Honouring Pioneers in Diversity and Inclusion in Design
This year, September 25 marks the inaugural World Interaction Design Day (IxDD), an annual celebration of interaction design and how it improves the human condition, created in partnership with the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).
This year’s theme is advancing diversity and inclusion in design, and on September 25, the global design community will come together at events all over the world to discuss and learn how we can use design to create a more equitable future for everyone.
To celebrate the annual event, we want to reflect on the design pioneers who came before us — people who made significant, but often under-recognised, contributions to diversity and inclusion in design.
Before the industry began studying how to make website and apps accessible, and before the tech industry coined the term ‘UX design,’ there were designers innovating new products that made everyday experiences – from driving a car to peeling the potatoes – more user-friendly for everyone. And before companies implemented diversity and inclusion initiatives, there were design pioneers blazing their own trails to make way for a more inclusive approach to design and creativity.
Here are some of their stories:
Betsey Farber, founder of OXO Cookware
Next time you’re in charge of opening a locked-shut jar, say thanks to Betsey Farber. A talented former architect, Betsey helped revolutionise the kitchen utensil industry after she struggled to find tools that were comfortable to use with her arthritis. She went on to found OXO, the first line of ergonomic cooking tools, with her husband, Sam.
Despite being a key contributor to the brand’s accessible designs, she’s often credited only as Sam’s disabled wife and the ‘inspiration’ behind OXO. Made with a spare, minimalist aesthetic, the tools Betsey and Sam created together sported what would become the line’s distinctive hallmark: fat black handles of a soft plastic designed not just for cooks with hand problems, but all cooks regardless of ability.
Norma Merrick Sklarek, architect
Norma was the third black woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States, and the first to become licensed in both New York and California. Often noted as an under-recognised contributor to the field, Norma was a key architect on Terminal One at LAX, Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, and Fox Plaza in San Francisco, among other iconic structures.
An inspiring figure, she’s known for her tenacity and level-headedness in tackling both the racial and gender biases she encountered throughout her storied career.
Ralph Teetor, inventor of Cruise Control
Blind since an accident at age 5, Ralph was a prolific inventor and engineering wunderkid best known for his invention of cruise control. Family lore holds that the jerky accelerator foot of Ralph’s patent attorney and frequent driver inspired him to create the feature that drivers today can’t live without – he was, quite literally, sick of getting sick in the car.
Ralph became the president and lead engineer of a groundbreaking automotive manufacturer, where his legendary sense of touch was often cited as giving him an advantage in feeling out solutions to complex mechanical issues.
Elaine Lustig Cohen, graphic designer
An American graphic designer, artist and archivist, Elaine worked at her husband’s design firm where she was often relegated to secretarial and assistant work. It was only after his untimely death in 1955 that she received recognition for her talents and was approached by his former clients to continue their design work.
In addition to creating over 150 iconic designs for book covers and museum catalogues, Elaine played a significant role in the evolution of American modernist graphic design, integrating European avant-garde with experimentation to create a distinct visual vocabulary.
Wayne Westerman, touchscreen inventor
If you’re reading this on your iPhone, thank Wayne Westerman, an engineer who, together with John Elias, invented the touchscreen after suffering from tendonitis. The touchscreen made technologies more accessible for not just those with tendonitis, but many people who experience difficulty using keyboards and mice because of physical or cognitive disabilities. Westerman’s company, FingerWorks, was eventually acquired by Apple, where he now works as a senior engineer.
Get involved with World Interaction Design Day
We hope the contributions of these design pioneers will inspire productive discourse on how as a global community, we can advance diversity and inclusion in design.
We encourage designers to join the conversation and host or attend a local activity in their community on September 25.