February 2023
Issue #5


This Month

Hello folks! And thank you for checking out The Magic Word. Here's what you'll find in this month's issue.




Some thoughts on COMMUNITY

In conversation with ...
Sandra Camacho

Resource smörgåsbord

Community (noun) All the people who live in a particular area or place; a group of people who are similar in some way.¹

There’s a lot to be said about the word community, especially within the context of equity-centered design. From a design perspective, the work is about co-creation with community and the stakeholders most impacted by the work. To meet community goals and mitigate harm. Community, in short, is foundational.

But we’re going to look at community from a slightly different angle today. This month, we’re considering what community means more broadly within the field of design. What can a community of designers and innovation practitioners look like? And how might we learn from and with each other in community?

Over a decade ago I started in this work through a passion for food and food justice. Within the food system, there’s a remarkable community of practitioners and activists all across the food chain from agriculture to commercial kitchens, and in areas of expertise ranging from policy to culinary arts to local distribution. Folks are passionate about what they do and eager to cultivate relationships with peers and collaborate in meaningful ways. I’ve always felt grounded, supported, and connected within the food community.

As I developed my focus on equity-driven design, I wasn’t quite sure what that community of practitioners looked like. I didn’t go to design school, and I worked in-house at a national nonprofit dedicated to school food. But I knew that engaging with other practitioners was essential for my own growth, so I took every opportunity I could to meet other designers, from taking cohort-based online courses, to reaching out to people I found on Google.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that there was an incredible community of designers out there dedicated to centering equity in their work. And—in perhaps not-so-shocking news—as I began developing relationships with practitioners working across a diversity of fields, I was reminded that professional communities can be about so much more than professional growth. Over the years, these individuals have become thought partners, cheerleaders, collaborators, and friends. We support and challenge each other, invest in our shared field, and work together to contribute to a broader movement.

It’s through one of these communities that I originally connected with February’s featured interviewee. I was lucky enough to meet Sandra Camacho, an inclusive design consultant, educator and strategist, through the Equity Army two years ago. Since then, I’ve learned from and with her, and been able to watch the development of her global learning community, Inclusive Design Jam, which launches formally this spring. She’s here this month to share her thoughts on the power of community-based learning experiences and the role of community in inclusive design education. I hope you enjoy!


Some thoughts on

- Lucy


Sandra, I’m really excited to chat with you for this month’s issue! Can you share with our readers a bit about who you are, what you do, and what brought you to your work?


In conversation with...

Thanks so much for having me, Lucy! From a personal lens, I’m a Latina woman of multiracial heritage (European, Indigenous and African) with 3 passports. I was born in Colombia, grew up in the U.S. and have been living in France for nearly 10 years. 

Professionally, I consider myself an inclusive design consultant, coach and educator, with the latter being my primary focus. In simple terms, I help values-led teams make “social change by design” a reality. This means helping them anchor mindsets, behaviors, culture and systems in principles of inclusion, ethics, equity and justice. That way, they can build products, services, experiences and environments that truly uplift and delight as many people as possible while tearing down barriers to access.

I’ve taken a bit of a winding path toward this work of design-meets-social-justice! I’ve definitely been inspired by my personal experiences as a “third culture kid,” as I’ve had to navigate the world as a cultural and ethnic “other” since I was 6. This led me to my undergraduate studies in Politics, Culture and Identity, which have become the academic underpinnings of my work.

Design first showed up in my life as a hobby as a kid (I taught myself how to design websites when I was 9!) and eventually as a side project in human-centered design while at Google, where I worked for 8 years. I was able to go deeper into social and inclusive design when I went back to design school for my Master’s Degree in Design Innovation Strategy. This led me to sabbatical leave where I worked at an Education NGO on designing educational experiences for refugees and asylum seekers, which was a really eye-opening experience. It inspired me to leave Google in 2018 and to eventually create my own inclusive design practice the next year.

Sandra Camacho

What does community mean to you as an individual, and as a designer?

Community for me means unspoken understanding, connection and support with a strong sense of reciprocity. I’ve been living in a foreign country for the past 10 years, away from family and friends. And I have to say that the “expat” community has been the only constant that I’ve had here. Even if expat friends have come and gone over the years, there’s something about the shared experience of being an “other” that allows for new connections to be easily forged. I’m very grateful for this community, even if I’m a “French” person on paper (but not in perception and lived experience).

As a designer, community has been vital in promoting my growth and development. As I mentioned earlier, I was deeply invested in a human-centered design side project while at Google for about 5 years. I was part of a global community of HCD practitioners called the Creative Skills for Innovation Lab (CSI:Lab). Through co-facilitation and extensive collaboration, I connected to so many amazing people around the world. We explored new ways of looking at problems, built onboarding programs and new tools together, tested unique facilitation techniques and coached each other. It was a burst of real connection, joy and inspiration that I needed, especially as I navigated a career transition and burnout.

It was only when I left the company and started working on my own that I realized how isolated I felt as an independent practitioner. And that’s what led me to go seeking out community again, this time in the equity and inclusion space. I unfortunately didn’t really find this in person in Paris but online, with people all over the world. And it’s really been such a source of inspiration and guidance for me, even in communities as small as 2 or 3. Community size doesn’t actually matter, so long as you have genuine connections with people!

