TKTKTK: Changes to Come
In late 2019, Zach Frazier, Tulsa native and Iowa State Graphic Design MFA candidate, sat down to interview fellow Black graphic design students in pursuit of what he refers to as his proto-thesis. He gathered testimony from these students that illuminated Black exclusion and Black erasure within graphic design, particularly in the practice of critique in the classroom.
“Every time I tell a Black designer that the main theme of TKTKTK is a critique of critique they say ‘Oh thank god because it's awful,’” Frazier said. “I think that speaks to the issue.”
From these student stories, the publication TKTKTK was born. Available as a book, printed zine and Instagram zine, the work explores how the the inherentent racialization of Black designers and the transparency phenomenon of whiteness (ability of white people to be seen as not racialized beings) contribute to layered anti-Black discrimination throughout graphic design and its teaching practices.
The TKTKTK testimonies particularly cite professors’ apathy toward anti-Black police killings and refusal to hold space for Black topics. These microaggressions breed isolation and invalidation of Black designers, their creativity, and their experiential knowledge in the field.
Frazier was inspired to gather these testimonies by the simple fact that when he enrolled in his program and moved to Iowa, he was surrounded by whiteness. He attended Oklahoma State University for his undergraduate program, an environment he described as “weirdly diverse,” but not the norm narrative surrounding graphic design and its pedagogy. This experience begged the question ‘how does white supremacy manifest in a discipline?”
But, Frazier wants to do more with TKTKTK than simply ask questions.
“I asked, ‘Okay how do I take the critical inquiry and make it tangible and contextualized to the world we live in?’” Frazier recalled
In addition to the testimony, TKTKTK defines terms used widely within critical race theory in order to give the reader better terms to talk about race. He also points to different modes and methods of teaching as a way forward, including doing away with lecture-based practices and instead folding in student knowledge and students’ lived experiences throughout curriculums.
Through TKTKTK and his forthcoming thesis, Frazier employs critical race theory and counter storytelling to uplift the stories of Black designers that usually go ignored or get erased by the white-supremacist discipline. Ultimately, Frazier hopes this publication also creates a tangible community and ongoing dialogue surrounding these stories.
“Building a community around this is a big part of it,” Frazier said. “Going forward I see TKTKTK as a publication. I want it to be a community-based thing as opposed to me shouting into the void.”
This dialogue continues on the TKTKTK instagram @tktktk.pub, where eventually Frazier hopes to call for proposals. He imagines an informal academic journal in which readers can share anti-racist design resources and anti-racist teaching resources across disciplines.
The title itself is derived from the use of the letters “TK” in graphic design. Before a designer has copywriting for their piece, they insert TKTKTK into the text boxes, meaning changes or edits “to come.” With his publication and research, Frazier provides space and resources for this much-needed change.
“It’s an allusion to that - changes in graphic design, and hopefully generally speaking, to come,” Frazier said.