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Diversity in Design: Previous Scholarship Students Share their Insights and Advice

Diversity in design is an important topic to us at Shillington and we aim to support and strengthen equity by cultivating diverse and inclusive representation in the design industry—within our classrooms and beyond.

For the last two years, we’ve been running full Diversity in Design scholarships and industry mentorships, a commitment by Shillington to cultivate diverse and inclusive representation in the design industry—open to aspiring designers from underrepresented groups.

This year’s scholarships open on 7 June. So, in the meantime, have a read through some insights and advice from three of previous Diversity in Design scholarship recipients: Url Grant, Sam Fraser, Georgina Charles and Dia.

First of all, can you tell us what diversity in design means to you?

Url: As a Black, queer, non-binary designer, Diversity in Design means representation.

I should not be selected for a project with the intent to create diversity. I should be one of multiple different identities that make up a team.

Sam: Diversity in design leads to much more interesting, creative, empathetic and innovative design that just hits different. From my experience of working in a creative field, it’s always so exciting when other people bring themselves into a project and a small idea becomes something much bigger and more meaningful.

Georgina: Diversity in Design is giving a chance to a whole new section of people who want to be designers. Shillington gives technical and industry knowledge that you just can’t learn from Youtube tutorials, and then you’re ready to step into a new career in a matter of months. My hope is that it specifically leads to more visibility for non-binary and female people of colour in the industry.

Dia: Diversity in Design is important to me because as a woman of South Asian descent, growing up, I never felt that a design career was even possible because I never saw people who looked like me in the field. Increasing diversity will lead to greater representation which will inspire people—“if this person who looks like me can do it, then so can I”. It’s so important for younger generations. This is crucial for the design industry too because design is limitless and having people from diverse backgrounds brings unique experiences, values and cultures to the industry

What impact has this scholarship had on your life and career?

Sam: Studying at Shillington has had a huge impact on my life and career! I have gained a ridiculous amount of skills from the course. As I had a job during during the course, being able to work across Adobe Suite and Figma meant I could do more design work in my job and confidently put myself forward for more creative opportunities. It was also quite empowering to receive advice and support from our teachers, and meet super talented and creative people.

Dia: It has been life changing for sure. It provided me access to such a great design education which allowed me to explore various avenues of design and find what I enjoyed the most. For example, I never thought I’d be the kind of girl who enjoyed typesetting or UX but they are two of my most favourite areas and I’m currently further pursuing UX design. From this opportunity, I’ve also built up confidence in my designs and in myself as a designer. I used to take on passion projects but always doubted my ability as a designer because I was never formally trained. I now know what makes good design and I’m confident in my process from start to finish. I’m very excited and grateful to have been able to change my career into design—something I wouldn’t have been able to do without the network I built from my time at Shillington.

Georgina: Well, I can apply to all those demanding entry-level roles with confidence now. Fluency in Adobe achieved! But my eyes have been opened to whole other paths now and turns out, a creative writing degree can be really useful in design! It brought me out of my comfort zone creatively and socially.

I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my abilities, my taste and my future. I’ve met some amazing people and don’t feel like such an imposter anymore.

Url: This scholarship has given me the confidence to consider work beyond NYC. I have always wanted to travel abroad and take my talents on the road and learn the styles of different cities and landscapes. With a portfolio under my belt, I feel like I can explore this opportunity to its greatest potential.

Why did you want to study design and what made you decide on Shillington?

Georgina: I love making art, I would design book covers for stories I wrote and tried to make good-looking social media posts, but I didn’t take myself seriously and was just bumbling through it. When I saw the post for this scholarship, I’d applied for and been rejected by every creative entry-level job that I could see myself being happy in. This was the perfect chance for me to change my luck.

Url: I had been trying to study design for a few years. When I first decided to make that transition, Shillington was the first school I looked at but it was unfortunately out of my price range. When I got the email notification for the Diversity in Design scholarship, I figured I would apply because there wasn’t much to lose and I ended up gaining so much.

Sam: I chose to study design because I really wanted a career change where I could be challenged and flex my creative muscles!

Shillington is such an invaluable opportunity to be taught by industry professionals in a small class setting. And leaving with technical skills, an understanding of design theory and creative principles AND an industry-standard portfolio—how good!?

Dia: Prior to Shillington, I had graduated with a brain imaging degree. I was working part-time in a supermarket and trying to get work when the pandemic hit and everything shut down. This definitely influenced my career change and pushed me to pursue something I actually enjoyed. Growing up, I was always very creative and would spend hours glued to the computer making Myspace graphics for my friends but I never had the opportunity to study design at school. Coming from a South Asian background, I was always told that design wasn’t a “real” career and that I should go down a more traditional route, so I did. I initially found Shillington in 2016 after looking into graphic design schools because that passion never went away. Fast forward to a year ago, I got an email about the Diversity in Design Scholarship, I applied and somehow, everything worked out—I’m so beyond grateful!

