Joba Studio and USM Modular Furniture team up to support BIPOC creatives
“Design is not only a form of expression, but also a form of empowerment and symbolism,” designer-athlete Kevin Jones says. “At the moment, less than 1% of the furniture manufactured by leading brands are created by Black designers.” However: “Design can build awareness and encourage tough conversations.”
That message is at the very heart of HUE+MAN, a global design competition and traveling installation dedicated to promoting resources and access for BIPOC creatives across the design industry. The HUE+MAN project is a collaboration between Jones’s Virginia-based Joba Studio and Swiss brand USM Modular Furniture, whose signature, museum-worthy furniture systems have been in production for over 50 years. The pair joined forces in mid 2020, as the long overdue, global groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement intensified following the murder of George Floyd and countless others.
“The term HUE+MAN stands for Culture + Humanity,” Jones explains. “Hue is an old term for culture.” The touring installation—which debuted at Design Miami/ in December, in partnership with Don C of RSVP Gallery—is currently on display in New York, with plans to travel throughout the US. Jones says that it “represents many different hues working together, displaying beautiful interaction from different perspectives. Based on the premise of a wunderkammer, it illuminates diverse creative works within the modular applications of the USM Haller System that express the hues of culture in which we live. As the viewer moves around the space, colors change in the light. Our display is a metaphor to remind people that we are one race with multiple hues, where opposing perspectives can exist and still produce a beautiful outcome.”
The corresponding HUE+MAN Design Competition, meanwhile, “was created as a way to promote resources and access for People of Color in design disciplines. Designers will have the opportunity to showcase their creations for a chance at award money and other special support to encourage growth in their careers.”
“So far,” Jones says, “the response has been overwhelmingly positive. People have really engaged with the work, which is what we wanted. It was created with interaction as the goal.”
In addition to leading Joba Studio, Jones is a world-class athlete who previously played for the Chicago Bears. His background as a successful athlete influences his design approach as well; he calls himself “The Designer Athlete...[which is] a singular term encompassing me as a Black designer and me as an athlete; it’s not just a brand but a pedagogy that I’m currently working on in my PhD program as well.”
That paradigm comes through on multiple levels, he says, such as “setting goals, maintaining focus, being flexible and agile, and maintaining a high level of self-motivation and discipline.” Further, his experiences playing on a team are integral to partnerships like this. “It’s a people first, teamwork approach. The best things in life are experienced with others. As a designer athlete, my experiences have been most fruitful when shared with diverse teams.”
Asked what he most hopes people take away from this ongoing project with USM, Jones says, “I hope people looking at this collaboration—especially those who look like me or who have experienced being marginalized—recognize that change is possible if you have patience, talent, work ethic, faith, and stick-to-it-iveness.” ◆
The HUE+MAN Design Competition is accepting applications through May 9th. Learn more here.