Design threads_

A collaborative Report Unraveling the state of design today_



1. a theme or characteristic, typically forming one of several._

2. a connected group of pieces of writing on the internet, where people talk about a particular subject._

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The state of design is impossible to define, and this report doesn’t come close. Instead, this project brings together a series of threads—interwoven questions, themes, provocations, and shared feelings—that emerged from conversations and research with and for the design community. Some are expected, others unpredictable, all evocative of what it means to be a designer today.

What is good design? Who gets to decide? How are designers feeling right now? Are we tasked with too much? Are we doing enough? How is our role changing? Where does design go from here?

Design Threads isn’t the answer to these questions, but an invitation to start unraveling them together — pull out a thread, see where it takes you, and leave one of your own.

This project is a collaborative, non-commercial initiative from PORTO ROCHA1 and Float2. It would not be possible without the many designers and creatives who participated in this research, through 1-on-1 conversations and an open survey. All participants’ quotes are kept anonymous within the report itself.


Is a New York-based design and branding agency developing creative and strategic work that engages deeply with the world we live in.


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While this report centers on topics relevant to visual design, you don’t have to be a designer to read it. These threads began as a collaborative effort between designers, strategists, and creatives, for the design community and beyond.


It’s part of the process. Our goal isn’t to resolve contradictions, but to use them as a tool that can uncover the realities of the world we’re living—and designing—in.


Our work doesn’t end here. Each thread ends with more questions, not answers. Join in, push back, pass on (or don’t).


The content of this site is the result of interviews with 30 emerging and established design professionals from different areas of design (primarily graphic, 3D, art direction, web design, branding & advertising, among others), and 250 responses from the design community gathered through an open and anonymous online survey.


Of course, this sample does not represent the entirety nor plurality of the global design community. Though we attempted to include as many perspectives as possible within the limited scope of this project, we want to be transparent about the limitations of our sample.

Although designers from 32 countries and 77 different cities took part in this research, the majority of our respondents are from the United States and Brazil. However, we believe design happens everywhere—not only in the design capitals of the world.

It’s important to acknowledge that to be a professional designer is often a position of privilege. Though the design world is becoming more inclusive and accessible, we have a long way to go. We acknowledge that our sample could reflect some of the historic inequalities of the profession, even as we strive to change them.

Tyranny of Taste
Tyranny of Taste
Tyranny of Taste

Taste isn’t innocent. While taste may seem subjective and individual — one person’s trash is another’s treasure — it also reflects existing hierarchies of power. Operating within an increasingly global and connected world, designers are challenging long-established definitions of how design looks and behaves. How do we define “good” and “bad” design? How do we unlearn the Western tradition as the only way? How can we promote inclusion in a system that excludes so many? In a field that claims to be forward-thinking, designers are interrogating the rules of taste and calling out structural inequalities that can no longer be ignored.



Taste Reflects Power


Going Global


Deconstruct the system


Taste Reflects Power

“If we are makers of taste or visual
culture, who is deciding what is good? And
why those people?”

The conversation between good and bad taste is impossible to separate from the people, institutions, and education that taught it as a binary. “When I got to college, design was mainly a European and North American space. Only what people from these areas did was relevant. [...] European modernism is not the only answer to design.”

Consciously or not, design movements from Europe are still a primary framework through which we evaluate design around us. This predominantly white, Western perspective perhaps has the most power in university classrooms and curricula across the globe, where the few students who come from less privileged backgrounds often feel unrepresented and excluded.
There’s a sense that Western design movements have ruled from their ivory tower for too long. Designers are challenging the notion that any work that disobeys classical conventions or form-follows-function principles should be labeled trashy, messy, or "too much.” As one interviewee put it, "Whose taste matters? Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not effective or good."


Just take Massimo Vignelli, who famously proclaimed that the proliferation of typefaces “represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture” and that designers should only use a few and “trash the rest.” Declarations like these start to reveal the body of laws that, upon closer look, only take some views into account. While clarity and utility can’t be ignored, the notion that design languages outside of modernist tradition are trash doesn’t hold water in 2022. If a radically open understanding of design threatens the old myths of taste, hopefully it can propel design into a more exciting, if uncomfortable, future.


Our respondents also respect tradition, indicating that despite a desire to embrace perspectives, designers don’t want to throw all the rules out the window. “Nowadays, how do you differentiate between a trend and design history? We're simultaneously using all these different vernaculars from all these different times.”


Going Global

“We don’t idealize or glorify specific
people or movements as much anymore.
There’s not a single voice that is the
right one.”

Designers are challenging the idea that a single person or movement can do it all, but could they ever? A larger-than-life spotlight puts too much emphasis on the views of star “rulers of taste” who may have played a role in where we are today.


The internet expanded the frontiers of design, giving access to more sources of inspiration and opportunities for those outside the inner circle to be seen and heard. While this growing body of references and work circulating to anyone with internet connection creates its own problems, globalization has begun to destabilize the hierarchy of big names in favor of smaller practices and freelance designers from around the world — not just the design capitals. The design stars are dimming, gatekeeping is waning, and clients are more interested in local perspectives with a point of view than agencies with a shelf of Lions. Beyond adding seats to the “good design” table, designers are dismantling the table piece by piece.
Global appeal cannot be denied, but designers recognize the value of local perspectives: “I like thinking on a local level. [...] We really have to look around at our own communities and the people who are seeing what we're making, and who we're making things for. It makes us more grounded.”


Deconstruct the system

“How do we meaningfully intervene to
change broken systems?”

If the design narrative is a progressive, forward-thinking field, statistics tell a different story. According to AIGA + Google’s 2019 Design Census, only 3% of designers (across diverse specializations) identified as Black.

The question posed in 2015 by Maurice Cherry (and others) remains urgent seven years later: “Where are the Black designers?” And with it comes further questioning of who has been and is still excluded from the field, particularly in leadership positions. Where are the Indigenous designers? The AAPI designers? The Latinx designers? The disabled designers? The women, nonbinary, trans, and queer designers? The list goes on.
Look at any slice of the industry and you’ll find evidence of how deep racial, class, and gender biases run. Projects like Judging by the Cover, created by interviewee Leonardo de Vasconelos, use data visualization to highlight stark racial disparities in design publications, even among more progressive publishers.

While some respondents see shifts toward inclusivity in design, many pointed to the potential pitfalls and contradictions of that process as it unfolds under capitalism.
Interviewees are questioning what real inclusion in design should look like. Many seem dissatisfied with mainstream attempts at inclusivity, specifically those in corporate contexts. Take for example: diverse representations without material inclusion / benefit, image-driven DEI efforts and other initiatives that end up resulting in tokenism instead of change in organizational structures.
If taste isn’t innocent, then neither is design. Designers refuse to ignore the deep-seated inequalities of the industry, but questioning the tyranny of its origins and disrupting the canon is only the beginning. Designers agree real progress must shift to the structural: who makes decisions, who benefits financially, who gets in, who is kept out, and what systems of power rule.


1. How do our tastes and definitions of “good design” reflect what we were taught?

2. Whose ideologies have we followed and whose might we have excluded?

3. How can we help to make practices of inclusion institutions and agencies more materially beneficial for the global majority of designers, rather than the image of an institution/company?

4. What is designers’ responsibility in calling out agency leadership to make changes? And can we go beyond that?