Exposing youth of color to the discipline of design

Team 3 going through a design critique for their shelter for stray animals.

Team 3 going through a design critique for their shelter for stray animals.


Inneract Project's (IP) flagship course Youth Design Academy level 1 (YDA 1) exposes students of color to the power of design by way of interaction, problem-solving and collaboration. I co-created curriculum and co-taught the course alongside designers from Google, Facebook and other companies. We taught a cohort of 12 middle-schoolers from the East Bay, and met once a week at California College of the Arts' Oakland campus. Our project-based curriculum was centered on the student-identified issue of stray animals in the local area.

Why design education matters

According to AIGA, the design industry is over 73% white. As the industry matures, experienced designers have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation of designers comes from all walks of life, and are well-equipped to solve the world's biggest problems.

My Role: Co-Instructor
Tools Used: Photoshop, Google Slides, pen & paper


Before instruction began, my co-teacher and I met regularly to create a curriculum for our class. IP provided us with a 'skeleton' of what broad topics we should explore, and we decided how to engage students in each one. The final curriculum explored design applied to 4 areas --

  1. Communication - Students learned how type, color, iconography, imagery and visual hierarchy play into brand messaging, and created "My Brand" posters that expressed themselves.

  2. Digital - In this class, students learned how pixels could be used to solve problems with apps, animation, and mixed reality. They also learned the basics of empathy, and sketched wireframes for apps that helped stray animals.

  3. Spatial - Here, students were exposed to urban and interior design, and learned how spaces like parks, trains and museums were designed with intention.

  4. Physical - Students grasped the concept of "form follows function" by taking part in an activity that challenged them to deconstruct finished products, and use their raw materials to create a new product that served a randomly-assigned purpose.

One key challenge we faced was making sure that meaning and context weren’t lost during instruction. To solve this, my co-teacher and I created a process called "Check Yo' Self". We plugged this mantra at the start of every class, and it proved useful in reminding students to remain user-focused, consider constraints, sketch often, and get feedback fast to improve their solutions.

the process.PNG

Each class followed a similar beat: 

  1. Class opened up with a short icebreaker to get students moving.

  2. Then, content was delivered conversation-style. We asked lots of questions, and considered it a success when students gave examples of their own, or bounced questions off to the class. We often broke lectures up into parts so students could engage in mini-activities that applied what they just learned.

  3. Lecture time ended with lunch, and students were free to roam the CCA campus.

  4. After lunch, students re-grouped with their project teams to build solutions for their community challenge. The 'community challenge' was a course-long challenge centered on a student-identified issue. Our cohort collectively chose to design for stray animals and spent time creating solutions using what they learned that day.

  5. Class closed with a student survey where students reflected on what went well, and what they would have liked to do differently.

At times, class ended with work left to be done. When this happened, the students exceeded the teaching team’s expectations by returning the following week, determined to use class time well and finish their projects strong.



The curriculum we delivered was unique because of its focus on project-based learning and collaboration. We were pleased to have a group of students that valued fun, and desired the best experience possible for themselves and their peers. They worked hard, were patient with one another, and it showed in the great work they produced. In the end, there were a total of 16 projects across 4 teams that students got to present to their parents during the final reception.

About half of the students involved in our YDA1 cohort decided to progress along the IP track, and participated in some of nonprofit's first Summer Design Bootcamps.


  • Young people love to create collaboratively. If they have fun while doing it, the reward is even greater because it results in new friendships.

  • Defining a problem to tackle for the community challenge was hard. There was a fine line between egging the students on, and allowing them to come to conclusions on their own. Although it was tough, we focused on the latter, and believe that the project were better as a result.

  • Teaching design requires lots of grit, and great examples. It is necessary to draw clear connections between design thinking and the real-world.