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Ideo apologizes for Instagram post expressing ‘white guilt’

The legendary design firm responds to critics of an Instagram post “centered on white guilt.”

Ideo apologizes for Instagram post expressing ‘white guilt’
[Photo: James Leynse/Corbis/Getty Images]

“Today, we’re sharing resources that some parents who work at Ideo have found useful to facilitate conversations with kids about allyship, race, equity, and privilege.”

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In another era, this Instagram post from Ideo’s account may have been forgettable—another lazy whiff at engaging in discourse about racial inequity and white supremacy. But following protests around the murder of George Floyd, the global design firm was swiftly taken down by commenters and professional designers alike who questioned Ideo’s sincerity and hiring practices. Eleven days later, the company admitted it was wrong on Twitter.

“Systemic racism is by design,” the new Twitter thread began. “When we shared anti-racism resources last week on Instagram, it was centered on white guilt and it was wrong. We should have said clearly: Black Lives Matter.”

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Today on our stories, we shared resources that some parents who work at IDEO have found useful to help facilitate conversations with kids about allyship, race, equity, and privilege. You can swipe up to view each resource in our stories, or explore some below. Have an account to share for more parenting resources? Please tag them in the comments. → @embracerace’s work, including webinars on how to raise anti-racist kids → From @oaklibrary, a list of books and media to help children understand race and justice → A children’s book called Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard → From @zendocsteve, a podcast episode with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum called How to Talk to Kids About Race → Music from @alphabetrockers, an intergenerational group of hip hop musicians

A post shared by IDEO (@ideo) on

Ideo declined to comment for this story, regarding what inspired the original post, or what led to the follow-up. But the incident highlights long-simmering skepticism about Ideo’s famous methodology, design thinking. Popularized in the mid-aughts by Ideo founder David Kelley, Ideo turned design thinking into a must-have product for corporations and other organizations desperate to innovate. The method wooed Fortune 500 CEOs to think like designers, but it has earned detractors over the years for all sorts of reasons: It has been accused of being “a theater of innovation” and of offering Band-Aid solutions to Herculean problems. Designers have also pointed out that it’s a largely white approach to problem-solving. Designer Antionette Carroll of the Creative Reaction Lab is running a webinar called How Traditional Design Thinking Protects White Supremacy.

Ideo’s apology seems to suggest that there is some important discourse happening about race inside the company. That matters for the design industry at large. Ideo and its slightly smaller peer Frog employ more than 1,000 designers. These designers have the ear of corporations, healthcare providers, and government agencies. They help shape the products and services consumers interact with every day. As such, Ideo will need to answer to its own shortcomings with more than words—for its employees, and for the rest of us.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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