Dr. Jacinda Walker

This week’s interview is truly special, because I got the chance to sit down with the one and only Dr. Jacinda Walker. I have been privileged to watch Jacinda’s glow up over the years, and now she’s reaping the benefits of her hard work, perseverance, and dedication to making the design community better for the next generation.

I got to speak with her fresh off her receiving an honorary doctorate from Ringling College of Art and Design, and she talked with me about the experience. She also shared news about the new space for her business, DesignExplorr, and the curriculum and workshop programs that she created based on her graduate research. We even chatted a bit about her work with AIGA’s D&I Task Force, what keeps her inspired, and how she measures success now at this stage of her life and career. Jacinda’s research and advocacy work deserve our recognition and support, and I’m glad to be able to share her story here!


Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Hi, my name is Jacinda Walker. I am founder and creative director of DesignExplorr, located in Cleveland, Ohio.

Maurice Cherry:
I should say congratulations, Dr. Jacinda Walker. That is such an amazing honor. I’m not going to get over that. That is so amazing. Please talk to me about how that all came about.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
I agree with you, Maurice. I’m still absorbing it. To be quite honest, I don’t know how long it will take me to fully absorb the magnitude of achieving such an honor. I have no idea. When Ringling College of Art and Design reached out to me originally, they said, “Hey, listen, we’d love for you to do a commencement talk. We’ve been following your work. We want to build a relationship with you to come down and meet more of our students,” and I’m like, “Oh, bet I can do it.”

And then they talked to me about what the honorarium was and how long I was going to be in Florida. I’m like, “So y’all guys are going to put me up for four days in Florida to go to this commencement, give a 20-minute talk, and hang out with you and your students afterward? Oh yeah, I’m in. Call me. Keep me posted.” About two days before the event, they notified me that they wanted to present me with this honorary doctorate, and they wanted to know if I was going to accept it, which was kind of crazy because you’re like, “Is there anybody who turns this down?”

Is there anybody who says, “Oh no, dog. I’m good with them letters. Don’t worry about that advancement on my career, advancement on my salary, that advancement on my hourly rate now. No, I’m going to pass.” I don’t even know who does that. But I went down there. Florida was amazing. Sarasota was beautiful. I hadn’t been to Sarasota before. So to see it on top of everything else that was happening, it was just a huge, huge experience.

Maurice, I really thought I was going to be good because I was like, “I got this.” At this commencement, I saw all the paper degrees that they were going to be passing out, and I just assumed that mine was over in that pile. I felt like I could handle this. They read the bio, which I didn’t know they was going to read all 750 words of it. And then they have you stand because there’s a hooding ceremony that happens.

They put this cap over you. And then there’s this neck … It’s a velvet, a sash, so to speak, but it goes around your neck, and it attaches to your graduation gown. I turned around, Maurice, and they took the cover off of the degree and I totally fell out because I thought I was going to get one of the small degrees that was on the table. It was framed. It had my name on it huge. It’s got this silver plate statement on it. It’s got the school.

If you watch the video, I think I spent maybe the first three minutes of my speech sniffing because I was still trying to just pull it together and get into the words that I had prepared. Even my father was like, “You’ve got to start taking Kleenex with you. You’ve just got to.” I was like, “I had no idea.” I had no idea. I’m still absorbing it.

One of the young people that I work with here at DesignExplorr, she said, “You should put them all on the wall like they do at the doctor’s office because you got a full set now.” So I have an associate’s. I have a bachelor’s. I have a master’s. I have the doctorate, and I have two undergraduate minors and a graduate minor.

Maurice Cherry:
Whew. Degreed up.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Degreed up. I share this often when I go into classrooms with young people. This is coming from a person who almost failed the fourth, sixth, and the eighth grade. By the eighth grade, my momma had had enough. I don’t know if you’re ever been in a place with your mom where you knew she had had enough. Well, Renee had had enough, and she told me flat out, “I don’t care what is going on at that school. I don’t care what you think is going on at that school, but it stops today.”

She enrolled me in tutoring. She made my brother walk me to school because I had to go to tutoring before school started. So school usually started about 8:30. I had to be there at 7:30, 3 days a week, for the rest of the eighth grade so I could pass. I didn’t even know if college would even be in my future. I was just trying to get out of middle school. I was just struggling to do that. So to be at this place now, Maurice, is a lot to absorb.

Maurice Cherry:
It is well-deserved for-

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
… the advocacy work and the volunteer work and everything that you’re doing not just in your local community, which we’ll talk about, but just nationwide, worldwide. It’s amazing. I’m just saying this from with Revision Path. You can put stuff out there in the world and you never know where it’s going to land, who it’s going to reach, how it’s going to affect them.
So just kudos to you for always fighting the good fight. I’m immensely proud of you. I heard that, I was just like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. That is so amazing.”

