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Operations + Human Centered Design + Art with Alvin Schexnider — DT101 E116

Alvin Schexnider is an emancipatory designer and a business operations strategist who helps institutions become more effective, just, citizen-centered, and innovative. He has 15 years of experience in leadership across design, strategy, equity, and business operations in the government, nonprofit and for-profit spaces. Currently he is a part of Capital One’s Equity and Design team as a senior equity design strategist. Outside his day-to-day work, he runs GraffitiVersal, an organization that makes resources to inspire, elevate, and catalyze change. GraffitiVersal’s latest release is called A Continuum of Freeing Design and Vigorous Futures, a card deck detailing an approach for designing for both equitable and just outcomes in the present, and for thriving worlds in the future. We talk about bringing human-centered design to operations and human resources.

Portrait of Alvin Schexnider

Listen to Learn About

  • Alvin’s roundabout road into design
  • Alvin’s experiences at the Greater Good Studio
  • Using design at the Illinois Department of Health during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Alvin’s role as Senior Equity Design Strategist at Capital One

Our Guest

Alvin (he/him) is a designer, futurist, strategist, and illustrator. He’s a right brain / left brained DesignOps leader, with 10 + years of tri-sector people management, who uses foresight and equity to build and vitalize impactful organizations. He leverages his 15 years of experience and leadership across strategy & business operations, multidisciplinary design (service design, human-centered design, equity design), and org change to drive concepting, adoption, and implementation of major initiatives.

At present, he is a Manager, Design Practice & Equity Design on Capital One’s Experience Strategy & Operations Team; previously, he was Sr. Equity Design Strategist in its Equity by Design Program. Before this role, he was Chief People Officer of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS – agency budget of $9 Billion), focused on improving the experience of 14,000 staff while leading a department of 130 people, and before that, he was also Senior Operations Lead for IDHS focusing on strategy, bizops, and service design projects. Alvin began to build capacity in human-centered design as the first Director of Design Operations at Greater Good Studio, a human-centered design firm that works with global foundations, government agencies, and national NGOs.

Outside of his day job, Alvin is also Founder & Organizer of GraffitiVersal — an emancipatory lab using design, art, foresight, & Afrofuturism for change. GraffitiVersal’s Racial DeckEquity Cardset & Continuum of Freeing Design & Vigorous Futures CardDeck have been used at organizations such as: Meta, LAB at OPM, Univ. of Chicago, and Slalom Consulting. He’s also the author of A Kids Book About Radical Dreaming (via A Kids Co.) and is currently writing & illustrating his first Afrofuturist graphic novel for middle schoolers through the Sequential Artists Workshop’s Graphic Novel Intensive.

Besides hanging with his partner and 2 kids, you’ll find him reading N.K. Jemisin or a Black Panther comic book.

Show Highlights

[00:39] Alvin’s love of art and storytelling started early, as a kid creating his own comics.
[05:06] Starting college as a PolySci major with plans to be a lawyer.
[07:18] The moment Alvin realized he didn’t want to pursue law as a career.
[07:56] Moving on to business management studies, and his time in Beijing.
[09:02] Starting his business career at Abbott Laboratories and returning to China.
[13:21] Sidestepping away from for-profit into mission-driven and non-profit spaces.
[15:14] Realizing he had a knack for business operations and systems thinking.
[16:47] How his time as Director of Operations at Greater Good Studio transformed his thinking and started him on his own path into design.
[21:07] Immersing himself in design spaces and in learning design.
[21:57] Taking all he’d learned about human-centered design into his next job — COO of Erie Neighborhood House Services.
[23:52] Getting recruited to work for the Illinois Department of Human Services.
[27:10] During the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvin used design to help shape the department’s response.
[29:19] Redesigning policies and spaces to keep staff healthy as essential workers.
[35:27] Taking over as the head of HR for the department, and working on improving employee experience.
[38:33] Alvin’s current role as the Senior Equity Design Strategist for Capital One’s Equity by Design team.
[43:06] You don’t have to be an official designer to use design in your work.


Alvin Schexnider on LinkedIn
Alvin Schexnider on Medium
GraffitiVersal on Instagram
A Kids Book About Radical Dreaming (A Kids Co Publishing) by Alvin Schexnider – recently released!
Wakanda Forever – A Film Review – Human Futures Magazine
AIGA Chicago Podcast – Designing For: Equity
Interview with Slalom Consulting
Continuum Deck of Freeing Design & Vigorous Futures
Traveling through the spacetime continuum to escape racism

Book Recommendations

Kindred, by Octavia Butler
We Do This Til We Free Us, by Mariame Kaba
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, by Ta Nehisi Coates
Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need, by Sasha Costanza-Chock
This is Service Design Doing, by Marc Stickdorn, Markus Hormess, and Adam Lawrence
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, by Ytasha Womack
Far Sector, by N.K. Jemisin
Employee Experience: Develop a Happy, Productive and Supported Workforce for Exceptional Individual and Business Performance, by Ben Whittier
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by Adrienne Maree Brown
Good Services: How to Design Services that Work, by Louise Downe
Drawn Together, by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Designing for the Greater Good, Strategy + Design Thinking, and Measuring Design Thinking with Jeanne Liedtka — DT101 E1
Critical and Emancipatory Design Thinking with Lesley-Ann Noel — DT101 E57
5.5 Things Every Designer Should Know About: The Opioid Overdose Epidemic (Part 1) with Stacy Stanford — DT101 E102

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