Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-racist, Nonbinary Field Guide for Graphic Designers

by Ellen Lupton, Jennifer Tobias - 2021 Princeton Architectural Press

Contributor: Mariana Spada

There is a feeling in the air that the practice of graphic design is increasingly reembracing its long and deep political roots. While this is not exactly a new phenomenon, in the last decade or so, the voices claiming for the field to be less entrenched in —and oriented to— the “mythical norm” of white, male, body-able and straight, cisgender subjects, have found a more decisive amplification, and those claims are resonating all over the place, from classrooms to agencies to campaigns.

Young graphic designers are -thankfully- coming from an increasingly diversity of backgrounds (racially, genderly, culturally and/or socioeconomically speaking), their work starts to branch off from the above mentioned assumptions, and pushes for a serious re-thinking of the many aspects that traditionally have guided the practice. From the long-established aesthetical canon that gets to tell apart what “is” design from what is not, to the processes that guide how a particular piece is produced, and to who a specific message is directed to; everything is (and must be) put under discussion. 

Enter the new Extra Bold book (Princeton Architectural Press). It has the subtitle of A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-racist, Nonbinary Field Guide for Graphic Designers, although, as you finish it for the first time (this is one that invites second readings), the feeling remaining is that is something more than just a “career guide” oriented to design students or young professionals. The volume is packed with personal stories that often go ignored in similar books, as well as revealing interviews, advice, and examples of what inclusive design means (it even has memes!). And what is most important, just the right theoretical substratum to provide a succinct yet very useful cognitive map to reflect one’s own professional practice in a way that doesn’t reproduce the old vices of elitist design. Design is among other things a kind of power structure, and the authors behind this book come from outside the traditional places where such power has been historically held. This fact allows them to throw light over the mechanisms by which that same power operates, and that is a very welcome change.

We are living in very political times, and accordingly, graphic design is claiming back a transformational role instead of one that relegates it to just communicating. This book is a valuable tool for professionals that work within or for organisations demanding a bold and explicitly inclusive visual communication strategy, as well as for those who find themselves in the position of having to translate a message that persuades and engages in a way that transcends the traditional political messages and aims to reach, at last, really everyone.