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Thank you so much. I just appreciate everybody, like yourself, reaching back and just keeping me encouraged even in those moments when I was fighting just to stay focused and what I was fighting for and that it would come to fruition, and it really, really has. So I’m eternally grateful.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, let’s talk about another one of your recent accomplishments from this year, which is a dedicated space for DesignExplorr. First of all, where did the idea to create DesignExplorr come from? Because when I had you back on the show back in 2014, I don’t think DesignExplorr was even a thing yet, was it?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
No, Maurice. In fact, I was painfully writing it. I was in grad school when we first spoke. I was in Columbus at the Ohio State University. I had received a full ride scholarship to research the lack of diversity in design disciplines. I presented the idea to the university about a year and a half before I was actually in school because when you apply, you have to say, “Hey, what are you going to research? What’s your topic going to be?”

I submitted this out of the challenges that I had been experiencing in Cleveland. I submitted that topic out of everything that I had learned with the mentees that I had. I submitted that topic as a way to solve it because I was just tired of it. I was just tired of it always being the only, even in this day and age. In 2000, I just couldn’t believe there were still people who were the onlies.

By time my niece announced that she wanted to be a designer, Maurice, I was in overdrive. I was like, “Oh God, I’ve got to fix this, not eventually, not …” I knew I had to fix it, and I felt like I had four to six years to figure it out because she was going to go to college and study design. It pained me to even think about her experiencing some of the challenges and the microaggressions and the discriminatory acts that I experienced. It highly motivated me to figure it out and to put something in place so she wouldn’t have to go through those types of things.

Maurice Cherry:
Now with this dedicated space, what does that do now for the mission and the vision of DesignExplorr? What does that do now?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Absolutely. First, I have to share that I have moved DesignExplorr physically every year for four and a half years, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry:

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Maurice, every year. Remember I told you I started writing about DesignExplorr in Columbus. So when I graduated, I moved back to Cleveland. So the first year, I want to say year and a half, I was in my home literally upstairs because I had moved the desk that I wrote my thesis in because that desk has become sacred now. I ain’t never giving up that desk. That desk is never going in the trash.

So I had moved that to my upstairs loft area, which my father just ridiculously laughed at me all the time because he was like, “You going to put your desk right next to the bed? Are you sleeping?” That’s what I did, Maurice. I would literally go to sleep. I would wake up and work. I would fall asleep watching TV, go to bed, wake up, roll out my bed, go to the desk. That’s probably what I did every day for about a year, year and a half, until I got DesignExplorr launched off the ground.

So having this space, when you talk about what is it going to do for the mission, it’s going to allow myself and now team members, Maurice, there are probably about eight young people in this space right now who come in and out, who do tasks, who do design projects, who do photography things, who write. I have a young lady who’s also writing right now. Here in Cleveland, I’m surrounded by three major colleges. There’s Cleveland State University, Cleveland Institute of the Art, and then we also have Cuyahoga Community College, which is a two-year college.

All of these schools are probably within five minutes of where the space is going to be at. So that’s why I wanted the space because we were just growing out. When I left my house, I moved into a space that was probably about 375 square feet, which at the time, Maurice, I loved it. I was like, “We legit, y’all.” I got a door. I had a parking spot, and I had a key. You know how you can come into the co-working building?

Maurice Cherry:

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
I just thought we was doing it. I was like, “We’re doing it.” One day I looked up and there was myself and three other young designers in 375 square feet, literally. I was sitting at my little desk. It was one across from me, and I had a little round table, Maurice. They were coming. None of them was like, “You know what? It’s small. I’m quitting. I’m leaving.” Nope. They was like, “I’m staying. I’ll just work in the hallway until So-and-so leaves.”

After the 375, I moved into 680 square feet. Now, the 680 square feet was nicer. It was on the fifth floor. We called it the penthouse. From there, I started getting other organizations who helped to create pilot programs to have interns trained in design to work for their organizations. So that’s how I got a couple more interns. At the end of that summer, I was like, “We’re not going to fit here.”

I already had two desks. Maurice, I think at the time I only owned four chairs. People, they were still coming. I was like, “I’m not going to be able to do this work in this confinement.” It just wasn’t going to happen. I had an opportunity to talk with a commercial real estate agent here in Cleveland, and she explained the game to me.

