United in Design: Five Questions For Sophie Ashby And Alexandria Dauley

Words by Keven Amfo

31 July 2020


The founders of the United in Design initiative speak to Quintessentially about the programme and their goals.

Motivated by the lack of diversity in the Interior Design industry, Sophie Ashby of Studio Ashby and Alexandria Dauley of Dauley Design recently formed United in Design. In partnership with several notable industry professionals, the charitable initiative aims to increase the representation of people of colour in every facet of the Interior Design world. Below, they speak to us about the strategy.

Keven Amfo: What has your personal experience with diversity (or lack thereof) been within the Interior Design industry?

Alex Dauley: My passion for United in Design was ultimately fuelled by my own firsthand experience of this reality—a distinct lack of diversity— which is why having trained and tutored at KLC School of Design I began outreach to leading industry figures to promote the benefits of addressing inequality specifically.

Sophie Ashby: It's clear there is a real lack of diversity within our industry; you just need to open your eyes, read the magazines, go to events, look at your peers, the top lists to see it. Whilst we have no data to go off (it doesn't exist for our industry), I suspect that the lack of diversity might be particularly bad in the more residential sector.

KA: Can you break down the premise of the United in Design programme in simple terms?

AD: We aim to address the inequality head-on and provide actionable avenues for change. We hope to play a part in making Interior Design an accessible and obtainable career choice for all, by working with the industry to tackle the obstacles preventing this – in turn, correcting the balance and levelling the playing field.

SA: We are excited about the United in Design Apprenticeship scheme which we will pilot in 2021 and hope to see become a long-term initiative, run by businesses and individuals that have a significant impact in providing a foot in the door for those who need a pathway into our world.

AD: The idea is that we pool groups of four design studios/makers/suppliers together to provide a 12-month apprenticeship placement with the apprentice spending three months in each organisation. The apprentice would be paid a junior designer salary, split across the four studios, giving each the scope to gather a broader set of skills, knowledge and contacts to progress through the industry.

KA: That's great – it sounds like mentorship will play a significant role in the program. Did you personally have mentors? What do you envision the mentorship angle achieving?

SA: I actually didn't have any 'official' mentors, but I've always been fortunate to work with, and alongside brilliant people who, when the need arises, I feel I can ask for advice and guidance. I also now have an essential business coach; at a certain point, I think as an entrepreneur it's imperative to have an external sounding board, mostly to validate your own, likely good, ideas.

AD: I developed a close friendship with my KLC tutor Evey Dunbavin-Hands who then offered to become my mentor when I finished my studies. Evey was and remains a constant source of support, guidance and inspiration. She taught me all of the practicalities of running a design practice, sharing her experiences, mistakes and knowledge which was invaluable. We remain incredibly close to this day.

KA: What partners are currently involved, and what role will they play?

AD: We now have over 120 sign-ups, which is hugely exciting. To take the pledge and become a member of the United in Design movement, businesses (or individuals) must commit to three actions from the seven-point actional pledge, which aims to encourage partners to unlock doors and inspire others within the industry to share their wealth of expertise and time with those who need it most. Over the next few weeks, once we have embedded processes on our side, we'll be reaching out to these partners – further defining the pledges and what they will look like in action, ahead of rolling these out in 2021.

KA: Do you imagine this model of inclusion and change can translate into other industries?

SA: Definitely, there is so much scope for reflection and action – far beyond the design world. We hope to see a lot more of this.

To learn more about the United in Design programme or become involved, please visit https://www.unitedindesign.com.

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