UsTwo, Beyond and more come together to diversify digital design

Based on research that the sector is woefully un-diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and disability, nine London-based design studios are taking part in an annual work experience scheme called Flipside that looks to propel 12 young people into digital careers.

Students on last year’s scheme at Made by Many’s studio

Digital and design consultancies, including UsTwo, Beyond and This Place, have come together to work on an East London diversity scheme, which looks to help a wider pool of talented candidates break into the industry.

The scheme, which is called Flipside and is now in its second year, was set up in response to the statistic that 89% of those working in digital in the UK are white, while over 60% are men, according to research from the DCMS (Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport). Additionally, research conducted by the Design Council last year found that 78% of the overall design workforce is male, while 87% are white.

Every year, it takes on 12 young people aged 18-25, who are from a mix of “under-represented groups” to take part in a three-month training programme, says This Place.

This includes those: who have not gone to university, from BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) backgrounds, who have disabilities and are neuro-diverse, and who identity as non-binary or LGBTQ+*. It also looks to redress the gender imbalance in digital design by including more women. People based in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest can apply, and they can be currently unemployed or in work.

Flipside’s nine participating studios

Flipside has been founded by a roster of design studios, alongside London-based non-profit A New Direction, which helps open up job opportunities to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and The Skills Lab, a think-tank which focuses on giving people vital skills to live and work.

Nine design studios are working with the scheme, including UsTwo, Beyond, Many by Many, Sennep, Bio Agency, Designit, Pixeled Eggs, Reading Room and This Place.

It has been funded by a grant from the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), a Mayor of London initiative set up specifically to develop Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Organisers are marketing the initiative and reaching out to young people in East London through various in-person and digital means, including visiting local community halls, schools and job centres, social media campaigning, and connecting through online forums, Facebook groups and social networks.

The three-month course covers three areas of training, including practical digital product design, personal effectiveness and career development, and is developed through a mix of workshops, lectures and one-to-one mentoring sessions, says Natalie Hughes, head of strategy at This Place. The students rotate between participating studios, working on various design projects.

Students on last year’s scheme at UsTwo’s studio

She adds that the course teaches students how to “respond to a brief” by allowing them to research, design and pitch a digital product, helps them develop the “soft skills” necessary for a studio environment such as team-work, improves their “networking” and increases their “employability” to help them “kickstart their careers in digital design”.

The course also gets them into interviews for paid placements, and their expenses are covered throughout the three months with a £200-per-week budget.

“While the creative economy is booming, it performs very poorly on diversity compared to the wider economy when it comes to women, people of colour and disabled people,” Hughes says. “There is a sector-wide diversity challenge, and a painful disconnect for an industry that prides itself on being forward-thinking. This needs to change so programmes like this are vital in providing under-represented groups with a path into the industry.”

While this is a London-based scheme that aims to “connect with the local community” and make use of London as a “UK creative hotspot”, the bigger aim is for it to “spread beyond the capital and kickstart a wider diversity movement” in future, Hughes says.

She adds that while this scheme is a “step in the right direction”, there is “still a long way to go” in terms of diversifying the design and digital workforce.

“Companies should be keeping the conversation going and ensuring that diversity efforts are ever-present, not just one-off or annual initiatives,” she says. “Fixing the diversity imbalance should be a top priority for all senior executives.”


All 12 students from last year’s scheme are now in full-time employment. The initiative looks to link up directly with the East Bank partnership 2022-2023 project, which will see a number of new cultural institutions open in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This includes new Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum and Smithsonian Museum sites, a Sadler’s Wells theatre, a University College London (UCL) campus and BBC music studios.

The scheme hopes to open up “thousands” of new creative jobs in the East of London to “local young people”, says Paul Brickell, executive director of regeneration and community partnerships at the LLDC.

Flipside has now picked its 12 students for this year and will open applications for next year’s course at the end of 2019. To get involved, budding students need to fill out an application form via the Flipside website. No experience is required, only a “positive attitude, curiosity and willingness to collaborate”, says Hughes. Candidates also need to live in the relevant East London boroughs, and be aged 18-25.

*LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others.

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