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For Pentagram partner Eddie Opara, design is a spiritual practice

Opara reflects on his experience as a Black designer in the United States as part of a new anthology, "The Black Experience in Design."

Images courtesy Kelly Walters and Allworth Press. Illustration by Anita Goldstein.

Profile picture of Eddie Opara


3 min read

The following is an essay by Pentagram partner Eddie Opara, excerpted from The Black Experience in Design, a new anthology by over 70 designers, artists, and creators who represent a wide range of Black identities and multi-disciplinary practices. It is published with permission by its managing editor, Anne H. Berry.

Images courtesy Kelly Walters and Allworth Press.

I was asked not too long ago to define what design is. Design is the ability to produce the desired outcome or intended result by being freed from constraints or difficulties, through the application of rational thinking, creative skill, and appraisal, thereby acquiring a transformational and progressive outcome. You would think that one's political and cultural attitudes would align to these ideas. They do not. This challenge effectively defines the experience of being a Black designer in America, and perhaps the world.

In addition to knowing what design is rationally, one needs to also know it spirituality. Why are these two subjects intertwined? Being spiritual is an experience, a belief beyond one's self, to render an individual bond to others, their well-being, and the world at large. It is the belief that there is something greater binding us all together. Using spirituality to cope with challenges in life experiences benefits our health and well being. Through spirituality, we find the tools for gaining transformational and progressive outcomes.

Design and spirituality, it seems, are not so different. In both, we are uplifted through our imaginations. Writer, educator, and design researcher Stuart Walker proposes that imagination is fundamental to both design and spirituality: “Intuitively apprehended inner sensibility that seeks meaning . . . both employ the language of metaphor, analogy, and symbolism, and both [are] spurred by sudden insight, ideas, and unexpected connections.” 

Images courtesy Kelly Walters and Allworth Press.

Where the Black community has historically been perceived as the lowest common denominator through poverty, prejudice, and invisibility, imagination is the tool we collectively use to construct a higher efficacy for social development. Through design, as a form of spirituality, we reach our full potential, for both community and inner fulfillment.

We are a sea of hungry creative individuals, awakening to a new era, defining a better tomorrow for all-Black society. With Design, we have found our calling. With our imaginations as tuned instruments, we need to pursue a better path for our design. As Black designers, we acknowledge the urgency to take up a new mantle, one of being numinous about the work we accept and create. Determining what kind of society we want to live in, and the values we want to live by, for us to be successful, we must serve our communities; and within our communities to utilize the precise definition of what is needed, from the core of what design is—a spiritual practice.

Through a migrant's eyes, I see America as a cradle for hope and aspirations. As a migrant to these shores, I see that what it often takes is the will to leave the safe confines of home and of our studios, and move through and spaces that be unfamiliar. It may take us beyond the shores of the United States to experience new lands, and to migrate to places with different ideals and principles, where there are vast communities whose knowledge we need. It may take finding places where design is practiced as a form of spirituality, and where we give and receive guidance in new ways. We can follow the words of David Olusoga as we go forward, as Black designers, “we are now the super novas, radiating our power and influence across the world. Black people were placed at the centre of [this] revolution. Our history is global, transnational, triangular and much of it is still to be written.

Order your copy of The Black Experience in Design here.

[Related: Familiarize yourself with other famous Black graphic designers.]



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