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Code-Switching In Design Practice

What Is It? and How Does It Affect Designers?




I'm sure more now than before; we hear terminologies such as code-switching; however, what does this mean for those within graphic design and other design disciplines?


Code-switching is a common practice among people of colour in design, as they often have to navigate between different cultural contexts and communication styles. In design practices, code-switching can involve adapting to the preferences and expectations of clients or colleagues with different cultural backgrounds or experiences.



What is code-switching?


"Code-switching is the way in which a member of an underrepresented group (consciously or unconsciously) adjusts their language, syntax, grammatical structure, behaviour, and appearance to fit into the dominant culture." (betterup.com)

Why do people code-switch?


People code-switch for many reasons, but it is most prevalent in minority communities.

This language change is done in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities.

“Code-switching is dancing between vocal styles and rhythms. This dance is a part celebration--of the richness, intricacies, and blurry borders of our cultures.”

- Nadia Owusu, Aftershocks


Why code-switching can be damaging?


Contextual identity is a term used to describe the adaptability at the core of the human experience. But we need help when our contextual identities align with our authentic, absolute identities. In those cases, we’re not choosing to adapt but forced to hide.

Code-switching can feel like a necessity

For people of colour, code-switching can be a matter of survival. And if you don’t realise it’s happening at your organisation, it could be taking a toll on your psyche. This can cause emotional exhaustion and exacerbate burnout, anxiety and imposter syndrome.


Professionalism is not code-switching

Professionalism does not have to come at the expense of your own identity.

Black employees who strive to suppress their racial identity may miss out on these invaluable relationships. Maintain your identity by talking, dressing and behaving comfortably.


Remember, you are not alone in this

“I wear my hair naturally and also maintain my accent, but I do not use a lot of slang or do things that are not professional, regardless of race. It has been a journey to find that balance in being my true self as a black woman in a predominately white, elite space.”

- Assistant Director, 29


Stay true to yourself and resist the temptation to code-switch. Embrace your authenticity and let it shine through in all aspects of your life.



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