Maya Johnston Design

The project was initiated through a particularly vulnerable subsection of the RecWell Adventure Program called ALLIED, or “Adventure Leadership and Learning Inclusion Experience through Diversity.” I know the title seems overwhelming, basically it’s designed to get a diverse group of around 8 students to go on a backpacking trip and talk about what “diversity” means.

I was pretty enthusiastic that my supervisor put me on this project as the problem of inclusion in the outdoors is something I’ve grown passionate about. After working in the state park system with Baltimore City youth I gained insight into my own privileges and how vital access to nature is to personal development and growth. I’ve come to several realizations after reading articles like “Outdoor Companies Drag Their Feet on Inclusion” and overall just not seeing people of color represented in something as trivial as an REI catalogue.

While the selection of a white guy over a person of color to smile and hold a hydroflask up in an ad might not seem like a major design issue, it communicates that this is the type of person who can access and enjoy this experience, this love of the outdoors. Lack of representation in even these small moments transcends into lack of inclusion on a large scale.

Initially I took this project head on, wanting to show faces and speak to the audience the campaign was directed at. I chose to use watercolor to use a more subtle, delicate effect in demonstrating the complexity of skin, how it can’t be simplified to “Crayola Brown Flesh Tone #34.”

However, after some discussions with my supervisor I came to some roadblocks, dealing with representation and identifying (specifically) the “who what where when and why.” I found myself having to take myself out of the conceptual problem and get back to addressing the design issue. (At this point I decided doing a poster series representing people of color in nature would be a great side project!)

Finally after about 9 different re-workings both my boss and I were satisfied with the representations of diversity. Overall, working on this project was a challenge, and despite all the sort of vague vernacular, I think it posed hard questions about how we as designers can represent diversity. The power to speak to, and sometimes for, vulnerable communities is a responsibility that should be taken with great care and respect. I am more than hopeful to work on this platform more in the future.