An Internship at Facebook Opens Doors to Practicing Equitable Design
Denzel Oduro, BFA ’22, is an artist, graphic designer and a self-taught user experience (UX) designer. Last summer he relocated to New York City, a place that energizes him creatively, and worked virtually as an UX design intern at the social media giant Meta, focusing on product design for Facebook users.
“I worked on tools that can help people feel safer using Facebook,” he says simply. It was not the typical art gallery internship experience for an SMFA at Tufts undergraduate, yet it was an impeccable fit for Oduro’s passion for accessible, inclusive design.
The products he and his team designed over the summer are intended to protect Facebook users and make them less vulnerable online. Oduro believes in equity in design, a concept that guides his design process. “I thought about how the work I was doing was going to affect the users. Even if I didn’t have their lived experiences, I’d be able to learn by being an ally to these people,” he explains.
And the fact that the internship was virtual didn’t take away from its quality. “I was meeting with my manager very frequently. They gave me a lot of support throughout the internship,” he says. He also really enjoyed the collaborative aspect of being part of a larger design team. “You have to fall in love with the user, not with the solution,” he believes. “So, working with a team is always good, because you get feedback from other people.”
In Ghana, where he is from, Oduro first heard about the SMFA from a Tufts alumna, Kayla Fory A ’14. “They spoke about Tufts in a very positive light,” he remembers.
Because his family is filled with creatives and he grew up “scribbling on walls and tables,” he knew he wanted to become an artist and a designer. But he specifically chose the SMFA at Tufts because it doesn’t have a requirement to declare a major or to complete a foundational year, and the “openness of the curriculum” resonated with him. “I knew I wanted a career in a creative field, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” he explains.
He was ultimately drawn towards studying Studio Arts, but the freedom to experiment with different courses and topics is exactly what helped Oduro to land on graphic design and UX design for his professional goals.
His freshman year, SMFA students were invited to participate in an MIT hackathon called “Hacking Arts” that brought together engineers, artists, and designers.
Over the weekend, Oduro worked closely with an experienced UX designer, watching how they implemented various tools. A lightbulb went off. He thought to himself, “This is a way for me to be able to solve problems by being creative. This is art that is solving people’s problems. It’s art that’s intentional, that has a specific goal.”
After the hackathon he poured himself into UX design, learning independently online and taking on personal projects to gain practical experience. As a sophomore, he landed a user experience design internship at Advisor360 in which he initially researched how 10,000 clients used the company’s software, then re-designed the user flow.
In order to design even more intuitively, he went on to take quite a few psychology classes and was also a research assistant to Holly Taylor, a professor of psychology at Tufts.
Being a good designer is about having empathy with the users and understanding why they make choices. Psychology made me understand the way the mind works,” he says. And that sense was something he leaned on throughout his time at Facebook as he developed products that helped make users feel a greater sense of security with their online experiences.
Because UX design has an interface aspect, Oduro developed an eye for those details from taking some useful general design courses at the SMFA, including Media Culture Now, Cinematic 3D, and Virtual Reality.
Oduro suspects it was this previous work experience plus those interesting coursework choices that landed him the Facebook opportunity. After he submitted his application with links to his design portfolio, a recruiter reached out to him and then he had several rounds of virtual interviews prior to receiving an acceptance offer.
The internship ultimately helped Oduro confirm that he wants to do more UX design work post-graduation. He says, “I felt very challenged intellectually. If this is what I was able to achieve in three months, who knows what I’ll do in one year or two years working on a project with a team?”
And for those who might also be looking to land the right internship opportunity, Oduro suggests starting by tapping into the wider SMFA community: “There are Tufts alumni everywhere. At every company you might want to work at you can probably find at least one Tufts alumni. Reach out to them with a message and ask to connect.”
Lead Image: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University