I was like, “Okay. I know what I have to do, and I’m going to find a space on my own. I’m going to find it without a real estate agent because that process isn’t working for me and I need this to really, really be what I want. I already have a vision, so I’m going to do this on my own.” I found a space. I found a space here in Cleveland. We’re on 3800 Euclid Avenue downtown, right across from the Children’s Museum and adjacent to the American Red Cross.

It’s awesome, Maurice. It’s 1,821 square feet. There’s a huge front-facing window. We have this huge area that we’re going to have for open space. So I’ll be able to fit eight to 10 young people there. And then we’re going to have a huge great room in the back where I’ll be able to have a multipurpose room where it might be a classroom and a little conference area. We’re going to have a kitchen, a private bath, reception area, and I’ll even have my own office.

I can’t begin to describe it. What’s super awesome is that right now at the time of this interview, we’re in the interim space upstairs. So for the last month, I’ve been peeking downstairs, talking to all the construction people. They have plumbing in, Maurice. We have plumbing. So to see this space being built exactly how I envisioned it and exactly doing the work that it needs to do is insane just to be able to be at this place.

So that center will allow me, once it’s complete … They’re telling me eight to 10 weeks. Once it’s complete, we will open up the experiential learning portions of DesignExplorr. See, in the past, I’ve mostly been doing youth workshops that expose young people to design. I’ve been doing a lot of local summer camps, afterschool programs, in-classroom assignments where I was teaching design to a K-12 audience.

But the center will allow me to provide opportunities for designers, 18 to 26-year-olds, who are interested in working in the profession. So I already have a host of clients here who are allowing us to work on their design projects, their web projects, their photography work, some writing assignments. We have a couple social media clients that we’ve been working for.

It will allow me to expand that part of it so that when young people who are from Cleveland who are interested in this expanded learning to fulfill that gap space between high school and college and between college and workforce, they can come here and ask questions. They can come here and fellowship with other Black and brown designers. The best part is they’ll have opportunity to do real world work so that when they go into these workforce positions, it won’t be a mystery to them.

They’ll have a really good expectation as to what it could be and what it should be. So I’m hopeful that’ll help to increase the profession, increase diversity in design, and just to continue my work, being able to not have any more only designers anymore, any more only women or any more only Black designers or just no more onlies, no more. So that’s what I’m really hopeful that the center will be doing for us.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean all of that is amazing. I can’t wait to get a chance to actually see it all in person once you get it all together. Hopefully, if there are some design companies or some furniture companies listening, they can help you really swag out the space, really make it something nice.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Yes. I would love that, Maurice. In fact, that is what is needed because I have exhausted everything in getting the space. They say that entrepreneurship is about risk, and I understand that this is a risk doing it this way. But what I know is that I won’t be able to flourish if I’m not in a space where I can grow, and having the 1800 square feet is that space. It’s like me moving out of a small pot into a bigger pot so I can bloom.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about some of the young designers that you’re mentoring. I know when we were initially trying to book this, we thought about having the possibility of actually having them on the show, which I think maybe we can do that in the future. But tell me about some of these young designers that are coming through the program.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
There are about eight right now. Five are here. Well, four are here in-person. They’re here regularly, two or three days a week. I have another two or three that, hey, they call in. They’re already in the workforce, so they’re doing some things. I have two designers from Kent State University that I’m working with. I have about three students that I’m working with from Cleveland State University.

I have a young lady who’s in urban planning. I have another young woman that I’m working with. She is in industrial design. The majority of them are in graphic design and web design. I have another young lady who’s highly passionate about getting into UX and UI design. So they’re all doing some truly, truly awesome things. Maurice, you’ll love this. I even have a young writer who’s on team. She is interested in writing in a creative space.

So we’re like, “Well, you found your people. Welcome. Enjoy. Come on in.” So it’s been great having various amounts. I have male and female, mostly all Black right now. I have two young people who are in our neighborhood association who are Puerto Rican, and they’re also interested in coming onboard when the new space is open. So even just having the space here, the young people are already coming and staying, trying to stay. So I’m excited. I’m very excited.

Maurice Cherry:
Now also along with this mentorship, you’ve created resources for educators, right?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:

Maurice Cherry:
You’ve created something called the TakeOver curriculum.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Yes, absolutely. That’s one of our favorite ones. I had an opportunity to work with an educational consultant. She is a consultant who helps educators become better educators. So you imagine when you’re in a K-8 school or a K-12 school, there are lots of challenges and curriculum changes and all those types of things. Well, Dr. Kelly is who we work with to help us transcribe all of my slides, all of the things that are in my brain into an educational curriculum that is in alignment with Ohio-based state standards.

