Women lead supporter interview: Jacinda Walker

For AIGA Women Lead’s first interview series, we sat down with women pioneers at colleges, design studios, agencies, and large companies to share their unique stories: the journey from mentee to mentor, frank assessments of women and the design field today, and how they’ve demonstrated a commitment to gender equity in the workplaces they now lead.


As a designer, entrepreneur, instructor, and chair of the AIGA Diversity & Inclusion task force, Jacinda Walker has a breadth of experience that gives her the particular ability to see where design is lacking the most. Walker spoke with AIGA executive director Julie Anixter about how she took on the responsibility of looking out for others from an early age, why negative stereotypes present additional layers of destruction for Black women, and why for her, increased numbers of female design students (paired with professional development opportunities) can offer a glimmer of hope that we can all harness.

What is your current role at AIGA and as design researcher? What did you do before you did this?

I am a graphic designer, entrepreneur, and instructor. I currently chair AIGA’s Diversity & Inclusion task force, which is a 22-member group of multi-disciplinary designers across 13 states and 16 AIGA chapters that serve on four action-oriented sub-committees. As the task force chair, my role is to educate and bring about further awareness around issues of diversity and inclusion in design. I coordinate and plan activities in collaboration with task force members, the Chair Emeritus, and AIGA’s national office, particularly strategic initiatives and chapter development departments.

Prior to leading the task force, I was the senior in-house graphic designer at the City of Cleveland’s Division of Water. At the Division of Water, my responsibilities included producing promotional materials, designing corporate publications, establishing graphic standards, coordinating design service vendors, and managing design assistants and interns. During that time, I also mentored more than 10 young designers on portfolio presentations, professional development, and career planning. The challenges my mentees faced compelled me to wonder about the design journey, and ultimately, fueled my desire to find ways to expose African American and Latino youth to design-related careers.

We know you recently completed your graduate studies at The Ohio State University, where your research focused on diversity in design. Tell us about it and what you are currently doing with it.

So, my research explores diversity in design disciplines and presents fifteen strategic ideas to expose African American and Latino youth to design-related careers. This produced my “Design Journey Map” framework, which identifies four design principles needed to close the diversity gap in design disciplines.

This undertaking inspired me to start designExplorr, a design education organization that works to address challenges along the design journey, and partners with individuals who want to bring diversity to the industry in a powerful way. Right now, I’m working on a few projects that do this. The first, of course, is chairing AIGA’s Diversity and Inclusion task force, which gives me a first-hand opportunity to work with a notable organization in their pursuit to make the organization—and its 72 chapters—inclusive.

I’m also working to make designExplorr sustainable, and to launch its first #1DesignGoal tour. The tour works to expose youth to design by visiting schools, delivering presentations, hosting workshops, and facilitating design challenges. As of April 1 we reached 130 young people. People can get involved to help me reach this goal by logging onto designExplorr.com and sharing the names of people, potential organizations, educational institutions, and special interest programs you recommend I contact to share my love of design.

I’m also partnering with Design Diversity on a diversity-building initiative in northeast Ohio to create the Design Diversity Index, which is a tool for measuring progress toward achieving diversity goals. It will collect, maintain, and aggregate data on the number of African Americans and Latinos in design schools, programs, and professional organizations by integrating a range of disciplines that include architecture, landscape architecture, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, and urban design to benefit students, parents, and organizations themselves.

How were you encouraged to be a leader and to grow other leaders?

I was first encouraged to be a leader at home, by my mother. I'm the oldest of six children and the first in my family to go to college: my mother always reminded me that as the oldest, I had a responsibility to look out for others.

In college, my first Black female supervisor was a mentor to me. She never let me forget that being creative was a gift to be nurtured by education. It was these lessons that helped me grow other leaders by becoming a mentor myself and taking an active role in several young designer’s personal and professional development.

What are the specific challenges for women, and particularly women of color, in creative and design roles?

The main challenge I see for women in design roles is the damage preconceived negative stereotypes can play. I am sure all women—and even girls—have heard a negative stereotype relating to education or career choices. Negative stereotypes such as ‘angry’ or ‘aggressive’ present additional layers of destruction for Black women. Escaping these are exhausting. And the earlier we hear these stereotypes in our lives or careers, the deeper they can latch into our esteem.

Many of these negative stereotypes manifest in design through the lack of opportunities for promotions, outdated HR policies, the assignment of creative roles, and expectations as to your physical appearance. But it’s the increase of female student enrollment at many universities and the increase of women entrepreneurs that, in my mind, offer a glimmer of hope to the fairer sex. As women share their voice, gain more success, promote one another, and cover more ground the effectiveness of these stereotypes will change.

You've had some great mentors and some great role models in your lifetime. What are some of the key things you've learned from them about leadership?

Yes! I was fortunate to be surrounded by amazing Black women that unbeknown to them, served as my role models and mentors. Although I never had a Black woman as a design mentor while I was growing up, I attribute much of my success to the Black women who surrounded me on my design journey—beginning with my mother, who was a single parent, incredibly creative, and undoubtedly the strongest Black woman I have ever known. And throughout my life there’ve been other significant Black women like her.

Then during my college years, there was Ms. Coleen Curry. She was not only the first Black professional career woman I ever saw, but she’d occasionally place me in leadership positions around the office. Then after graduation, when I landed my first big job, I met Montrie Rucker Adams who taught me about perseverance, confidence, and integrity. These Black women, and many others, always lifted me in spirit and kept me moving forward even in times of struggle.

What have you learned now that you wish you’d known ten years ago?

I’ve learned to enjoy the moments. I am a very ambitious and goal-oriented person. It’s easy to be working on a goal with others in sight, and then forget to enjoy the moment of completion. But as I have grown, so has my appreciation of time, which helps me to remember to enjoy the moments.

What advice do you have for companies and educational institutions that want women leaders to be successful?

I’d advise educational institutions and companies to increase their investments toward the success of women leaders by developing leadership programs for girls and providing opportunities within companies to show that all positions are possible.

I’d also like to see increasing professional development, because after reviewing the AIGA’s design census, life expectancy and educational enrollment rates, the increase of leadership roles, and the rise of female presence in entrepreneurship… it’s easy to see the future is female.

But if this isn’t convincing enough, I encourage our male counterparts to recognize the innate marketable skills women bring to the workforce—collaboration, strategic thinking, and intuition—that have increased quality, development, and profit margins across the world.


About Jacinda Walker

Jacinda Walker headshotJacinda Walker is the founder of designExplorr, an organization that celebrates design learning by creating opportunities to introduce youth to design. She also is Chair, of AIGA’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force. With over 20 years as a designer, entrepreneur and instructor, her work ranges from designing corporate communications to developing educational programs and event management. She earned both her A.A.B. and B.F.A. in graphic design from the University of Akron and a M.F.A in Design Research and Development with a minor in Nonprofit Studies from The Ohio State University. Her research explores diversity in design disciplines and investigates strategies to expose underrepresented youth to design-related careers. Jacinda is a strong advocate for young people and proudly mentors several design students on portfolio presentations, professional development and career planning. Her future goals include working with museums and communities to establish design education initiatives and developing design programs for underrepresented youth.