Last month, Brazilian-born London designer Leonardo de Vasconcelos started a self-initiated data visualization project called Judging by the cover, which draws attention to the gulf between white authors, editors and contributors and BIPOC of design books published by a selection of major international publishing houses.
The study presents the number of design books published by those companies where the authors, editors, and contributors (usually additional writers who contributed to essays) were found to be black, white, or ‘other ethnicities’, excluding books where these details could not be found.
So far, the project involves research on ten publishers: GGili, Lars Muller Publishers, Laurence King Publishing, MIT Press, Niggli Verlag, Phaidon, Princeton Architectural Press, Sternberg Press, Taschen and Thames & Hudson. The result is grim, with several of the companies not publishing any books with black authors, contributors or publishers, according to the research.
Vasconcelos did not engage with the editors involved in the study, but since its launch, many editors have followed the project on Instagram. He thinks this is a wake-up call and hopes the editors will learn from the project and ultimately use their power to change the landscape: “There are so many amazing BIPOC designers here waiting for a publication opportunity. “
The lack of diversity across creative industries has come under a microscope over the past year, but Vasconcelos believes book publishing is particularly lagging behind in this regard. “Book publishers have struggled to cope with the increase in digital books, pirated copies, and the threat that physical books will eventually die,” he says. “I think that’s one of the reasons the book publishing market seems so conservative in terms of change. Because it is easier to invest in ready-made recipes rather than to aim for new horizons since economic factors are at play. But this is not a justification for not having a more proactive approach in the fight against inequalities since their clients are from different backgrounds.
Designer and co-founder of Unit Editions, Adrian Shaughnessy agrees that publishing houses often rely on economic reasons, which may be why design books can see the same names and movements reappear over and over again. times. He thinks editors can learn from how Fictional Footprints has expanded their production: “I think it’s really interesting to see how fiction editors have embraced non-Western voices and voices from marginal communities. Any publication is risky, so I admire anyone who publishes non-standard material, ”he tells us. “The world of design publishing has been slow to follow the example of fictional imprints. It’s easy to hide behind the economy. Even with books dealing with established and popular figures in Western canon, making money is extremely difficult. So, tapping into unstated figures and movements is not easy. But, I think we have a duty to make sure that marginalized and neglected voices are heard. “