We also have developed along with that nine-week program, we call it the TakeOver. We also have a six-hour training component for educators to be able to work in this design-thinking methodology and helping to be able to utilize these tools to creatively expose and use them to help young people absorb challenges and topics that might be a little difficult, how they can maybe bring some different insight into getting young people to think about recycling or finances, even science and history.

I believe that design has the power to achieve and to help connect all of those things. So having that educator’s curriculum will be able to allow them to also learn how to apply that creativity in some of those difficult topics that young people have.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, are there other programs that you have through DesignExplorr? We talked about the curriculum, but I noticed, I’m looking at this PDF you have on your site. There’s things like design learning, Think Like A Designer Workshops, et cetera. Tell me more about these different programs.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
So our Think Like A Designer Workshop is a workshop that we actually originated out of COVID. When I first learned about COVID, I was actually in a classroom and I had not known that the governor had just closed all the schools. So the teacher was trying to hurry them up. I’m like, “No, no. They got to do this part. They got to do this part. I didn’t give them their worksheets yet.” She’s like, “They got to get on the bus.”

I’m like, “What do you mean?” She’s like, “The governor just closed schools.” I’m like, “So what happens if you are from an underserved area and you don’t have a computer at home during COVID? How are you going to continue your learning? What if the art class was the thing that you loved to go to and now it’s over?” Because, remember, when it first happened, we didn’t know how long this was going to be.

So I started thinking about how could I develop materials. During COVID, I had two of my young designers that I worked with, Elena and Kennedy, who were in the office at that time. I had this whiteboard, Maurice, of all these things I wanted to accomplish and all these things I was trying to do. Kennedy was like, “You could do that one now.” And I’m like, “The schools are closed. Nobody’s going to buy anything. What are you talking about?”

She was like, “Yeah, you should just find a bag for it. We could sell markers, and they could have kind of school supplies. We could put design activities in it.” I was like, “Kennedy, this is not the time to do this.” I shut her down like, “This is not the time.” Maybe about a couple days later, Elena came up like, “I know where we can find those supplies at.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with any young people, but they have the tenacity that is sometimes even a little annoying. You’re like, “What? I don’t want to talk about that anymore. I don’t want to talk about that.” They just kept being on me, Maurice. They were like, “You got to figure something out. You got to figure it out. What if I could find the supplies?” I was like, “You know what? Here’s $20 for gas and another 20 for the supplies. Be gone. Go ahead and do what you need. Let me know how it turns out.”

When she came back, Maurice, she had $5.56 change. I said, “What?” That was the day we started the Think Like A Designer kits. During COVID, Maurice, what was crazy, we gave out 56 kits that year. 56 kits. We went outdoors. We went to Staples outdoor back-to-school sales. We went to churches. We were in basements. We were at YMCAs. Young people just really, really gravitated.

We put educational curriculum. We put an empathy map, a user discovery sheet. We made these cards where you could think about, and they’ve just been selling. We’re just now finishing the detailed instructions for that, so we’ve been selling those. The design learning challenges, we’ve always done those in some shape or form in whatever activity we’ve put on.

When the libraries kind of peeked open a little bit, they were looking for content. We used our digital design workshop series. We taught Adobe Express. We taught Adobe InDesign. We taught Adobe Illustrator. We were in the maker space at our public library. Kids could Zoom in, and they could also come in person. The library had a certain amount. You couldn’t go past six people in a room or something like that. Those programs all did so super, super, super well.

So now that we’re a little bit past COVID, not done with it, but now that we’re a little bit past it, I’ve been able to create online materials as well as in-person materials and then curriculum. Because, ultimately, what I really want is a line of stationery items for kids to be able to draw and to sketch and to be able to access that are very economically reasonable. Those are the kind of things that we’ve been putting in the kits and into the swag bags and stuff like that. But it’s been exciting to see their response to them.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s just so amazing to hear how much you’re doing in the community. When we first met, it was because I heard about the work you were doing back there in Cleveland with this design company called GoMedia. GoMedia used to have an event conference roughly every year called … I’m blanking on the name. Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, That’s what it’s called.

So you have really been going hard for design in Cleveland for a long time. You even have on your IG profile, the phrase, “A believer in Cleveland.” Why is making an impact in Cleveland so important for you?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work in many places. Maurice. I’ve been one of the consultants for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. I traveled with the museum for three and a half years doing programs in other cities. After the second or third time we were in San Francisco, I actually had one of the educators like, “Oh yeah, we did one of your workshops in my classroom, and it went so great.”

