Getting diversity into a design business

Most design studios have clients from diverse backgrounds and their customers come from diverse backgrounds. Problem is it’s hard for a small design studio to reflect that diversity.

Diversity in a studio means you employ people from a wide range of backgrounds. Working with a diverse team will enhance your studio through different perspectives, experience and knowledge, and give you a competitive advantage.

Research shows diversity can be good for business.

It promotes:

  • better business performance and productivity from employees
  • more creative and innovative thinking among staff
  • improved staff health and wellbeing
  • lower risk of discrimination and harassment in the workplace

It’s generally accepted there are a number of areas for diversity in a design studio:

  • race
  • colour
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • physical or mental disability
  • religion
  • opinion/thought
  • national extraction (place of birth or ancestry)
  • social origin (class, caste or socio-occupational category)
  • industrial activities (such as belonging to a trade union)

Some of these are also covered under into anti discrimination laws for states and territories.

Diversity in Australian studios

In Australia it’s currently hard to get diversity in studios. Gender balance is relatively easy to achieve. But if there aren’t a diverse range of applicants the studio owner will struggle to get diversity. Backpackers from all over the globe who came to Australia and took up short term work offered a perfect opportunity for diversity. This stopped and will take some time to return.

There are also some cultures that don’t see design as a good career. This leads to fewer students entering university, fewer graduates and fewer potential employees. Likewise getting people from regional Australia into studios is hard because they don’t tend to take up places in design courses. This may also be the reason we have very few indigenous designers.

We also lack leadership in this space. While many do lip service to diversity few actively promote it. Never Not Creative is one group that has done a lot of work in this area with an inclusion change group, workshops and Never Not International Women’s Day.

How do you get diversity in a small studio

Given the vast majority of Australian design studios are three people and less, how do you get diversity?

The answer’s in your network. You could move to a coworking space where there is a diverse range of other business owners. Many of these spaces encourage collaboration. A perfect opportunity to seek out diverse views from others. Check out the operation carefully and make sure there are a diverse range of people and networking opportunities. You could use these to get feedback on your ideas.

Alternatively you can use your network of friends. Find a diverse group and run a focus group to test out your ideas.

Suppliers are another opportunity for diversity. If you use freelancers, seek out a diverse range so you can get other influences into your work. Look for photographers, illustrators coders, UX. UI specialists from diverse backgrounds.

To cover the age issue you could take on an intern to bring new ideas and thinking into the studio.

The easiest area to implement in a studio is diversity of options and thought. The creative process demands that competing viewpoints are give the space to be aired and carefully considered. Shutting down discussion and not giving it space for consideration is anathema to design thinking.


If you are an employer of designers you should have a plan to develop diversity within the business. You should extend this into your network. If you are a one, two or there person business you can set up a network that offers diversity of opinion, thought and design.


Want more?

Here’s more information on side hustles:
1 Diversity in the workplace
2 Some interesting figures on Australian workplace diversity
3 Five Ways to promote diversity in the workplace

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Greg Branson

Design Business Council
Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.
Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.

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