There seem to be more online educational resources available to designers than ever before. But many of those are intended to be accessed by individuals (such as a pre-recorded course, or a downloadable toolkit). Why do you think it’s important for inclusive design education to be offered through a community learning structure?

I think there’s definitely a place and time for self-serve resources, especially when we think of reducing cognitive load for folks or, in the case of live sessions, making experiences accessible across all time zones. It’s something that we’ll be offering as well in our Inclusive Design Jam Academy, which is our version of an educational hub on inclusive design. 

But I think that, without community, we fall short of the promises of inclusive and equity-centered design. Inclusion and equity is all about centering lived experiences and voices that have been historically and systemically excluded, overlooked and oppressed. And a learning experience on these topics where you’re the sole participant, in my opinion, leaves so many opportunities for richer understanding and connection with others off the table. 

Community fuels accountability, enables critical dialogues and allows others to challenge your thinking as you’re going through learning experiences (which don’t stop at the end of a course). It’s also a big motivator in engaging in active learning! Apparently, most people don’t finish self-paced courses (anywhere from 3% to 30%), while community-based learning makes a big difference in retention and completion rates (with the latter going up to 90%). Community really brings learning alive.

That’s also why I’m experimenting building these learning experiences with the community, rather than on my own. And why we’re leaning into equity-based pricing and other equitable measures to ensure that we can democratize as much as possible access while centering marginalized voices. It’s usually folks in dominant or majority groups who are more likely to have the funds to access this sort of education. And the last thing I want to do is perpetuate that same inequity in our community by gatekeeping access with high price points.

My vision is to adopt a social enterprise model where we can offer high quality educational materials for free and also facilitate access to paid offerings via flexible payment schemes, peer donations and corporate sponsorships. It’s an experimental educational model that I hope we can scale over time.

I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of this year’s first community course. Where can folks go if they want to learn more about you and your work?

I (shamelessly) share your eagerness! I’m really excited for us to put out our first set of free resources into the world – which are coming in February 2023 – and to start testing our paid learning experiences, including a series of bootcamps and our community course.

For those who are interested in joining us in our free community of practice, you can join us at inclusivedesignjam.com/join. Our educational hub, The Inclusive Design Jam Academy, will officially launch in February 2023 (and will hopefully scale over time). Stay updated by signing up for our newsletter and Instagram where we will announce the launch of our latest resources and programs!

For those who wish to follow my work specifically, you can find me on my website at sandrabydesign.com, on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram) and via the Inclusive Design Digest, my biweekly newsletter.

Last year, you launched an online community for designers globally called the Inclusive Design Jam, which currently offers a range of opportunities for connection and learning, from workshops to space for conversation on Slack. What inspired you to create the Inclusive Design Jam?

This was actually influenced by my own search for community in DEI & inclusive/equity design spaces. I kept finding that the communities unintentionally catered primarily to folks in North America (and corresponding time zones), mostly because that’s where the majority of people in these communities reside.

Since I found myself in Europe and at the intersection of multiple countries and cultures (as a Franco-Colombian-American), I wanted to create a community that would be more intentionally decentralized – but that would stand side-by-side and in solidarity with other communities.

I also wanted to lean more intentionally into education, advocacy and hands-on practice. It seemed like a lot of content around inclusive design stopped at theory and lacked real-world applicability. And that’s where the concept of an “Inclusive Design Jam” came from, which is a play off of a design jam. It’s a sort of education sandbox where we can explore these concepts at different levels and learn with and from each other through workshopping, critical dialogue and improvisation.

[Image description: Sandra is smiling in a portrait photograph. She is standing in front of stone columns and is wearing a green jacket.]


Resource smörgåsbord

Every month we'll share a variety of books, articles, podcasts, and other resources on the month's concept and other topics at the intersection of food x equity x design.

Developed by George Aye and Greater Good Studio, this database includes over 150 design organizations from all over the world working on systemic social issues. Click here to read the full primer on the purpose of the database and how to think about it.

Inclusive Design Jam is a global learning community of changemakers committed to making access and use of products, services and environments equal to all. We empower changemakers to design for inclusion, equity and justice through learning, knowledge transfer, and ongoing practice.

Design Forge (event)
March 29–31, 2023

Design Forge is a hybrid/hyflex, interactive, and collaborative convening designed to support your efforts to cultivate participatory placemaking projects with strategies and networks of support. Sessions are free.

Facilitate for Freedom Fundamentals Training (event)
Multiple dates available

AORTA's Facilitate for Freedom Fundamentals Training lays the groundwork for anyone interested in anti-oppression facilitation. AORTA offers public trainings at different rates depending on your individual and organizational access to money and wealth. The sliding scale is an intentional effort to distribute resources equitably between organizations and organizers they work with.

¹ “Community Definition and Meaning: Collins English Dictionary.” Community definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Accessed January 12, 2023. https://www.collinsdictionary.com /us/dictionary/english/community.

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