Widening the Pathway to a Career in Design

Widening the Pathway to a Career in Design

A new fellowship program for underrepresented young designers
Ali Cottong
No items found.
read time:

For Jordan Cisneros, a Senior Specialist on IDEO’s Global Learning and Development Team, access to a career in design was not a given. It was a result of her own tenaciousness, her creativity, and the support of RepresentED, a small organization with a big mission to prepare students for careers in industries where they are underrepresented. The organization uses a human-centered approach to diversify the next generation of leaders through training, mentorship, and internships. RepresentED’s founder, Rashida Hanif, met Cisneros when she was a transfer student at UC Berkeley. Hanif notes that transfer students—particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) young adults—are missing out on what she calls the “hidden curriculum of life.”

Cisneros immediately saw the opportunity to help other Black and Brown transfer students like herself attain university education and gain visibility into concealed opportunities for their futures. Cisneros first learned about RepresentED in 2017, when she applied to join the first cohort of fellows. As part of the fellowship, she participated in a design thinking workshop led by former IDEO designer Scott Shigeoka. Later, she and her team competed in OpenIDEO's Future of Higher Education Challenge and designed an app that connected transfer students with much-needed community and resources. The experience and process introduced Cisneros to an industry she had never considered before. “Learning about design was absolutely pivotal for me,” she says.

Making change from within

After the competition, Cisneros was encouraged to apply to IDEO, and was hired as a recruiting coordinator before being promoted to her current role. Today, she leads Color by Design (CxD), which she helped launch in the wake of the rise in activism for social justice last year. She also helps facilitate internal programs at IDEO like business and inclusive leadership trainings, which seek to support IDEO’s senior leaders (and eventually all employees) to better understand how to create a culture of belonging. “In these trainings, we’re going to provide tangible leadership skills which help build awareness of where people are in their own personal journey,” she explains.

Shifting the power dynamic

This month RepresentED and IDEO are opening application submissions for the fall session of CxD. The program is open to all BIPOC students from backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in design.

“It was important to shift away from the typical ‘company-intern’ power dynamic,” said Hanif. “It’s about an equal exchange of value that shifts the long-held power dynamics between the company and the fellow.” Following a bootcamp in design thinking, the cohort will receive placement on a six-month full-time IDEO project and have the opportunity to pursue a career at IDEO. Whether they decide to continue a design career or not, fellows will leave the program with a deeper understanding of design that they can apply to nearly any line of work.

Fellows will also be trained holistically for entry into culturally white-dominated industries, preparing them for challenges that are likely to come up, like imposter syndrome. “Having the ability to name things like imposter syndrome enabled me to step into my own authenticity,” explains Cisneros, “while understanding that institutions need to do their own work in order truly create a culture of belonging.”

A signal to the industry

Looking forward, there’s a lot of potential for programs like CxD to drive lasting change within other companies and industries. “This isn’t just a pipeline program, it’s a signal to the industry,” Hanif notes. Companies that have more diversity in their staff will have a greater competitive edge, and the design skills fellows bring to the table can be applied to more than just traditional design work—they can be used anywhere.

“It's not about checking DE&I boxes,” she adds, “When you build products and services, you want the people who buy those products to be represented in the design process—there’s a real business case for that.”

The first cohort has been invited into IDEO in January 2022 for a 6-month period, and an iteration of the program will launch by the end of 2023. We will share more updates as we get closer to the recruitment season. If you have any questions, please contact cxdinfo@ideo.com.

No items found.
Ali Cottong
Ali is a content strategist with roots in telling stories for deep tech. She originally earned her nerd cred as a former world-class Quidditch player and has competed in the Quidditch World Cup twice. Ali currently lives in Oakland and has traded in her broomstick for a bike.
No items found.

Subscribe to the IDEO newsletter

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.