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Feb 15, 2022 By IIDA HQ
Creative Voices: Honoring Black History Month
Alexandra Bonner, IIDA, Krystal Lucero, IIDA, Robina Shepherd, Associate IIDA, and Leyden Lewis discuss what it means to create an EDI focused workplace.
By IIDA HQ Feb 15, 2022
Published in

Creating a design landscape focused on enabling Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) with deliberate action and positive change, is within our reach. Leaders have started to acknowledge societal inequities in the form of uneven advantage, opportunity, privilege, and power, and companies are moving toward more sustainable diversity and inclusion initiatives. There’s still a lot of work to be done, creating a more inclusive workplace requires active, intentional, and ongoing efforts, but a better culture starts with better, honest conversations that combat bias and act as a catalyst for change. With that in mind, and in honor of Black History Month, IIDA asked four distinguished design professionals what kinds of progress they see happening within the industry and in what areas they wish to see further focus both in the workplace and beyond.

Alexandra Bonner, IIDA, NCIDQ
Past President, IIDA PA/NJ/DE
Associate, Project Interior Designer, FCArchitects

“The Monday after the nation erupted in outrage over the senseless murder of George Floyd, the president of my firm started our monthly office meeting by pausing any business discussions to open the floor to employees who felt the need to express themselves emotionally in reaction to the current state of unrest in our country,” says Alexandra Bonner, IIDA. “It was immediately a shock to me that this topic was being brought up in the virtual room. It was one of the most genuine moments I’ve witnessed from a white, male leader in my entire career."

Bonner goes on: “On that day our company, like many others in the weeks to come, elected to establish an office committee dedicated to EDI—a group that would work to address the lack of cultural diversity within our firm but also within our local industry as a whole,” she says. “Not only was our historically white-centric profession acknowledging the value of Black Lives, but it was also recognizing the fact that BIPOC designers especially have significant contributions to make to the way we approach the built environment!”

Bonner, who also teaches at Drexel University is continuously seeking opportunities to mentor and advocate for the profession of interior design. “We must not forget to reach back and bring along those who have yet to decide their futures. We must work to intentionally foster and cultivate an appreciation for art and design in children and young adults of color. Creative careers can no longer be taboo in the realm of options for a ‘financially stable’ adulthood,” she says, urging leaders, firms and manufacturers to do more outreach to educate communities of color about the impact of architecture and design. In her words: “Improving the pipeline starts before students begin the college application process.”

Leyden Lewis
Founder and Creative Director, Leyden Lewis Design Studio

“The progress is in the acknowledgment of and the conversations around a lack of EDI in the design industry. What was once hidden has now been unveiled and people are reckoning with the truth of demographics in the workplace,” says Leyden Lewis, founder and creative director of Brooklyn-based, Leyden Lewis Design Studio that specializes in creating poetic and culturally sensitive spaces that emphasize the importance of the fine arts, design, and structure.

“Business owners and their clients need to take ownership over the culture they want in their workplace and in the design professionals providing services to them. For me this is about being conscious of the multitude of talented people I choose to work and collaborate with, the decisions I make in business, and trying to calculate progress for myself,” he adds. “The actionable result of these conversations should be more dollar amounts in diverse pockets. Financial numbers need to be a part of any conversation regarding change.”

Informed by multicultural influences from his Caribbean heritage and background as an artist, Lewis’ work evokes nuances of urban sophistication and classical European modernism, while simultaneously bridging the gap between art, architecture, and design, as he explains. To put things into perspective Lewis offers a simple analogy: “Inclusion like in classical architecture relies heavily on symmetry and balance.”

Krystal Lucero, IIDA,
IIDA Texas-Oklahoma
Senior Interior Designer, Edwards + Mulhausen

“The area that I can see a positive change in our design industry is the diverse backgrounds of the design students,” says Krystal Lucero, IIDA. “The design programs that I’ve been involved with for the last 15 years have started to diversify their student enrollment. I am not aware if this has been a deliberate action taken by the design programs or universities, so think what would happen if we were intentional about recruiting and retaining (more diverse students),” she adds. “When I’m involved in critiques and panels, I am not the only person of color in the room anymore, and it is wonderful to see!” She’s right.

Lucero is a senior interior designer at Edwards + Mulhausen, an Austin-based award winning interior design firm that believes that good design is a powerful tool for connecting people and place, and that the design process should be accessible, not intimidating. She’s also actively involved in the design community having served as director in her local IIDA Texas/Oklahoma Chapter, and she was recently named the VP of Public Relations for Texas Association for Interior Design (TAID) where she participating in several nominating and DEI committees and task forces to facilitate conversations of diversity in design.

Her passion? Mentoring next generation designers. “The next area to focus on would be to retain the underrepresented students and support them in growing in the design industry for years to come,” she says. “The design industry is not always an easy road and has no clear path laid out on how to move to the next levels,” she adds, stressing the importance of sponsorship and mentorship for young design professionals. “It’s what I see as a natural next step after students graduate with a design degree. The future is for us to create!”

Robina Shepherd, Associate IIDA
Vice President of EDI, IIDA New England
Senior Interior Designer, DiMella Shaffer

“More diverse voices are being amplified and the industry is creating space for those voices to be heard, which I think is great progress,” says Robina Shepherd, Associate IIDA. “I’m excited by the growing commitment in the industry to equitable and inclusive design thinking and practices,” she adds. Shepherd explains that as a Howard University graduate she understands the importance of representation firsthand and was empowered by the majority black and brown faculty of her alma mater.

Driven by the ways in which the built environment influences people, life, and culture, Shepherd is a senior interior designer at DiMella Shaffer, a Boston-based architecture, planning and design firm that explores and mediates the creative friction that exists between art and utility; tradition and innovation; and pragmatism and magic. It is in these crossroads that they find balance.

Similarly, Shepherd sees an opportunity for balance within the design industry—an opportunity to do more in order to promote diversity, equality, and inclusion. Currently serving as the VP of EDI for IIDA New England, and a member of the IIDA National Equity Council, she’s on a mission to ensure that the organization and design community as a whole provide a safe and supportive space for all voices. “Often it can feel like workplace EDI efforts are approached as if they’re simple tasks, where you’re just ‘checking the box’, instead of thoughtful plans put into action,” she says. “Where I’d like to see more focus is on the true ownership of the work needed to make this industry more equitable, diverse, and inclusive.”

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