The racial disparity in design is wide. According to AIGA’s 2019 Design Survey, 71% of respondents identified as white. This lack of diversity impacts everything around us because designers are at the heart of the systems, products, services, and experiences we encounter every day. In order to stay competitive and culturally relevant, companies must build design teams that reflect diverse populations and environments that are inclusive and equitable.
Racial equity in the design profession won’t happen by chance, which is why Diversify by Design (DxD) was founded. We’re a coalition of partner organizations, experts, and advisors united to increase racial equity and inclusion in the design profession. We do it by partnering with experts with lived experience to develop programs that focus on five critical, interconnected aspects of the design journey.
It starts with introducing Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth to the profession through initiatives like Design=, and if it’s a career they choose to pursue, providing them with the support they need. That means helping them access educational opportunities, offering experiences to practice within the industry, and connecting them with mentors and networks that not only lead them to jobs, but provide ongoing empowerment throughout their careers.
DxD Intensives has begun to address these steps, but after its inaugural year, we learned that the initiative also benefits the participating educational institutions and companies in expected ways as well.
An Innovative Collaborative Approach
The first DxD Intensives launched in the spring semester of 2021 as a collaboration between DxD partners Delta Dental of California, San Francisco State University (SFSU), and DxD’s managing entity, Impact Collaborative. The goal was twofold: provide historically excluded students with the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with career professionals at the cutting edge of their craft — and industry the opportunity to learn from the diverse lived experiences and lenses that these students bring to the table.
“DxD Intensives is a shining example of how industry and educational institutions can create impactful opportunities for historically-excluded design students. They all walked away with real-world experience, the beginnings of a professional network, and a fully applicable and transferable project for their portfolios.” said Mari Hulick, Director of Design Programs at SFSU. “I’m advocating for the integration of this program into our curriculum, as well as every design school. It brings what students learn into practical terms while addressing the diversity gap head on.”
At the heart of DxD Intensives are mentors from the industry partner’s design team working with, guiding, and nurturing student teams. Jasmine Cordero, UX Researcher Associate at Delta Dental of California, was one of those mentors.
“Working with the design students from SFSU was rewarding on so many levels. Their collective input and differing perspectives generated creative solutions to our design challenge. Personally, I connected with several students and am eager to mentor them as they enter the design field after graduation. In fact, we hired one of them for a summer internship,” said Jasmine. “I’m such a fan of DxD Intensives that I decided to join the coalition’s Advisory Council to help continue shaping programs like these that are truly moving the needle.”
Delta Dental of California and its affiliates provide dental benefits to more than 40 million people across 15 states and the District of Columbia. The company understands that their services and experiences must connect with everyone and they can only do that by building a diverse and inclusive workforce.
“We decided to participate in DxD Intensives because we wanted to take action towards racial equity in the design industry. What surprised us about our participation in DxD Intensives was the true reciprocity we experienced,” said Sarah Anderson, Director of Product Design and Customer Experience at Delta Dental of California. “Not only did we impact the journeys of future designers of color by providing opportunities to work collaboratively with professionals from our design team, but the students offered solutions to design challenges that the team simply didn’t see before.”
A Proven Model
In just two semesters, the pilot collaboration of DxD Intensives between SFSU School of Design, Delta Dental, and DxD provided 40 historically-excluded students with experiences and connections they didn’t expect to have as they enter their UX design careers, and our partners found an effective way to start addressing the diversity gap in the industry.
With this proven model, our plan is to connect and support collaborations between more industry partners and design programs at institutions of higher learning that serve historically underserved or excluded people of color: Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) and Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTIs).
“We have to thank the committed, forward-thinking teams at Delta Dental and SFSU for making DxD Intensives a successful reality,” said Andrea Pellegrino, CEO and founder of Impact Collaborative - DxD’s managing entity. “Together, we created a tangible experience that opens up crucial networking, internship, and employment opportunities that will impact the education experience of future designers of color. At the same time, we deepened how industry design departments understand and integrate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within their organizations. This proven framework will help us expand the initiative and act as one of many needed stepping stones to a more just and equitable design profession.”