the voice and vision of a new generation
Image credit: Lucky Brand

How designing a Pride Capsule Collection made me feel safe and seen as a queer designer

November 12, 2019

Even though LGBTQ Pride Month (June) seems far away, it's about that time of year when brands start planning their Pride Capsule Collections for the next Pride season. Last June, I had the privilege of designing a shirt for Lucky Brand's Pride Capsule Collection as apart of their “Lucky x Love” campaign. The theme aligns with the idea of how lucky and privileged most of us are to have the freedom to love, be loved, and love all, which is a luxury that some people may not have or may never experience given their circumstances. Lucky x Love speaks to empowerment for the LGBTQ+ community, and something we strive to ensure that everyone within the community can feel and experience: love.

I never thought—as a queer woman of color—this opportunity would present itself in my life, nevertheless exist for people like myself: to see my product displayed to the world, the message that I deeply resonate with, reverberating around the world. I hope that my message serves to inspire, empower, and remind every LGBTQ+ person that they are loved, that they too can love, and love all.

I always loved designing, creating, and crafting. As I designed my way through my childhood, every drawing piece was kept in my spiral notebook or on a piece of paper. However, I never thought of myself as a designer or artist. I felt that my art was not good enough to impress those around me. Only a few people knew designing was one of my childhood pastimes. It gave me an escape from the personal struggles I faced. Growing up as a reserved and shy kid, design was the medium I used to voice my opinions and express my thoughts. It was a part of me that I pushed to the side and neglected because I was afraid of the judgement by those around me.

As I grew older, I began to view art differently. "It is never about the art itself, but the artist’s belief in their work that impacts how others perceive their artwork" became a constant reminder of why and how I design. I always design with a goal that aligns with communities I support and will advocate for, such as the LGBTQ+ community and the Asian American community. How I craft my design narrative speaks volumes to the impact I want to make on the world around me. 

Shannon's winning shirt design for Lucky x Love. Image credit: Lucky Brand, 2019.

Designing this shirt was an incredible and strong affirmation for someone like myself who is afraid to be who I am in a world in which my sexuality is looked down upon. I felt I had to hide who I was and my story for so long. Being in the design space that recognizes intersectionality and diversity, I’ve never felt the need to hide who I am, my passion, and my work. I feel limitless, always excited to keep pushing, and never feeling behind or losing myself in the process. I feel that I can turn my dreams into a reality, something I never thought would have been possible. However, it wasn’t easy reaching this point of pride.

I have countlessly asked myself who I am as I struggled with my identity. Similarly, I have asked myself countless times who am I as a designer? I keep inclusiveness, empowerment, and accessibility in mind when designing. I turn visions into reality, to solve problems, to create with a purpose. I design for intersectionality, representation, and visibility. Most importantly, I design for everyone. These values defines my identity and shape the impact I strive to make as a designer on the communities around me.

Designing gives me the room for creativity and expanding queer inclusivity in the design space. It has helped me open up, express my thoughts, and voice my opinion to the world around me. Designing never inhibited my ability to express myself and be open about my sexuality. In fact, it has only continued to grow and given me so much opportunity to explore my identity. I know that this is not true across many industries. So, I feel that is a responsibility of mine to use designing as a medium for advocacy and representation.

Representation in design speaks in volume. It is not only about visibility represented on the product, but also visibility behind the screen— the person who makes the product. Rarely do we recognize queer talent and see products made by queer folks on the shelves. Behind the products we see on shelves, it is important to recognize the crafts and talents of the LGBTQ+ community. Rather than capitalizing on pride merchandise - something that has become a very common recently among many companies - it’s important for us to highlight the works of the LGBTQ+ community. Design is more than the art of creating but it is about leveraging artistic talents, risk-taking, experimentation with social impact, and delivering it to the local and broader community. We are not only showcasing the talents of the community to the world, but transcending beyond that to empower and inspire LGBTQ+ individuals to believe that their talent and their work is valued and deserves every spotlight.

I thank the designing community, Lucky Brand for this amazing opportunity, #BUILTBYGIRLS & Girls Who Code for introducing me to designing, the wonderful online community of Medium for giving me the platform to learn & grow my knowledge, and the people⁠— my family and friends—who believed in my vision and for allowing me to put my design skills to practice and to share my message to the world. I hope my design and its purpose becomes a lifeline for those who are in need of hearing and reading those words.

I strongly believe that the field of design and very much any industry will grow, change, and improve when we embrace diverse practices and retain inclusion. I only hope we can continue driving the field of design towards this direction of representation and visibility. The design industry is gradually increasing representation by highlighting the talents and beauty the LGBTQ+ community has to offer.

Feel free to read about my design story and the design process for Lucky x Love on the Lucky Brand website.

Shannon Li is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and first year at University of Michigan studying computer science with an interest in the intersection between technology, design, and social impact. She self-identifies as queer. She strives to use technology to build and design products that integrate accessibility, inclusion, and innovation together. She is a deeply rooted activist for the LGBTQ+ community in tech and the broader queer community.

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