Elevating Design Voices: Sharon Lockwood RGD
When Sharon started Line of Sight Design Associates Inc. in Toronto in 1985, she had no idea that she was the first woman of colour — in the world — to ever do this. Born in Johannesburg, raised in London (UK) and now a Canadian resident, Sharon leads a multi-disciplinary communications firm providing branding expertise in print and multi-media. LSD’s client roster includes major corporations and industry leaders. In 2015 she expanded her business, unleashing her long-time passion in textile design. ZayZay Living, an online retail venture, features a fusion of cultures in her vibrant collection of limited-edition bed decor. Sharon has lectured and taught at OCADU and Ryerson and has sat on advisory boards at York University, Seneca College, Humber College and the RGD.
What are the ways in which you experience racism in the design industry?
I have to admit that when I first received the invitation to participate in this series of articles, I was hesitant. Prejudice, discrimination, racism are uncomfortable topics... touchy, touchy subject matter. No argument there. But I am the last to run away from sensitive subject matter. Dialogue is an essential in my books. So here I am.
Born to an African mother in South Africa during the height of the Apartheid Regime, I know racism at its most extreme and feel a moral obligation to join this discussion. I was raised and encouraged to never take liberty and freedom of speech for granted. To be aware, conscious and vocal. To strive for equity for all people regardless of race, gender or religion and never accept that my skin colour would be a detriment to my prospects in life. After all I had some extraordinary role models, especially my mother and her friend Nelson Mandela (yes, really) whose influence was profound and whose expectations were high. With my mixed African, European and Indian heritage, I am the embodiment of a fusion of cultures. Which has enriched my existence both as a person and as a designer. I employ those principles and that fusion in my work, subconsciously for the most part, I should think. It makes me a better designer and a better teacher.
All of which is also to say that I know and recognize racism in all its forms, having seen the worst of it first-hand. Overt racism is easy to recognize, whether it’s verbal or physical. But identifying the pin pricks of subtle racism, micro-aggressions, is much more difficult. By no means impossible, but difficult. Yet it’s far more common, sometimes seen as bias, perhaps by not being acknowledged, by being ignored or excluded.
I can honestly say that in my 40 years as a designer and 35 years teaching design, I have never faced blatant racism. Clients, on first meeting them, have sometimes registered surprise at my not being white, but never derision. As relationships develop it has always been based on mutual respect. I’m an excellent designer and always deliver what I promise, which is all they want. There’s no secret here.
On the other hand, those racist micro-aggressions have not been rare, but they’ve never come from clients. Rather, I’ve experienced them within our own industry, from fellow designers and, frankly, from within the RGD itself. They have almost always taken the form of exclusion.
This industry has been historically difficult for anyone who isn't white to get their foot in the door. Who and/or what helped you navigate it?
Fortunately for me, at the start of my career I was hired before I had even graduated from OCA (OCADU) by two profs who were business partners in design. Their advantage and mine was they got to know me and my talents in advance of any hire. Thereafter, all my work came from referrals even when eventually I started my own business.
Being a member of the GDC (Graphic Design Society of Canada) and later the RGD were beneficial in staying connected to the community of design professionals at large and not stay exclusively in my design office silo. It’s where my peers and I would meet up and compare our experiences as young designers. It helped to keep us connected and find out about word of mouth ‘opportunities’ that might be coming up or in fact schmooze with design principals.
Our popular Canadian design history is rooted in the work of European modernism, but there’s so much more out there. Who and/or what influences you?
Those who have had a profound influence on me, whose daring, irreverence and insights have left me in awe:
Writers: Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Malcolm Gladwell, Yuval Noah Harari,
Designers / Artists: Kazimir Malevich, Jean Paul Basquiat, Alexander McQueen, Terence Conran, Alan Fletcher, Armin Hoffman, Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Herb Lubalin, Stefan Sagmeister, Eddie Opara
Film Directors: Jacques Tati, Werner Herzog, Ava DuVernay
Education: Afrotectopia.org, Angela Bains, Dr. Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall
What advice would you give to a recent grad?
Know your values, know yourself. Work at your craft, become an extraordinary designer. When you uncover what you are passionate about, what resonates with your beliefs, go seek out work with like-minded people who work in those fields. Because, when you do, from the trust and confidence that emerges, so will your best work. When you are inspired, you are fired. Shift the trajectory from shame and blame to being constructive change. It’s a time to be inventive with your creativity… direct it and ‘be the change’ you want to see. Learn the art of Networking. Keep it up, become practiced and skilled at finding out what you want. Explore. Never stop learning. Find a mentor.
Where do we go from here?
The RGD promotes its forums and events as opportunities to learn, to showcase, to network. It also selects who will meet whom to a great extent, who will be in the limelight, who will have a place at the table. I echo the sentiments of previous participants, Patrick White & Brian Dodo… we must invite more diverse voices to that table.
Inclusion simply represents acknowledgment. It’s an act of support, of encouragement. The wish, indeed the need, to be included is so elementary, so fundamental to the human species. It fosters unions, it ignites our spirit, it builds confidence because it’s an affirmation of our self worth.
Importantly, inclusion is a public statement, implying that you have value, that your contribution matters. It will undoubtedly foster skills development and expand a young designer’s sphere of influence and range of opportunities. That’s true for any designer but especially for those who aren’t white.
A heightened focus on BIPOC inequities has been addressed across society in an unprecedented way over the last several years. This is progress. But where to from here? We BIPOC’ers (such a weird acronym) have been invited to address some questions, which in themselves are almost diversions, pointing outside when maybe it’s time to look a little closer inside at our professional circles. The problem has not been exclusively due to European white men’s dominance of this Canadian design industry… it’s the institutions and entities that choose ‘who’ to focus on.
The RGD holds the stewardship of this industry, not just in terms of accreditation, it has gone far beyond that. It has a lot of influence and should take responsibility and take accessibility and inclusiveness to a whole new level.
Final word: I live to inspire not to retire!
Read Elevating Design Voices articles from Amanda DeVries RGD, Brian Dodo RGD, Patrick White RGD, Josh Skinner RGD