I was like, “So my stuff is working here in San Francisco. My stuff is working in Detroit. My stuff is working in Oakland. My stuff is working in DC. My stuff’s working in Baltimore. My stuff’s working in Philly.” I was just like, “You know what? I need to rectify that. I need to be able to go home and do the work where I know the need is and be able to do it for young people who look just like me, who come from places where I came from, and who probably went to some of the same schools I went to.”

So it became very important to me quickly to be able to make that kind of impact here in Cleveland. I’m regularly asked, why am I doing DesignExplorr in Cleveland? I’m regularly asked that. But I don’t see it not happening in Cleveland. I feel like if I can make it work in Cleveland, I can make it work anywhere.

Maurice Cherry:
Well said. Well said. What’s next for DesignExplorr? How can people out there listening support your work?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Oh gosh, there’s so many ways. Well, first of all, you can support the work by supporting the young people. A lot of times, they’re looking for opportunities, whether they be full-time work experiences, whether they be entry-level positions, internships, externships, remote intensives. All of these things are necessary for designers of color, particularly those who are transitioning into the workforce.

So when you have a position and you call me and you’re like, “Hey, Jacinda, can you just pass this out to your network?” Well, that’s great, but for those positions who are already for experienced designers, but what about passing me positions that young designers, designers who are looking between one to three years or one to five years for, what about giving me those kind of opportunities?

The second thing that people can support me with is being able to furnish and bring the center to fruition. Right now, I just bought chairs, which were incredibly expensive, but we didn’t have any chairs before. So I had to buy chairs. I was only able to buy six desks. So that’s kind of what I have to house 10 to 20 students working on right now. We definitely need assistance for that.

Right now, I’m paying the internet bill. It’s challenging because I don’t have the regular package. I got the package for when young people come in, they can use that because they’re in this space now. So that is super helpful. Maurice, it’s so serious right now. I have promoted my father to chief logistics officer. His responsibility is keeping snacks in here so we don’t fall out from hunger and from thirst. So that is what he has been doing. That’s what his contribution has been to DesignExplorr.

I also think another thing that the profession, designers who are currently working, organizations, they can help me to fund the work that the young people are doing. That’s a very, very important one because it’s easy to say, “Oh, I want to help you, Jacinda.” But when you say you want to help me, what I really need to know is, are you willing to help them? Because that’s what I want. Some people think, “Oh, I only want to help you. I don’t want to help them.” I don’t see us not being together in this movement.

Maurice Cherry:
I get that about Revision Path, too. People will say they want to support the show, but not me, or maybe the other way around. That’s so weird.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Maurice, I’ve literally had people like, “Well, I know you have a lot of young people that you’re mentoring, Jacinda, but what do you need?” What I need is for them to be successful. That is what I need. Right now, they say I’m doing a lot of strange stuff for a hunk of change to make it happen. So what I need is for people who are interested in not just helping me do something, to help me help them do something. That’s what I want, because they are coming out of the woodwork.

Every time I think one is gone or they’ve got a position somewhere, then another one up here is like, “Hey, can you help me write my resumé? Can you help me with my LinkedIn page?” Just being able to provide the resources to get them that kind of help, even in getting their taxes done, all of these things that you did when you were a young professional, those are all the same types of things that I need right now.

Maurice Cherry:
So I want to touch on your time with AIGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. You were the chair from 2016 to 2018. Now that I think back on it, I recommended you to join the task force, I think, maybe sometime around 2015 or so. So the fact that you moved up to a leadership spot that quickly really says a lot. But when you look back at that time, what comes to mind? Do you have any feelings in particular?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Yes, Maurice. I have a lot of feelings. It was hard. For an organization who kept saying they wanted diversity, every time I pitched something, every time I proposed something, every time I suggested something, every time I identified an opportunity, it was just always a fight to get them to want to do it. I understand that there were people there who were in direct opposition of that goal, of that mission. I know that now. But in the moment, Maurice, it was hard.

It was two years. Because, remember, I sat on the task force for two years and then I chaired for another two years. I also served as emeritus for another year, year and a half. When you asked me about that, it was just hard and, dare I say it, unnecessarily hard. So I regularly think about those times and those activities and those relationships. But it was just super, super hard.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That task force stuff was … I mean I remember my time. I was there from, I think, 2014 to 2017. We had a change in guard. And then it just kind of felt like some things were being hamstrung in terms of how we tried to get certain things done. We couldn’t really operate as a group. It was more of a reactionary sort of thing.

I don’t know. I look back at that time because I got to meet y’all. I got to meet you. I got to meet Dian, some of the other great folks. But I look back and I’m like, “Did we really do anything?”

