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How Inneract Project empowers the next generation of brown and black designers

Maurice Woods, Executive Director and Founder of the Inneract Project (IP)

I founded Inneract Project (IP) in 2004 so that black and brown kids from underrepresented communities like my own would consider design as a career at an early age. I saw the potential for designers of color to not only use design as a means for expression and change within their community, but also as a way to make sure the products we all see and use reflect the reality of our diverse world. And with that, my work on IP began.

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The early days

In the early days of our program, we decided not to use software or hardware. Instead, we focused on critical and creative thinking, what students could make using only their hands and minds on paper. This is still true in all our introductory courses—exposure to design through creative activities that we hoped would ignite passion.

As students asked for more formal design training, we built a curriculum to systematically prepare students of color, as early as middle school, to pursue a degree or career in design. Graphic design was in-demand at the time, so we built our program around those skills. Pathway to Design, as we called it, also needed to introduce software and hardware—it was critical to train students on professional-grade tools.

But design tools are sometimes prohibitively expensive, so we relied heavily on donations, purchasing as many licenses for design applications as we could. As a result, students often shared computers for their work. While this still gave them valuable exposure, we aspired for all of our students to get hands-on experience as much as possible.

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IP students wireframing on paper before they found Figma

Finding Figma

As the design industry evolved once more from graphic design to developing mobile apps and interfaces, so have students’ interests and, accordingly, IP’s curriculum. We knew this shift would require us to get our students trained on a new set of software built specifically for UX/UI design.

We were so grateful to have found Figma in this phase because it opened up so much opportunity for our program, our students, and our community. Most critically to IP’s mission, Figma removed the barriers for students to learn and get hands-on experience designing.

Since Figma was free to get started, no one in the program needed to pay more to learn more. And, we were confident in our decision to teach and practice designing in Figma—it was not only friendly to beginners, but also served professional designers at companies we dreamed of placing our students in.

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IP students designing in Figma

Having the tool in the browser instead of an application empowered our students to do more designing than they ever had before. Many students jumped back into their Figma files when they got home, and those who didn’t have personal computers could still access their files in public spaces like libraries and school computer labs. With just a little after-hours practice, students accelerated their learning and understanding of design.

Since bringing our coursework on Figma, we’ve also expanded our curriculum to include more collaborative projects—whether it’s within the classroom or working with volunteers and partners.

Our students

By teaching design skills early, we hoped to better serve our community, prepare young black and brown students for future education or careers, and unlock a lifetime of passion and creativity . Over the years, our programming has evolved to include single-day workshops, multi-day coursework, hackathons, partnerships with local companies and programs, and a robust (and growing!) community of our very own. Seeing our students validate that hypothesis has been an incredible source of joy and pride over the last 15+ years. Here are some examples of our students’ work:

  • Leigh designed posters and graphics for her High School with IP and is now attending Academy of Art University for graphic design.
  • Saaleha graduated from University of California Berkeley and is currently seeking a career in design research.
  • Sierra sought to use design to solve for her grandmother’s walker, which was difficult to use on concrete. At IP, she designed a concept that serves elderly people in need of walking assistance. She also designed a mobile app for connecting artists and their fans, inspired by her love for music and entrepreneurship.
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Sierra presenting her cane concept
  • Noah built a digital ad campaign for an app providing support and services to homeless youth in the Bay Area. He also created a mood board for a ‘zine called “Esoteric,” about graffiti in street art, featuring interviews with local artists and pictures he took in Oakland.

Figma allows me to envelop myself in ideas and then visualize things how I see them. - Noah, Inneract Student

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Noah presenting his app

To learn more about Inneract Project, visit their website.

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