After two years working as a designer at Penguin Random House, Dominique Jones sees a bright and fruitful career ahead, in a job she didn’t even know existed when she graduated from college. She is now a junior designer for Dutton but said that when she started she never felt more alone.
“Just being there in the space kind of felt all new,” Jones said. “But at the same time, I also felt sort of alone, because I was the only Black designer. So in conversations that would come up, you can’t really relate. And I just felt that sense of needing someone else.”
And the problem wasn’t just with the lack of diversity among book designers. As a former intern, Jones knows just how important an entry-level position can be to a future in the publishing world. But without a single Black intern around her, she felt as though her feelings of sadness and loneliness had to serve some purpose.
Surveys by PW and Lee & Low have found that only 3%–5% of people in publishing are Black. Moreover, the AIGA 2019 Design Census found that only 3% of designers across all industries are Black. “I felt there had to be some other person in this whole entire company or in this whole world within publishing that was feeling the same way I was feeling,” Jones said. “So then I just decided to go for it and make a page.”
Enter Black and Brown Book Designers. Founded by Jones this summer, the original concept of the site was to connect Black and brown designers and artists within the publishing industry to promote and share each other’s work and opportunities. She said many of the first members told her that “just having that space of knowing that we’re all in this together was warm and fulfilling.”
In the four months since its inception, BBBD has become more than a website: Jones and the other members consider it a community. With so few Black people and people of color working as book designers, she hopes BBBD can highlight a group that few seem to know even exists.
While BBBD has already brought together a plethora of designers and artists of color, Jones said there’s more work to be done. In addition to growing BBBD's ranks, she would like to devote more attention to mentorship opportunities, especially for students from lower-income households and those who attend colleges that aren’t on the radar of publishing recruiters.
When she was a student at Mercy College, Jones was taught design by a rotating staff of teachers. But as a student at a school without a primary art focus, it took learning about other Black designers to convince her that designing was a valid career choice.
Then Jones stumbled into book design. After a Penguin employee saw her senior art project in 2018, she was recommend for the PRH internship program—a once-in-a-lifetime chance, she said, that she was determined not to squander. “The first day of my internship that summer, it felt like home: ‘Oh, this is it—I don’t want to search anymore,’ ” she said. She was determined to stay.
“I think it’s hard for Black students to break into publishing, because a lot of people are afraid to look for or even hire Black students, or go deep down to find them,” Jones said. “For example, a lot of people I met with in publishing and in the art department are from the top art schools: SVA, Parsons, Pratt. For them, it was a big surprise that I went to Mercy. And I think in that moment I realized, ‘Oh, a lot of these art directors and HR departments aren’t really looking deep into other schools. They’re only looking at what they know.’ ”
Jones wants BBBD to help all kinds of designers grow, including students just learning about the field and freelance designers looking for staff positions. She recognizes that she only has the job she has because of the people who helped her and wants to offer that same support to anyone who needs it.
“That’s really why I want this site to grow even bigger,” Jones said. “Because I want to be that open door to other people having the opportunity to learn and make mistakes and be okay with it. That’s what’s important to me.”
This story has been updated to reflect the change of the name of Jones's organization.