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InsightMar 08, 2021

Elevating Design Voices: Ashley Tomlinson Provisional RGD

Written by Ashley Tomlinson, Self Employed

As the RGD celebrates the work and experiences of our Black and Brown Members, we hear from Ashley Tomlinson Prov. RGD, Freelancer Graphic Designer.

What are the ways in which you experience racism in the design industry?

I haven’t experienced blatant racism in my career so far. However, I’ve had conversations with white people in the industry where I’ve been told I can be the change I want to see in the industry. This happened when I was still a student and was honestly so disheartening to hear. People may mean well when they say something like that but it’s dismissive and if the design industry wants to make actual change, it can’t rely on the marginalized people to do all of the work.

This industry has been historically difficult for anyone who isn't white to get their foot in the door. Who and/or what helped you navigate it?

During my second year of design school, I began attending the RGD events geared toward students. It was there that I met Nicola Hamilton RGD, the then Art Director at Studio Wyse. I reached out to her about connecting over coffee and we chatted about her experiences in the design industry and our mutual love of magazines. From there, we kept in touch and eventually worked together at Studio Wyse. Nicola was instrumental in me becoming the Student-in-Residence at Studio Wyse, an opportunity that allowed me to observe how graphic designers work in the field. During that time, I gained first-hand knowledge of the industry and built meaningful professional relationships. In the end, I was offered an internship at the studio and was then hired as their Junior Designer.

Our popular Canadian design history is rooted in the work of European modernism, but there’s so much more out there. Who and/or what influences you?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized my ideas of “good” design are rooted in Eurocentric styles and influences. I’ve made an effort to follow BIPOC creatives on social media and research about the designers I didn’t learn about in school. Some of the BIPOC designers I’ve discovered that influence me are Jade Purple Brown, Edinah Chewe and Brittany Wilson.

What would you like to share with your BIPOC peers navigating through the industry?

It can be very discouraging to look out into the industry and not see yourself reflected back. Don’t let that stop you from creating and doing the work you want to do. It’s exciting and scary to put your work out there but do it anyway. Don’t let people or experiences stop you, keep pushing yourself, keeping growing and learning. And don’t be afraid to connect with people online, it can be intimidating but you realize that even those designers you admire are human beings too. 


Where do we go from here?

I think educating yourself on the ways systemic racism has influenced the design industry is the first step. You can’t acknowledge your privilege if you don’t understand the systems in place that give you that privilege. Continue having conversations and examining how the industry has uplifted white supremacy and finding solutions to dismantle that within the design industry. Those with power to make big changes need to make a conscious effort to influence our industry whether that’s through hiring or mentoring. We can’t make any real change by asking those that have been marginalized in this industry for so long to do all of the work.

Ashley Tomlinson

Self Employed

Ashley is a multidisciplinary graphic designer based in Toronto, Canada. So far her career has focused on editorial design at Studio Wyse and Clean Eating Magazine. A big lover of magazines and books (she loves storytelling), you can sometimes find her hanging out at Issues Magazine Shop or checking out books at the library. In her spare time she also co-writes a newsletter on pop culture called Shaping the Narrative which is just an excuse to write about all the books she’s reading. Always up for a conversation; her favourite topics include books, dogs and The Real Housewives.


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