Making design history courses more inclusive

DAAP looks past the past and into the future of design

The way in which we view a field or profession is most often shaped by notables in that arena.

For decades, students taking Design in History I and II courses at the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) were learning design history based on a select group of notables — mostly male, white designers who achieved fame in the 20th century.

However, in fall 2023, the college piloted new, more diverse content that is expected to be launched in fall 2024.

Students who experienced some of the new course content after taking the traditional first course say that they could see a great shift in how the content was approached from one semester to the other. 

“The new curriculum brings key issues of inclusivity and justice to the center stage, allowing for healthy debate and constructive criticism on ideas of race, sex, gender and cultural turning points, among others,” says third-year design student Shikha Chatterjee. She added that the new framework “has proven to be vital as we are encouraged to not fear the uncomfortable, but rather embrace it.”

headshot Renee Seward

Renee Seward is an endowed associate professor of communication design at DAAP. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Marketing + Brand.

“We needed to broaden the lens to not focus on just European design but movement in Southwest Asia and North Africa, [as well as] Black design in America and Latino design stories,” says Renee Seward, coordinator of the DAAP communication design program.

Previous courses, Seward says, primarily focused on the achievements of designers such as Saul Bass, Milton Glaser and Paul Rand, while not shining a light on other voices and work who have made great contributions to the field like African American designers Adé Hogue, Emory Douglas, Aaron Douglas and Emmett R. McBain Jr.

Design is an international language that has no borders or any cultural limitations.

Davar Azarbeygui Adjunct, Communication Design

Graphic design letters that say: Chicago is for Runners

An iconic graphic design by African-American designer Ade Hogue. Photo provided. .

“It was the students who actually came to me,” Seward says, and asked for more inclusivity, which prompted the communication design faculty — including DAAP instructors Donald “DJ” Trischler, an assistant professor, and Davar Azarbeygui, an adjunct professor — to revamp the curriculum.

“Design is an international language that has no borders or any cultural limitations,” says Azarbeygui. “We must embrace diversity in design to enrich our landscape of what design can accomplish.”

Seward and the team enlisted the services of Polymode, a curriculum design consultancy, to expand the scope of study so that students now learn from global design movements that amplify voices often not represented in traditional design history curricula.

I can tell that a lot of dedication, hard work and sensitivity went into creating this curriculum.

Ruby Sanchez Third-year DAAP student

The collaboration between DAAP and Polymode, Trischler says, now reflects the desired outcomes of the course, “Representation of a variety of voices and a space where all participants can follow their curiosities about design and the many ways it intersects with society, culture, politics and more.”

It’s an attitude toward learning that also agrees with third-year student Ruby Sanchez. “As a student, I can tell that a lot of dedication, hard work and sensitivity went into creating this curriculum,” she says.

Sanchez says that while they “briefly” touched on designers of color in spring 2023, it was merely an overview. “Now, not only have we spoken more in-depth about designers of color, but we’ve also had many informative discussions about how long-standing issues such as racism and sexism have influenced design in the past and present.”

Additionally, the prior coursework also focused heavily on the Bauhaus movement, an influential art and design movement from 1919-33, which third-year Annika Ferguson says was “an incredibly disproportionate amount of time” which gave no space for other designers.

Design, says Ferguson, “has a real impact, so we must learn how to design for everyone.”

Featured photo at top of DAAP building: Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Marketing + Brand

Inclusion Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati works to bring out the best in all students, faculty and staff by valuing their unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. By leading with compassion and welcoming individual contributions we can collaborate, create, innovate and compete in a global society. Next Lives Here

Related Stories


Uplifting stories help #UCtheGood

July 16, 2020

UC Marketing + Communications gathers recent uplifting stories to help the community focus on the good during coronavirus pandemic.