Tell us about your creative scholarship submission.

Url: When I started working on my creative submission, I was having trouble trying to decide what to do. I was unsure how vulnerable I was going to be. I am currently in recovery for an eating disorder and breakfast is more of a task for me. While stressing about my creative submission, I realized I had not made breakfast yet. So I decided to record myself making breakfast—I believe it was a bacon egg and cheese.

I had never made a video before but I grew up watching YouTubers, so I had an idea of the format I could use. I wanted to be raw, and decided to do a voice over just explaining the significance of making breakfast for me and what being a designer would mean for me overall. Breakfast is still hard, but being at Shillington gave me a routine that has made it a little easier. I’m regularly snacking in class and look forward to it.

Sam: I wanted to create a short video, but do something a little different to a face-to-camera video—mainly because I’m too awkward for that. I still wanted to show my creativity and personality, so I made a video of a text exchange between me and a friend from their point of view. The messages were essentially my panicked stream of consciousness about whether or not I should apply for the scholarship, how it will impact my life, what I could do for the creative submission, etc.

Georgina: My entry was a comic about a wizard in a grey world who goes to Shillington and learns how to put colour into everything around them. It’s cringe dialled up to 11, but I kind of love it. I looked through the past entries that won scholarships and everything was very intimidating. I saw some really impressive videos and zines and handmade projects and thought that there was no way I could measure up. But I like to draw, and I didn’t see any comics amongst the winners. I was like, hey, I can do that.

What was your most valuable takeaway from this experience?

The whole experience was challenging and pushed me grow so much as a designer but the most valuable thing is that I feel like I’ve finally found my place in this world.

As a creative who was so used to working in science labs and corporate environments, I never felt like I fit in. Being at Shillington and meeting so many wonderful like-minded individuals, I feel like design is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll never forget the first time I went to Bulletproof HQ and I couldn’t believe workplaces like theirs’ existed! Just wow. The founders even named the meeting rooms after hip-hop legends and, as a huge hip-hop fan, I just couldn’t believe it.  

We’re opening up our scholarships again this year what advice would you say to someone working on their scholarship application?

Url: Do not be afraid to be vulnerable. Graphic designers are artists who show sides of themselves that cannot otherwise be described verbally or in written form.

Sam: You can learn the skills when you start classes, so focus on showing how passionate you are about design and your ‘why.’

As for the creative submission, I think the best pieces of design feel that there is a human behind it. Don’t be shy, show some personality.

Georgina: Get a little crazy with it. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and just do what you do best.

I don’t think what you submit has to be particularly beautiful, but it should tell a story and show your personality.

Let the judges get to know who you are!

Tell us why you think accessibility to top design education is important.

Dia: It’s so important because there’s a lot of talented people who might be facing barriers to a design education. Breaking down these barriers will provide opportunity and bring diversity to the design industry.

The quality of the education is so important too. There are a lot of design courses out there which won’t teach you both design theory and the practical skills needed for industry. If you’re going to commit your time and money to an education, you want it to lead to a career. The quality of education at Shillington is top tier. The teachers have a wealth of knowledge and experience. They teach you how to use the software, (Adobe + Figma), work in a collaborative studio environment and help you to build a portfolio which you can show to employers when you graduate.

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about studying at Shillington?

Sam: Do. It. You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s a rare opportunity to do such an intensive, fast-tracked course, learn from the best of the best, and work on exciting briefs. I’ve been so surprised to see how the conceptual and technical creative skills I’ve gained at Shillington have enhanced both my work and life as a whole outside of design.

Dia: If someone didn’t have the confidence to study design I would say just do it! Don’t overthink it, try things and everything will work out how it’s supposed to. The three months at Shillington were amongst the best things I’ve ever done. 

Url: If you have the time and are looking for an artistic outlook, this is definitely the place to be.

Take a chance, you never know unless you take a chance and try.

Then keep trying because this program is no joke.

Georgina: If you want a challenge and you want to change up your life, this is it. If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be? Brace yourself! It’s such a whirlwind of learning and creating, make sure you make time to catch your breath.

I would say definitely socialise with your classmates, take good care of all your notes, and don’t struggle in silence! I had a lot of mental health struggles while I was studying and the teachers were amazing. They made accommodations that I needed and assured me that no one gets left behind. You’ll be in good hands, don’t let that keep you from applying or asking for help when you need it.

What is one word you would use to sum up the Shillington experience?

Empowering. Shillington really set you up with the skills, knowledge and tools you need to go into the industry.

Want to apply for this year’s Diversity in Design scholarship and mentorship scheme? Apply here!

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