“The Opportunities Are There”: A Black Designer’s Experiences with Inneract Project
How a search for a Black design community led an emerging designer to Inneract Project.
By Inneract Project
It’s an all-too-familiar story for Black creatives on their career journey: find your passion young, pursue it as a hobby, and then, as you grow in skill and age, see fewer and fewer folks who look like you on your trajectory, in school and the workplace.
This was Aska Mukuti’s experience as she made her way into the world of design, compounded by the fact that the Bay Area–raised designer was already used to being the “only” in her day-to-day life, too.
“I grew up in the South Bay and I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. I didn’t grow up with anyone who looked like me,” Aska told us in a recent interview. “So when I went into the design field, it felt like a familiar thing where I was like the only one.”
It was due to her experiences — including being the only Black student in the visual arts department at her Boston college — that Aska moved to New York after graduation, drawn to its “diverse, rich design culture [and] community.” But after working for two and a half years in New York, she was compelled to return to her home state.
Hoping to get a head start on finding her new design community, Aska sought advice from Forest Young, one of her mentors, on connecting with Black designers in the Bay Area. It was through him that she would ultimately find Maurice “Mo” Woods, founder and executive director of Inneract Project.
“I said to [my mentor], ‘I don’t know of the design community in the Bay Area. I don’t really know many Black designers at all. What kind of things are they interested in?’ And he gave me Maurice Woods’s name and he’s like, ‘I actually know someone who would be able to answer your question.’”
When Aska returned to California, she became one of Mo’s mentees. And through Inneract Project, she found community.
IP means a lot to Aska, in a lot of different ways.
“I had one particular entry point into IP: Mo. Before COVID, he invited me to his office and that’s when he really became my mentor. So mentorship is part of what IP is to me. But then also, Mo brought me into this community of other designers and educators (I also have an educator background). It feels good to be part of this community, people who generally care about supporting each other.”
In addition to helping her find community and mentorship, Aska described her involvement with Inneract Project as having a significant impact on her career.
“Pre-COVID, I basically had been spending a lot of time trying to do a lot of networking. But just on my own, it’s really difficult to kind of get somewhere. It takes some time,” Aska said. “And Mo gave me access to folks in his community that he knows just from his experiences being out here in the Bay Area. And recently, he actually connected me with an individual who knows my current boss, who hired me. It was because [Mo] reached out to my boss that I was able to actually have some talks with them and some other individuals who worked there. And that’s essentially how I got my job.”
Aska also credits IP’s interview prep program as helping her to become application ready.
“By the time I was interviewing with my current company, they already could clearly tell who I was as a designer, what I was interested in; it communicated well. And that was a very significant part of the career prep that I had, with doing practice interviews through IP, that Mo had hooked me up with, so I could talk to different designers.”
To folks thinking about getting involved with IP, as students or volunteers, Aska would say to go for it.
“As a student, I would say you have this great access to this really generous community that is reminiscent of the students themselves. So I would tell them, ‘Hey, by joining the community, you can at least be around other individuals who are in a similar experience with you. So you’re not in this mentality where you feel like you’re the only one. And everyone, all the educators, are supportive and you can really thrive, or just learn what you like and what you want to do, what you’re interested in.’
“And for volunteers, there’s a lot of meaningful ways to contribute because you’re basically joining this network of people who have been doing this and are just really good to join forces with to bring your skills and intellect, but also what you would like to learn and contribute to the table. If you’re really into comms, you can go into visual communications, or if you have an educator background like me, then you can think of doing some teaching. There are different avenues for someone who volunteers to help. The opportunities are there.”
Aska Mukuti is a first-generation American designer based in the Bay Area. Check out her website for examples of her work.