Innovating for Inclusion: How We Engaged a More Diverse Community

Written by Katrin Loss & Jenny Price on December 3, 2018

The word ‘innovation’ is often treated as an end in itself. Being innovative floats around as an ephemeral goal of all projects, and a mark of a successful enterprise. But what are we innovating for? What is our purpose?

AIGA Minnesota has been pioneering an innovation initiative for a few years now, sprung into being by an AIGA Innovate grant, with the express goals of relevancy and cultivating transformative community impact through the engagement of design. The initiative began as EMERGE: a program of content, events and experiences aiming to confront the barriers facing emerging designers (0-5 years after graduation), and support them through this transitional and daunting period in their careers.

EMERGE seeks to engage emerging designers by bringing together various chapters from across the country to create schemes specifically for this emerging contingent to help them grow their careers. This project, crafted ‘by chapters for chapters,’ is about innovating in order to make connections, build community, and inspire a new generation along their professional journey.

But the innovation couldn’t stop there – because our commitment to community impact continued. Truly to be for chapters, by chapters, means representing the design industry fully, and extending opportunities for growth and success to all corners of the community. After the successful launch of EMERGE, we set out to grow and expand the initiative to reach new, more diverse audiences, giving all emerging designers the opportunity to flourish. Key to achieving this goal was to partner with AIGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force as well as to study/reference AIGA Design Census results and labor statistics, among others.

This second wave of EMERGE is expanding upon and honing the original initiative to reach people who have not yet been impacted by the project’s efforts. This means focusing on those who have been under-served or marginalized both within the design profession, and across the broader socio-political landscape. We developed EMERGE 2.0 to innovate for inclusion, and to use the potential of technological and creative developments to celebrate and elevate a more diverse design community.

Being representative is both the end goal of EMERGE 2.0, and woven into the process itself. We contacted all the chapters who had previously produced an EMERGE event, and invited them to participate in a two-part online session series along with members of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, to help visualize and build out EMERGE 2.0 through a Design Thinking process led by a team of facilitators. The virtual teams ideated, using constructed proto-personas through whom to think through the implications and experiences of the project. Using the perspective of these devised personas as a lens, the teams attempted to determine how better to reach unrepresented groups. The assumptions they generated through this process were then validated through user interviews conducted in between the two sessions. This way, we assured that our project was absolutely determined by the community.

From here, we were well-equipped to make our engagement strategies inclusive of the community, too. We worked to redefine the EMERGE brand, its voice, its visuals, and the story it told, to embody the goals of 2.0. This involved changing the language of our message, as well as the content of our resources – and as these changes were identified, we brought more people on board to help create specific deliverables.

Creating an event series this way, by chapters for chapters, is a very scalable project – and our hope is that this will produce resources and guides that can be transferable across communities looking to innovate towards a purpose. Assembling chapters to problem-solve collaboratively created a space for solutions that would have the furthest reach across our industry, and demanding innovation in this space generated ideas for a more inclusive and representative sector. Innovation was not the goal: it was the means by which we set about having a meaningful impact.