Diversity In Design
During Black History Month, the team at Informare has taken the time to speak to widely respected people we know in the architecture and design industry to discuss their stories and highlight their impact in this ever-expanding sector. Placement student, Amber Ellis, speaks to Simon Hamilton, an Interior Designer and recently appointed Editor and Content curator for the Resource Hub of United in Design. He talks us through growing up in London and onto his current roles as an educator and design career consultant.
After moving to Enfield with his family, five-year-old Simon had the opportunity to attend a different school from his 4 elder siblings, where he thrived. Simon recalls his brothers and sisters having a much different experience than him, one lacking support, but filled with racism and judgement both in and out of school.
Simon attributes this family move to shaping who he is now. A successful combination of educational support, encouragement from his teachers and exciting opportunities that were offered to Simon, pushed him to explore his creativity and aspirations, rather than following his parent’s aspirations of a career in law or medicine. However, Simon’s family life also had its positive part to play. He recalls enjoying childhood without a “sense of exclusion” and states that while in school, “it didn’t matter where you came from”.
After attending a school-led careers convention, he was impressed by an American landscape architect who alerted him to new career possibilities. While discussing role models, Simon said that he was never exposed to a mentor as such, instead, he had to find his path in the industry. He also noted that there were several black musicians and sports personalities in the spotlight when he was growing up. Although none resonated with him to follow professionally, they nonetheless provided role models for young black people growing up in the same era.
Current Look at the Design Industry
In terms of the design industry, “I didn’t think there was much diversity,” he says. Furthered by his over thirty years in the sector, Simon became aware of the issue, “I have often been to events where I am the only black person…that’s something I’ve been aware of.” Although having few problems getting into the industry after completing his Interior Design degree at Nottingham Trent University, he does point out that there have been times in his career where he feels he was held back in roles. This was not something he understood or realised at the time, but due to redundancy, he was able to freelance to broaden the opportunities that he could make for himself.
Talking about this year, he describes an “explosion of people” that hadn’t previously been recognised for their efforts in the architecture and design community finally getting their dues.
The Forthcoming Generation
So how do we ensure that the situation continues to improve? We start at the beginning he says. Firstly, a change in the mindset of art and design requirements. Simon argues that we have moved away from the assumption that if you lack the ability to draw, the architecture and design industry is not for you. Yet within the education sector, this narrative is still pushed by the teaching staff. Arguing “if you have a creative eye,” and can work in a team, you have the bare necessities to make it.
Expanding out of architecture and interiors, the same rules apply for creative industries such as film and fashion. Simon argues that when you begin to investigate these creative areas, you see how much revenue is generated nationally, how commercial and business orientated it is and how many different exciting fields there are to explore.
Working as a design career consultant, Simons uses his extensive knowledge to help designers enhance their skills in CV building and the development of portfolios. Under the United In Design banner, he will be one of the team visiting schools around the UK, reaching young people who potentially would not have considered this industry before.
Simon’s top three tips
Do your research. Look up different avenues in the industry and the various opportunities that are open to you. There are many charities and organisations available to help people interested in the architecture and design sector. As well as a variety of different shows, festivals and exhibitions that are often free to visit.
Network like there’s no tomorrow. Meeting and connecting with people are a big part of getting your name visible, whether online, via social media platforms or in person. The pandemic has shown that you don’t have to be in the same room to be collaborative and proactive.
Travel and explore wherever possible. While understanding that travelling is not as easy as it has been in previous years, journeying across the globe has opened up a multitude of new cultures, opportunities and experiences to Simon, which have been exceptionally rewarding.