Christine Ortiz is the creative serial entrepreneur behind Equity Meets Design, a think-and-do tank that approaches design thinking with a focus on equity and anti-racism. She got her start by co-founding a consulting agency at the age of 17 that focused on participatory design. In college, she realized she couldn’t find relevant literature surrounding equitable design thinking, so decided to create it herself. The framework that emerged, EquityxDesign, was co-authored by Caroline Hill and Michelle Molitor, with all three women using this framework to develop their own organizations.
Now, Christine’s working with clients on how to shift their design framework towards true innovation and equity. She’s expanding the business into courses, workshops, and an apprenticeship that will grow others who want to work within equitable design processes, no matter the type of design work they do.
Have you always known you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
So I started my first consulting firm when I was 17, still in highschool. Having relative success at such a young age and having full control over everything was a really great experience, and it made sense to continue to pursue entrepreneurial things. We helped design the truth campaign for the Florida Anti-Tobacco Industry that eventually ran nationwide. After that campaign, we started the firm, which I did during my undergrad to pay my way and then full-time after I graduated. I got a taste of entrepreneurial work so early there wasn’t a reason to consider any other option.
When did your ideas about the philosophy behind EquityxDesign start to form for you?
It was a critical race theory class. I was in the doctoral program and the work that I was doing when I entered the doctoral program was around redesigning schools to be more innovative, which translated as new and different and shiny, but I thought innovation should mean more equitable or anti-racist. That was the beginning where I was like, “How are we ever going to be able to design when our tools and methodologies and frameworks don’t center equity?”
I thought, there must be design tools and innovation tools that do center equity, but where are they? I spent two years trying to find them, to no avail. And I was convinced I was using the wrong search terms, but after speaking with others and going down the research rabbit hole, I couldn’t find anything. At that same time, I was taking a critical race theory class, and the final project was, ‘Apply Critical Race Theory to anything’ and so I applied it to traditional design thinking. That’s when I realized there was something we needed to create and imagine and build into existence because even if we haven’t yet seen an equitable reality, the framework is a step towards a possible equitable future.
What does equitable design mean for you?
Design is often talked about in a transactional way when it comes to empathy. Professional designers are often trying to problem-solve separately from the people who are experiencing the problem, and it’s in that separation that there’s a problem. While human-centered design is a step in the right direction, equitable design is saying that the people closest to the problem should hold the most power by getting to decide the problems, solutions, and whether or not they’re working. At its core, it’s about rethinking power and relationships, and digging deeper past focus groups and community engagement to actually doing the thing, and allowing the people most proximate to the problem to make the key decisions.
The business that formed from your dissertation work was Equity Meets Design. Could you tell us a little bit more about your business and what your future plans are?
I’ll say there’s two parts. EquityxDesign is our framework. It’s our core beliefs, it’s our design principles, the process of doing equitable design. Then, there’s Equity Meets Design, which is an organization that I built, which we say is a “think and do tank,” so we think and research and then we test out these tools in the real world with our clients in the consulting portion of our business.
Now we’re transitioning into educating and getting our work out there in different ways, like online courses and webinars, and we’re working on an apprenticeship program because in my own journey, I made a lot of mistakes and there was so little support, especially as a woman of color in entrepreneurship. We want to help prop up other organizations like ours and offer support. We want to teach others in the space, how do you design a good course, how do you design a good workshop, and then the business side of that is how do you design a business model that’s equitable and not exploitative and extractive. And of course, in a way that you’re still building wealth for yourself and your family and your community. So that’s the transition point we’re in right now, which is really exciting.
Jessica writes about culture, innovation, and cities from a cute little apartment in Madrid, Spain. She’s currently working on her newsletter that talks about the intersection of BIPOC artists and tech. You can find her on Twitter at @Jayaramoss.