Useful School is a Pay-What-You-Wish Online Design Program for People of Color





A new online product design program called Useful school launches next week and focuses on providing programs that advocate for students of color. At the time of Publication of the 2017 AIGA Design census, 73% of the design industry was considered white and has only moved in a slightly more diverse direction since then. Founder of Useful School and Senior Director of New Product Ventures at Gannett, Ritesh Gupta has not only witnessed this inequity firsthand over the years at design agencies, but also in the curriculum delivered at design institutions. design. “As people of color, we deserve a radically different inclusive approach to closed and repressed educational institutions that are not designed to teach or celebrate the success of people of color,” Gupta said.

Helpful School Founder, Ritesh Gupta

The resulting program begins in early February with two streams – beginner and advanced – and will include a curriculum that departs from traditional design programs while prioritizing showcasing work specifically done by people of color. The topics of these courses focus on meeting the needs and desires of people of color for the evolution of the industry, including decolonizing and disengaging from traditional design practices, obtaining salary increases and questioning the impostor syndrome.

Useful School is also about pay what you want, which was an important principle for Gupta when organizing the school. He says, “I was really inspired by what Bandcamp and Twitch have done in terms of payment models. I read a stat from Bandcamp saying that if you pay for what you want to model, often users will pay more than the minimum price because they feel so passionate about it.” This turned out not only to be a fair solution for Useful School, but also a good business solution. “We already have people who can’t take the course for whatever reason, who are still helping to help me provide capital so I can continue doing this program, which is really exciting,” Gupta reports.

Useful School was founded on a consensus of many people of color that design education institutions have failed them in many ways, which begs the question: for Gupta, what are the principles of a design education fair ? “I would say the most important, not necessarily in that order of priority, are first fair payment models with no strings attached. Second, a very transparent curriculum about what they’re going to learn, so before they even sign up for the program, they know exactly what they’re going to get. And many users have appreciated how I continually make adjustments based on candidate feedback and what else they would like to learn,” Gupta tells us.

Another crucial factor is accessibility, as Gupta says, “the program should be as accessible as possible, not just from a monetary standpoint, but from a ‘location’ standpoint.” As such, Useful School will be held on Zoom and made available to everyone across the United States.

A final interesting addition to the Useful School curriculum that seems fairly new is the desire to reclaim parts of design history that have been largely overlooked over time. Gupta says, “I’m going to mention in our first classes together that the goal should be if we ever reference another project or take inspiration from another project, that project should be a person of color, the reference should be a person of color. Students should be able to see others who have had similar experiences as inspiration rather than the traditional Swiss-type designer.”

This retrieval of history is an often overlooked, but important, modification of typical design training. This highlights the fact that while greater diversity in design is still a hill to climb, it does not negate the fact that color creatives and innovators have always been there and will continue to be there, especially with the implementation of programs like Useful School.

While the first session of Useful School is already sold out, Gupta is already working on the curriculum for the next edition (and says there’s a good chance an industrial design class is coming soon). For those who wish to participate in the second round, applications are now open for anyone of color wishing to apply, and those wishing to support the program through contributions or partnerships can find out more here.

If you have a project from last year that you are proud of, take a few minutes to send it to the Core77 Design Awards 2022. We have 18 practice categories, and for this year we have a special sustainability award for all projects that have a beneficial environmental impact. To verify designawards.core77.com for details and timetables.


Abdul J. Gaspar