Belonging and Instinct

An open letter form our Creative Director

At the heart of the Pride festival is an unapologetic celebration of individuality, community and kinship.

At this time of year when Pride is usually upon us, I find myself reflecting on my journey as a gay man, and how it relates to my trajectory as a designer. The current restrictions mean that the streets will be bereft of the usual glory of rainbow-flag-waving, spangly, glittery parades. So, for me, it is important to lend visibility to the ideas that underpin what Pride represents. Art and design have been centre stage in helping me find my personal sense of pride and purpose and they have also provided me with a place where I feel a sense of belonging.

At school, I felt slightly alienated in many subjects, but in the arts, I found my voice. I had an exceptional teacher. Whilst liberally doling out gold stars, she also told each one of us “you belong here, you are good enough.” By teaching us that it was enough to be ourselves in class, by accepting all of us equally, our quiet inner voices were given the space to gain expression freely, creatively, and with joyous abandon.

In her classroom, I did not just find a sense of belonging, the world of creative expression allowed me to tap into what I would now call, instinct. During those formative years, I came to realize that finding a sense of belonging helped me connect with my inner self, gave me faith in my powers of intuition, and empowered me as a designer.

I believe that the journey of self-discovery that gay people undergo makes us especially attuned to instinct. I see this as a gift for navigating the adversity that members of our community invariably face. In this cacophonous, hyper-critical world, instinct acts like a scythe for clearing one’s path, helping to maintain a clear idea of and faith in oneself, and giving constancy to the understanding that what you are doing is right. Belonging to a community be it in an art lesson or arm-in-arm on a parade has instilled in me an inner strength and helped me find the external support to realise who I am as a designer.

When I went on to train at London’s Royal College of Art, my university cohort and tutors helped me to refine my instinct through questioning and challenge, helping me to develop the discipline through which to realise my passions and ideas. Intellectual rigour helped me to build my aesthetic vision into something coherent and unique to me. Surrounded by extraordinarily talented people and educators as a student, and now, by my fellow designers as a professional, I am struck by the power of community. Belonging has taught me how important it is to support one another, trust and celebrate those things which so inspire us to create.

Far from conformity, belonging is not predicated on external validation, though it is associated with (the oh so tricky to define) purpose. I think purpose can help us to develop the foresight to see and act with instinct when addressing those matters that are most pressing for our communities and the planet. It can allow us to take action for a better world and perhaps help others gain a greater sense of belonging too.

You don’t need permission to be who you are.

Happy Pride Month to you all over the world. Stay fierce!