Design can take us down so many paths, some conventional and some unexpected. However, it is through design that we can drive impact. That is what founding CEO of LGBTQIA+ youth organisation Minus18 and Monash University alum, Micah Scott, set out to achieve upon completing his undergraduate degree in design.
Throughout his career, Micah has led positive social change particularly within the LGBTQIA+ community, drawing upon his creative background to create tangible pieces of communication that encourage a sense of understanding and belonging in the community.
As a recent graduate, I am now in a similar position Micah was in over 10 years ago – excited at the prospects of a future in design, but unsure of how that might take shape. So I asked Micah himself how he found his feet in the industry, and how he drives social change through his design work.
Hi Micah! Your work is so multifaceted, is the work you’re doing today what you imagined you would be doing when you were younger?
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a graphic designer. In high school, I would regularly create bits and pieces of design for fun; album covers for made-up bands, customised MySpace profiles for my friends, that sort of thing.
The process of design — taking an idea or concept and turning it into a tangible product that other people connect with — it really ignited a passion within me. It never felt like work and I was filled with excitement whenever I dreamed of the possibility of turning that passion into a career.
Did you learn any valuable lessons in your first job out of uni?
Growing up, my mum led the Sunday school at our church for over a decade. She did this entirely as a volunteer, and would rope me into designing certificates and banners for the other kids. The value of giving back to your community and volunteering your time was regularly instilled in me as part of this process.
I feel like this philosophy stuck with me in my trajectory throughout uni and beyond, as I volunteered at university and community organisations. None of these were explicitly graphic design related – but once I started I would see opportunities to offer my design experience. A sign, flyer, poster – anything really (and usually for free at first) slowly working up my confidence to navigate paid work.
This process really taught me to believe in myself and my work, which was fortunate as I certainly didn’t have that yet. The risks were low, I was allowed to make mistakes, and I was designing for people who I knew and understood.
How and why did you decide to work in the not-for profit sector?
The main organisation I dedicated my time to was Minus18 – a youth group holding underage events for queer teenagers. When I came to terms with my sexuality, Minus18 was the place I made my first queer friends – it truly changed my life being surrounded by others who accepted me during a time where I found it difficult to accept myself.
Volunteering at Minus18 seemed like a no brainer, and I soon became the lead volunteer while studying at Monash. In 2010, the final year of my degree, there was a lot of media attention surrounding high schools in Australia not allowing students to take same gender partners to their school formal or debutante ball.
Feeling heartbroken and frustrated, I led Australia’s first Queer Formal – an event for over 200 of these young people to have a high school formal experience, without fear of judgement or discrimination. The event grew bigger than I ever anticipated, sending posters and flyers to schools reminding them of their requirement to protect their students from discrimination.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?
I remember sitting in class shortly after talking to Gene Bawden, the Head of Design, about my plans after graduation. Up until that point, it had never fully occurred to me that my degree in Design could translate into the not for profit sector. That conversation really opened my eyes to the fact that I could turn it into my career.
I thought I may as well give it a go, right? I gave myself one year after graduation to volunteer almost full time for Minus18 while completing odd graphic design jobs for rent. Finally, at the end of 2011, I led the team to incorporate and create the Minus18 Foundation – the first national charity specifically for LGBTQIA+ youth, hosting events, inclusion training and awareness campaigns.
Your career right now is not a traditional path out of a design degree. How does your background in design help with the work you do today?
Minus18’s mission is to create an Australia where LGBTQIA+ young people belong, and the only way we can truly do this is by connecting to hearts and minds across the country – young people, schools and families alike. How we have these conversations in a way that is accessible to different audiences, makes the apathetic feel connected, and breaks down stereotypes – that right there can be interpreted as a design and communication challenge. Design is a powerful tool in building connection and validity to what you’re communicating – and we implement this into our work to break down the stereotypes and biases we’ve developed.
The same is even more true for communicating directly with LGBTQIA+ people. Think about the portrayals of LGBTQIA+ young people in the media the past decade, especially trans and gender diverse people – there’s hardship, discrimination and sadness weaved into almost every story. While many of us experience this, we are more than our adversities.
To show that being LGBTQIA+ can be a journey of self-acceptance, joy and connection – especially to young people growing up in regional or remote areas – is in itself an act of revolution.
What professional challenges or hurdles have you experienced and how did you overcome them?
In the lead up to Marriage Equality in Australia, the vocal opposition to LGBTQIA+ inclusion became more mobilised and better funded – particularly towards transgender youth. The success and visibility of Minus18’s teacher resources, posters and digital support around the country caused us to become the target of attacks from those who disagreed with us.
When our message is so focused on positivity, community and creating a world where LGBTQIA+ young people know that they belong, I was naively shocked at how vicious and constant their attacks were.
Conservative politicians and lobbyists called us pedophiles (a tactic commonly used against our community), they threatened to protest our youth events and people showed up at our work unannounced to harass me. But it’s our community of supporters – the teachers, workplaces and families – all over the country that got me and the team through it. They shared messages of support and even turned up to events to shield our young people against conservative protesters (who, for the record, never had the courage to show up).
Do you have any advice for emerging graduates?
The scary thing about starting out is building confidence in your work and ideas. The catch 22 is that it’s difficult to build your confidence without trying – and trying means giving ideas a go that don’t work out – sometimes spectacularly. Community work is such a great way to try something new and build that confidence or experience as you go. If there’s a cause that ignites your passion, put your hand up, and give it a shot. You might just find your new career.
What excites you the most about the work you do?
There’s something incredibly special about working with a school or a workplace and seeing their transformation unfold. A poster can lead to a conversation, which can lead to inclusion training, which can lead to a parent better understanding their LGBTQIA+ child.
Every moment of work has a real life impact, and seeing this in action is just the best.
Kieran Medici is a graduate of Bachelor of Communication Design at Monash Art, Architecture + Design. Learn more about the course here.
Micah Scott completed a Bachelor of Visual Communications at Monash University in 2010. You can learn more about Minus18 and the work they do here.