’s still too much blokeishness among men and women alike. There’s still too much insidious belittlement in the name of ‘banter’. It’s still too hard to put your head above the parapet to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

Large corporates have a better handle on this than we do. They have dedicated HR teams and diversity specialists and formal policies. They have to because if they get it wrong and someone takes them to a tribunal, their reputations can take a hit from which it can be hard to recover.

Let’s see this year’s Pride as an opportunity for us all to choose to embrace diversity in design. As the world around us grows ever-more intolerant, our sector can stand up and make a statement – not only to our clients and their consumers, but crucially to everyone who works for us – that we embrace diversity.

Read next:  These are this year's best Pride in London art projects and campaigns

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