A Progressive Partnership: Crafting Diversity in Design
Why a partnership between MillerKnoll and Berea College?
by Noah Schwarz, Creative Director Design Within Reach
We aren’t the first to recognize that the field of design is seriously inequitable, a long-running problem that requires urgent action to address. From the lack of support for BIPOC students interested in a design education, to the need for greater diversity within design corporations, change is critical. And as a leading voice for design globally, MillerKnoll has a responsibility to act.
In seeking change, we at MillerKnoll are fortunate to have the counsel of Stephen Burks, a longtime friend of Herman Miller who first introduced us to Berea and the work of the Student Craft Program. Upon learning more about the rich history of the college—its early advocacy for interracial and coeducational learning, coupled with a democratic approach to tuition—it was impossible not to be inspired to take immediate action in finding opportunities to support Berea’s mission.
While the partnership with Berea is not the sole vehicle by which MillerKnoll supports increased diversity in the field of design, the relationship is a unique and important one. Institutions devoted to craft and making are increasingly rare. This emphasis on the value of craft aligns with the beliefs and history of Herman Miller, which has supported the work and vision of designers like Ray and Charles Eames, Alexander Girard, and Isamu Noguchi. These figures, among many others in the orbit of Herman Miller, Knoll, and other companies now under the banner of MillerKnoll, have been instrumental in shaping the culture of design—both internally and in the world at large. Given Berea’s combination of equitable access to higher learning and dedication to continuing craft traditions, it is abundantly clear that MillerKnoll has found a very special partner in Berea.
With our values clearly aligned, it was next important to understand how MillerKnoll could best support our shared objectives. At present, we provide a platform to distribute the designs made by Berea students while channeling the proceeds back to the school. We tell the important story of the Student Craft program and its mission to an audience likely not yet familiar with Berea. We’ve committed to offering sourcing and production know-how, as well as funding for new equipment, to build the capabilities of the Student Craft workshop. And we are planning a more robust design education for Berea students through guest industry speakers and access to MillerKnoll internships.
We hope these initiatives will help ensure the long-term success of Berea’s Student Craft program; however, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the tremendous benefits MillerKnoll receives from the partnership. Berea students bring perspectives not found in the current monoculture of the design world, and it embodies today a future in which diversity is our greatest creative advantage. We are honored to collaborate with Berea—an institution providing critical, equitable access to higher education in the fields of craft and design.