SEGD Global Design Awards: A Resource for Black History Experiences

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SEGD’s Global Design Awards set the standard of excellence for experiential graphic design, honoring work that connects people to place through engaging storytelling. The SEGD Global Design Awards also celebrate projects that inspire and improve the human experience, including those that reflect the narratives of traditionally underrepresented communities. The SEGD Global Design Awards winners outlined below—both past and present—amplify, celebrate and bring Black culture and history to the forefront in exemplary ways.

Society’s Cage | 2022 Sylvia Harris and Honor Award Winner | Society’s Cage Design Team (CAOS)

Society’s Cage is a bold interpretive installation that challenges visitors to reckon with America’s long history of racial injustice and white supremacy. With a design rooted in statistical facts, it is at once unsettling and uplifting, a place to raise awareness, build empathy, and provide sanctuary for contemplation and healing.

The approach to this project was to avoid the cliché “feel good” monument designed to produce sentimentality and nostalgia for its own sake. The design team saw this as an opportunity to create an experience that could challenge and empower the visitor with resources and tools to be change agents for racial justice. Society’s Cage takes the ugliness of racism and renders it in a beautiful way to draw people in to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations about racial justice and reconciliation.

Society’s Cage is a grassroots effort born in the aftermath of the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd murders. It is a national traveling art installation designed to contextualize the contemporary phenomenon of police killings of Black Americans within the 400-year history of anti-Black racialized state violence in the United States. It provides an opportunity to acknowledge and reckon with the severity of racial biases inherent in the institutional structures of justice and creates a space for reflection and contemplation.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice | 2020 Best of Show and Honor Award Winner | afreeman, MASS Design Group, Small Stuff

The environmental graphic design of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (National Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery, Alabama was a collaboration between the Equal Justice Initiative, MASS Design Group (architects) and Small Stuff with collaborator afreeman (environmental graphic design).

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

This quote by Martin Luther King Jr. greets visitors at the entryway to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. King’s words powerfully set the tone for this memorial commissioned by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and opened in 2018.

EJI has described the memorial as the nation’s first “dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” It raises the awareness—on a monumental yet respectful level—of the lives of the thousands of Black Americans killed between 1878 and 1950 by lynching, drowning and other forms of murder, their individual names recorded and presented within the memorial.

Greenwood Rising: The Black Wall Street History Center | 2022 Exhibition Honor Award Winner | Local Projects

In 2016, a group of federal, state, and local leaders formed the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. Their mission was to “leverage the rich history surrounding the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by facilitating actions, activities, and events that commemorate and educate all citizens.” In service of that mission, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission engaged Local Projects to develop and execute an experience design for the history center located at the heart of Tulsa’s Greenwood District.

The Greenwood Spirit exhibition explores the early placemaking of Greenwood — how Native American, African American, and European American communities often collided, and sometimes connected. Visitors cross a set of recreation train tracks to meet district founders and learn about Greenwood’s economic rise. A film projection-mapped to the facade of a period barbershop shows the building of Greenwood brick by brick. Visitors then pass into the barbershop’s interior, which comes to life with holographic barbers who engage the visitors with the hopes, dreams, and activity of folks in early Greenwood.

From Absence to Presence, Commemorative to Enslaved Peoples Of Southern Maryland | 2022 Public Installation Honor Award Winner | RE:site

In “From Absence to Presence,” the tectonic form of a slave quarter materializes from the ground up evoking how this history was uncovered from archaeological research – making the invisible visible. Most memorials that focus on slavery across the country tend to deal with the subject broadly in sculptural terms. Whether they are about the entire transatlantic slave trade or specific events in history, most of these memorials use a figurative approach that are interpreting themes in universal terms.

The Commemorative consists of a steel framework that sits on a concrete foundation and is clad with exterior-grade stainless steel panels and hardwood. The steel panels are waterjet cut with poetry text. These sheets form the planes of the sculpture and are mounted directly to the steel framework. The erasure effect of the text is achieved by pieces of hardwood mounted to the steel framework. The bands of hardwood selectively obscure the text while evoking the wood clapboards of the site’s original slave quarters. At night, a point light in the interior of the sculpture illuminates the text from within, projecting the text into the surrounding environment through the cut steel panels.

Up From the People: Protest and Change in D.C. | 2022 Exhibition Merit Award Winner | Studio Joseph

“Up From the People: Protest and Change in D.C.” is a Community Gallery and Welcome Center at MLK Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. As part of a recent renovation of this Mies van der Rohe building, the Library created a permanent exhibition space on the 4th floor as a central part of their commitment to more inclusive educational opportunities for residents.

The design is inviting, and there is a low barrier to entry, allowing visitors of all ages to participate. Part of the welcoming gesture centers on analog interactive where the visitors are provided with the opportunity to fill out card catalog-like cards posing questions to the Library. A “community gallery” displays personal artifacts collected from D.C. residents that tell broader cultural and political history.

Rising Together: The Black Experience with Police in America | 2020 Exhibition Honor Award Winner | Isometric Studio

Isometric collaborated with Google on the design of an immersive exhibition that narrates the Black American experience with police through ethnographic vignettes, historical context, and carefully curated data. As part of Google’s ongoing work to investigate the role of technology in addressing injustice, the exhibition was an interactive report that summarized two years of research.

To situate the findings in the context of lived experiences, the designers traveled across America to gather original photography and narratives, consulting with the Google team to develop a thoughtful and nuanced architectural framework and visual language that inspired critical reflection and collaborative discourse.

Throughout February, SEGD will be highlighting past Global Design Award winners and project case studies featuring Black history and culture themes. Want to submit a project for this year’s SEGD Global Design Awards? You can enter your application here on the SEGD website. The next deadline is February 14, 2023.