Announcing Black Design in America

Princeton University Press is grateful and excited to announce the forthcoming publication of a groundbreaking new volume, Black Design in America: African Americans and the African Diaspora in Graphic Design 19th–21st Century.

Rooted in a broadly defined vision of design—including graphic design, visual art, architecture, visual culture, and Black studies—and centering Black designers, scholars, and cultural figures, this critical volume promises an overdue recounting of the histories, legacies, communities, and futures of African and African American visual traditions. Foundational to Black Design in America is the lived experience of the authors, leading BIPOC designers, and scholars. Primary text coauthored by Tasheka Arceneaux-Sutton, Pierre Bowins, and Silas Munro will guide the historical narrative; interwoven throughout will be a call-and-response engaging the work and voices of volume contributors.

The coauthors note, “We are so honored to take the collaborative and multivoiced approach to these collective perspectives of design history, which represents lineages that have been overlooked and reflect the makeup of people in contemporary design and design education that has been emerging for generations.”

Spanning a diversity of places, spaces, topics, and moments in time, the book will feature chapters on the ancient origins of African alphabets; design systems within slavery and white supremacy; the type and typography of emancipation and abolition; the graphic traditions of Blackface and minstrelsy; W.E.B. DuBois and data visualization; queer design of the Harlem Renaissance; the Great Migration and multigenerational networks of Black Excellence; the typography of the civil rights movement; the design legacy of discrimination against Black drivers and homeowners; Black design and production of the 1960s and 1970s, including collectives like AfroCOBRA; music and design in funk, Blaxploitation, and hip-hop; the visual culture of Black Lives Matter; and the multiple radical futures of Black design and designers.

Michelle Komie, publisher for art and architecture at Princeton University Press, says: “We are thrilled to partner with this outstanding team of designers and historians to bring Black Design in America to publication. Our highest praise is usually the term ‘field-defining,’ but this book requires a new descriptor, ‘field-creating,’ as it has the potential to vastly grow the existing discipline. It is the kind of book that generates new thinking into existence.”

Black Design in America evolves from the first series of courses in BIPOC Design History, online classes facilitated by Polymode Studio. Using lectures, readings, and discussions, BIPOC Design History illuminates “moments of oppression and visibility” and recounts the trajectories of design history to foreground previously marginalized figures from BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) and QTPOC (Queer Trans People of Color) communities. The thirteen Black Design in America courses were launched to the public in the winter of 2021 with the support of teaching assistant Tanvi Sharma. They were followed, in the autumn of 2021, by Incomplete Latinx Stories of Diseño Grafico, facilitated by Ramon Tejada, and exploring art and design from a Latinx diasporic perspective.

BIPOC Design History is in planning stages for future courses centering First Nations and Indigenous design, Asian American Pacific Islander design, Japanese design, Arab design, and QTPOC design.

Course recordings and syllabi for both series are available at Enrollment is available via sliding-scale rates to prioritize inclusivity and access for students and BIPOC students; educators and BIPOC educators; professionals and BIPOC professionals.

Instagram: @bipocdesignhistory
Twitter: @bipocdesign

Black Design in America will be designed by Polymode and published as a paperback in the fall of 2023.

About the Coauthors   

Tasheka Arceneaux-Sutton is an associate professor of graphic design at North Carolina State University and a faculty member in the MFA Program in Graphic Design at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Arceneaux-Sutton is the principal of BlacVoice Design, a studio that provides services for educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses. She has exhibited nationally and abroad, and in 2013 her work was featured in Idea: International Graphic Art and Typography magazine. Arceneaux-Sutton’s research focuses on discovering Black people omitted from the graphic design history canon. Her essay “A Black Renaissance Woman: Louise E. Jefferson” is part of a collection of essays in the book Baseline Shift: Untold Stories of Women in Graphic Design History.

Instagram: @blacvoice
Twitter: @blacvoice

Pierre Bowins is an assistant professor in studio arts at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and a lifelong maker, educator, and design historian. His research focuses on exploring the Black American diaspora omitted from the history of graphic design and investigating the imbalances that exist within design history. Bowins is a vocal advocate for rediscovering the contributions of Black American designers. He has built and continues to build a collection of archival works from notable Black designers of the past and has exhibited them at various educational institutions. Bowins holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art.

Silas Munro is the founder and a partner of Polymode, a studio that leads the edge of contemporary graphic design through poetic research, learning experiences, and making cool shit for clients in the cultural sphere. Collaborations include the City of LA Mayor’s Office, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Mark Bradford at the Venice Biennale, and MoMA. Munro’s writing appears in the book W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America, published by Princeton Architectural Press and featured in Smithsonian magazine, the New Yorker, and Black Perspectives. Munro expanded this research into the first BIPOC-centered design history course, Black Design in America: African Americans and the African Diaspora in Graphic Design, which continues to shed light on moments of oppression and visibility. Munro holds an MFA from CalArts and a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Munro is founding faculty member and cochair for the MFA in graphic design at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is particularly interested in the often-unaddressed postcolonial relationship between design and marginalized communities.

Instagram: @siborg81
Twitter: @siborg81 

Brian Johnson of Polymode will serve as contributing editor to the book. Brian Johnson is a partner of Polymode, focusing on creative direction, design production, writing, and teaching and guest lecturing at the School of Visual Arts, Washington University, and the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. His recent clients include the Studio Museum, Pulitzer Art Foundation, Phaidon Press, the New Museum, and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, where his writing appears in Willi Smith: Street Couture. Born into a family of printers, Johnson is deeply invested in the production of good design without the expense of sacrificing our humanity or environment, meeting both the client and the producer in the middle to respect all avenues of time and budget in a hyperpaced world. Johnson holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.

About Polymode Studio

Polymode is a bicoastal, LGBTQ+, and minority-owned studio whose specialties include books, curation, education, exhibition, identities, interfaces, publications, websites, workshops, and writing. Learn more about their work and philosophy:

Instagram: @polymodestudio
Twitter: @polymodestudio