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
I mean, Maurice, that was one of the reasons why I fought so hard for the archiving because we talk about the task force that I chaired through the research and through the deep dives. I found out that there had been three before us. There had been three task force before us. To learn that that happened made it even more surreal because you’re like, “Wait a minute. What?”

So the first thing I did was I went and I found many of the old task force members. Many of them were done like, “You’re with who? Oh no.” Click. I got hung up on a lot. I was able to get a couple of people to still talk with me, to still participate. I was even able to get one young man to join, Andrew Bass. I was able to get him to come back and share his knowledge and to ask AIGA to archive his things because he had material from his task force that he also was saving.

So that part, I don’t even know if they even really, really archived it because it’s not public. So I can’t go anywhere. I don’t see anywhere on the website where I can access the archives. And then they’ve recently done a website update. So that meant all the stuff that I archived during the task force that I was over, I don’t even know where that materials went.

So it’s hard because they’re saying that they want people who are interested in moving forward. They don’t want to talk about the past. They don’t want people to keep bringing it up. We wouldn’t feel this strain if it was just public because it’s supposed to be about the profession. It’s supposed to be about the profession. It’s supposed to be about the organization. So why not put the things that need to be and that can be out, out?

So that archiving piece was super … That was a big thing for me while I was there. So when you talk about what resulted out of it, I probably am sitting on a plethora of digital assets, all of the impact reports because we did two impact reports the years that I was there, archiving the photography, even photographing the things that were happening whenever we were in different places.

We also had two meetups during the time period where I was chair. It was super awesome because we even got an opportunity to have a task force retreat as well. Those are the things that I fought for, and I use the word, fought, I fought for during those times. It was challenging internally and externally. So when you asked, I’m like, “It was hard.” It was really, really hard and really unnecessarily hard.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I mean I would say, given the way that the website is now, I don’t think they archived anything because … Well, let me walk that back. Do I think there are archives? Yes. Are there archives that will ever be available publicly on the website? Probably not, because Heather still works there. This is a different Heather, not GoMedia Heather. This is Heather Strelecki, I think is her name. She’s the keeper of the guard with the archive.

So I think some of that stuff is still archived there. I don’t think it’ll ever see the light of day on the website. I mean I don’t even know if the website is even that up-to-date because the folks that they have listed for the task force aren’t affiliated with the task force anymore.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Yeah. I noticed that as well. I think that my time at AIGA made me a lot more interested in if the challenges that I was having were just in one organization. So what I did was I joined many other organizations. Anybody knows I’m an organizational junkie. I probably am in far too many organizations. I’m intrigued because I know the power of what can happen when you get a group of people together who all want the same thing and who are all willing to do the work required. I know what that’s like.

But finding it within some of these organizations and finding that they’re interested in this racial diversity and these seven levels of diversity, that’s what I’m always looking for. So I participate on IDSA’s council. They have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. There’s a great, great Facebook NOMA group out, and I love being in that group. I’m also heavily involved in many of the student chapters. I love being able to support them online.

We do a huge proponent of student spotlights. Actually, I was working on a project with Prairie Review in Texas, and I also had a great opportunity to visit Jennifer’s class at Bowie State. That’s actually where the idea for the student spotlights came from because each of them had these … I would go down there and look at their work. Jennifer would let me in her classes and talk with the students, and they had tons of questions. Everybody got questions.

I’m like, “I need to do something about that.” I knew I was already, quote, unquote, “My bandwidth had been exhausted.” But I’m like, “These students are just truly, truly talented.” Who knows? What happens when Black and brown designers graduate? What happens? Nothing that I knew of. It didn’t happen for me. So I’m like, “What if I could create a platform where they could have a little recognition?” Where they could be acknowledged for their accomplishments and where we as professionals could acknowledge, “Hey, young designer, congratulations. I’d love to look at your portfolio.”

So we’ve been carrying that for a few years now. But being able to see what’s going on in these organizations, it always gives me great ideas of what else we need to do. When I worked with IDSA, I actually wrote and developed a map that charts all of the youth design organizations that I had been charting for the last five years. So if you go to the IDSA innovation page, you’ll see the map that I developed there. Our hope is to be able to update that with them one year.

