Inneract Project Teaches Underserved Kids Design And Technology

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Design plays just as big of a role in technology as computer science. That’s why it’s no coincidence that boatloads of successful startups have designers on their founding teams. Since 2010, 27 designer-founded startups have been acquired by large tech companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Adobe, Dropbox and LinkedIn, according to the Design In Tech Report, produced by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer Design Partner John Maeda. What makes design so important is that it’s become imperative to creating a great user experience with everything that technology touches: web sites, mobile apps, smartphones, tablets, computers, headphones, and so on.

“Technology needs to be considerate of empathy, of how people learn and how people use devices, and that’s design,” Maurice Woods, a designer at Yahoo and founder of Inneract Project, told TechCrunch. “That’s what designers do. Without that, it’s hard for the consumer to be able to digest and understand that technology.” He later said, “I feel like technology needs design more than design needs technology.”

Through San Francisco-based Inneract Project, Woods hopes to empower underrepresented kids by teaching them the core concepts and skills of design in technology. Inneract Project does this through three main, free offerings: Youth Design Academy, an eight-week class for middle school students, Learning Labs, workshops, lectures and studio tours for middle school and high school students, and a video series that documents designers, called Designed.

Woods says he harnesses the concept of something he calls “cultural context.” The general concept, Woods says, is aligned with the notion that you learn based on the things around you at a very young age. Yes, you learn technical skills in school, but outside of school is where you learn life skills, manners and interacting with people. Some of Inneract Project’s programs reference sports and music — two things that Woods has found young minority kids are interested in, and have a cultural understanding of. That’s why Inneract Project is gearing up to start a basketball program, because “kids in the community understand what that is, so we can build a basketball league where kids are designing the jerseys and the logos and the socks, and then they get the context and then they’re already in their environment and learning in their environment.“

Over the years, Inneract Project has taught hundreds of kids from underserved communities in design and technology. What people don’t realize, Woods says, is that designers make good money these days. That’s why Inneract Project wants to not only teach design, but also highlight the opportunities and career paths available to kids in design. Down the road, Inneract Project wants to offer more advanced classes for middle school and high school students, enable designers who want to teach an opportunity to do so, and expand Inneract Project into additional cities.

“I want [diversity] embedded in all of the things we do as we move into other cities,” Woods said. “We want to always have this focus on underserved youth and communities and always have this focus on advocacy where we’re not only just teaching them but we’re actually going to where these communities are and learning about them, and asking them questions, and developing a program that’s important to them, and evolving this ecosystem of people all over the nation who are interested in giving back and who have these skills, and want to see kids succeed and get into design and tech fields.”

Next month, Inneract Project is hosting a panel discussion called “Valuing Diversity in Design and Technology” in San Francisco. I’ll be moderating the panel, which features BlackGirlsCode founder Kimberly Bryant, Paradigm founder Joelle Emerson, Accel Partners designer Jason Mayden, AIGA SF Diversity Chair Julio Martinez and KPCB Design Partner John Maeda.