But I love joining these organizations to see is the promise achievable? Is the promise feasible? How realistic is it? Is it realistic in this organization? Why keep joining? I’m looking forward to seeing it one day. There are lots of challenges, but I believe that it’s possible. It just might take some time, and you just got to have the right group of people involved. So that’s why I keep joining. That’s why I keep looking.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. One last thing with AIGA and we’ll move on from it. Any thoughts on its current state, with Bennie being the new executive director? They’re bringing the conference back in-person. They’re doing a gala this year in October, actually, this month, the month we’re recording. They’re doing it in Seattle.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
I have heard about that. I’m kind of challenged in a couple of ways. My first thought is, Maurice, I’m tired of the pontification that happens amongst elite designers. So when I learned of all the stuff that AIGA was doing, I quickly went to see what are you doing for young designers? What are you doing for Black young designers? What are you doing? Maurice, I don’t see much.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t think you saw anything, probably. Let’s keep it a buck. You probably didn’t see anything.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
I don’t see much because, again, remember I told you I’m all about trying to refer and I’m all about trying to share resources with the young designers that I have right now. I’m looking for things for them to get involved in. I’m looking for things for them to say, “Hey, Jacinda, I love that. Can you share more of that with me?” Even though I had a difficult situation with AIGA, I remain hopeful, and I just haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t seen it yet.

That’s another reason why now I’m in a place where I’ve done the national groups. I’m looking at local chapters now. So I stay active in my local chapter because at least I can see the impact here. Because when I go to the national site, I don’t see it. IDSA recently had an awesome conference. They had women industrial designers all convene. Maurice, I was like, “Wow.” There was a component of young industrial designers who came.

I met many of the students who were there in the young designers. For me, the importance and the significance of professional design organizations, to me, it’s only about the impact that they are giving to young designers. It’s that servitude leadership. It’s that serving. How are you serving? It can’t only be to a bunch of rich elite designers. It’s got to be to all of designers. I don’t see much. I’m looking. I’m looking. I’m always looking.

I’m on the email list twice because they double emailing me. So I haven’t seen quite the thing yet. When I do share their resources with the young designers that I have, they’re disconnected because the young designers that I have are trying to get into the workforce, and so those materials seem out of touch.

Maurice Cherry:
Fair assessment. That’s a fair assessment.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Yeah. When you ask about the new leadership, I have called. I have sat in meetings with … The meetings are challenging and frustrating because they have a lot to achieve, and they have a lot that they are working for. And again, I don’t see the how and the where and the when with Black and brown designers. So when you ask, it’s hard.

Maurice Cherry:
We’ll leave it there. We’ll leave it there with AIGA. Whose work are you inspired by now?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
It’s really weird, Maurice. It’s not that I don’t love designers still. It’s not that I don’t love designers, but I really feel like I’m in this evolution of a design career. So I’m in a place now where I can look at other aspects. I really look to educators now. I look to how educators are creating curriculum and impact. I look to how there are many design educators who are writing textbooks now. I would love to get into that.

There are a group of educators right now who are working to create a documentary. So it’s those kind of things. Honorable mention, I’m always inspired by young designers. So right now, the one young man I was working with, Aaron Mann, he just produced his book, Equal by Design. It’s actually online. I already bought my copy. I suggest y’all buy yours. So I’m inspired by books and materials written for and by young designers.

There’s a young man in New York. I cannot think of his name off the top of my head, but he has a game about being a designer, also.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, Deon Mixon.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Deon. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
We had a great conversation. That’s inspiring because they see it. Whereas as young designers, they see the challenges and they’re just going after them. As opposing to where I find senior designers, we’re trying to figure it out. We’re trying to do fundraising. We’re trying to talk. Young designers, they’re like, “We should do this. Let’s make it. Let’s put it out there.” So I’m like, “You need me to support that? Let me help you help yours.”

There’s another design organization here in Cleveland. It’s called Battle of the Teal, and they have a performing arts and a visual arts competition, and being able to work with them. Actually, one of the young ladies that I’m mentoring right now, she was a winner in this competition about two years ago. So she’s just needed resources. So every year, I refer like, “Hey, here’s a great summer program to get into.”

She reached out to me when she was trying to understand, Maurice, how to coordinate her Google calendar with her art classes. So we’re looking through this. I’m like, “Honey, you supposed to let some of these calendars go.” She’s like, “Oh.” So it’s these aha moments that I look for resources and that I remain inspired by. She wants to draw, and she’s just trying to figure out how to get her homework done so she can finish her animation project.

So these are the kind of things I’m inspired by. It’s not that I’m not inspired by any of the big designers. It’s not that at all. I’m still in love with the work that Gail Anderson is doing. I love what Eddie Opara’s doing. I love what the Hue Design Summit team of young designers is doing. I need things to meet mission and meet impact now. It’s even more important than ever for us to be able to accomplish these things together.

Maurice Cherry:
What haven’t you done yet that you still want to do?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
It’s still a really long list. I still have a lot of things I want to do. Where I’m at right now is when I see something that’s already on my list that I want to do and somebody else is doing it, “Hey, how can I help you do that?” Because truth be told, Maurice, I don’t have the bandwidth. That’s another reason why I need the center because I don’t have the space or the calendar time. Y’all going to have to come here.

What are some things that I still want to do? I really, really want to have a precollege residency program. I saw the one that they had at Ringling and, Maurice, it was awesome. It was awesome. To be able to have something like that in the Black community would be stellar. It could be a chart-making, data-increasing, design profession-changing aspect. This program was a mixture of the Young Scholars program. It was a mixture of the Urban League’s Young Professionals curriculum and creativity all round up in one.

I was like, “How can I make a DesignExplorr one?” I don’t have the resources to do it how they’re doing it. But the way that they are engaging with the students every summer, the way that they provide practical experience, the nurturing, because that’s a huge thing. That’s definitely high up on my list. That’s very, very high up on my list of next things for DesignExplorr.

Maurice Cherry:
At this stage of your career, how do you measure success? What does it look like for you now?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
It looks like legacy. It looks like legacy, and it looks like impact. If those two things aren’t involved, I don’t know why I’m here. So I want to be able to know that the young people that I have mentored, that I have had conversations with, who I’ve been working with on their careers, that they’re successful. So every time I see one of them and they’re doing something crazy big, I’m like, “Maybe. Maybe I’ve made an impact. Maybe.”

Last weekend I was at an expo here in Cleveland and, Maurice, you would have loved this. Three of the young people that I had mentored, they were having their own booths selling their own businesses and products. They came down and visited me, and we just talked. They talked to some of the young designers that were at the table volunteering for me. It was like full cycle. You know what I’m saying? Full cycle going on.

So that was thrilling. That was thrilling to be able to see and witness that part of it. I don’t know, Maurice. It’s got to be a legacy because I want to be able to know that all of this went and worked for something and someones, a whole bunch of someones.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Have you thought out what you want this next chapter of the legacy to be, especially now that you’ve got the center?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
Yeah. Everything is going to be about the center, and it’s going to be about that residency program. When I analyze and I look at the profession, and you know I’m a huge data nerd, so I’m always looking at the numbers. I’m always reading the BLS numbers. I’m always looking at the NASAD numbers. I’m always looking at these things. If we don’t create a better pathway and not just better, I’m talking more access, more inclusion, more resources, more everything, I don’t know if our numbers will ever really, really go up.

So when you say five years, Five years for me is this lifting off this residency program. Five years for me is getting more of the TakeOver programs in schools. Five years for me is getting the young designers that I work with more actual real experience with actual clients, not just pet project kind of things, but real things. To me that’s five years. But I signed a five-year lease, Maurice. So five years is not long for me. It’s not long.

Maurice Cherry:
It’ll be here before you know it. I’m telling you.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
I agree. I agree. So the planning and the implementation of it is always strategic. It’s always strategic. But the most important thing about it is staying focused on it. So now that I have the space, I will be able to focus on that residency program. I feel like that could catch a lot. That can really, really, really help close the gap and, ultimately, that’s really all I want.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more information about you and your work and the center? Where can they find all this online?

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
You can find me at DesignExplorr, and it’s D-E-S-I-G-N-E-X-P-L-O-R-R. And yes, that’s two R’s. We spell it real gangsta here. You can find me there on all the channels, so Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, all of the above.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Dr. Jacinda Walker, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean I had you on the show years and years ago. You and I, of course, have worked side by side together, have gone through this whole crazy design industry in different ways. You were the last designer that I saw at an in-person event back in 2020 when you were out in LA when we did our live show.

I mean it never ceases to amaze me how tireless your efforts are and your work is towards making sure that you are setting the stage for the next generation of designers. I don’t know anybody that’s operating at the level that you are when it comes to doing this. I’m just so glad not just to have you on the show, but to call you a friend as well. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Dr. Jacinda Walker:
You are super welcome, and I appreciate you always reaching back to keep me involved and keep me engaged. So kudos to you and the success of the show as well.

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This week’s guest is Michael Hollander, senior character animator at Telltale Games. You’ve no doubt seen his work through some of their best-selling titles, including Batman, The Walking Dead, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. (And if you were a kid in the 90s like I was, you’ll probably recognize him from the unsung superhero action series V.R. Troopers!) Wait until you hear his story!

Michael talked about how he got his big break into acting and modeling, and the shift that occurred which changed his career trajectory towards design and animation. Michael also has a lot of great advice for those of you looking to get into the entertainment industry, and we briefly touch on the issues of diversity and representation. It’s really inspiring and amazing to hear how Michael has carved out a niche for himself, and I really think you’ll learn a lot from his experiences. This interview is a great one!

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