#21: Mo Woods – Ball is Life: Pro Basketball Player (6′ 10″ in) who became a Designer

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Maurice is a 6’10” Richmond, California-native, legendary designer, and former professional basketball player who worked at several tech companies including Microsoft and Yahoo. He is the Founder of Inneract Project that helps youth and communities learn about design. It was in getting involved with startup projects that got him interested in tech because he was able to make mistakes, learn from them, correct them, and gradually get better. (Shout out to Maurice’s mom for encouraging him to pursue design)


Years in Tech 10
Grew Up Richamond, CA
Current Job Designer
Date Recorded 7/31/2016

Key Points:

  • Put yourself out there. Take the nontraditional route to apply for jobs in order to stand out. Hand your application in person still works. But make sure you come prepared.
  • You have to practice your craft everyday. Take on harder projects. Study what other successful people are doing. By following this, you will get good at designing and over time see immense progress.
  • The experiences you have outside of design can form and contribute to what you do as a designer.
  • When choosing a career between sports and design, know that only 2% of kids make it to professional sports whereas designers have access to so many roles including industrial design, architecture, interactive design, graphic design, branding, project management, fashion.

Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):

[1:16] Getting involved: Maurice’s interest in sports, music, and the arts paved the way to where he is today

[2:54] His curiosity about how things work fueled his creativity. Even as a child he was taking things apart and putting them back together.

[4:11] He didn’t take his drawing ability seriously growing up, treating it more as a hobby and instead focusing on becoming a basketball player.

[6:03] The power of having confidence in yourself and your ability to get to the next level.

[8:17] Dealing with curve balls: Struggling with academics and college basketball, which prompted him to reconsider his plan and get more serious with school

[12:53] His next step: Sitting down with his mother, looking into which field he should major in. Getting into a graphic design program, radically changed his life and led him to his true calling today.

[15:48] Playing basketball well in his last year at the University of Washington and getting approached by an agent about an opportunity to play in Spain. Maurice got to play in Spain, Greece, France, and finishing off in Japan.

[18:12] From one hustle to another: Maurice never lost sight of design throughout his whole time playing basketball as he was learning programs on his laptop and doing design related things on the side.

[19:35] Transitioning from basketball to design: Coming back to the Bay Area and looking for work during the dotcom period. Maurice recalls going 30-40 startups a day to drop off his design portfolio.

[22:01] Taking the nontraditional route of the application process: Typically people apply for jobs online. Maurice physically handed his portfolio to design firms, Out of 40 companies he applied to he got 38 rejections and 2 callbacks.

[25:14[ The life of a freelance designer: Constantly balancing multiple projects and finding new clients (Maurice knew freelance designing wasn’t his call)

[27:44] Inception of the Inneract Project: This project stemmed out from his class where the goal was to use design in a way to change the world. So Maurice was offering a free summer class about design to kids 11-16. By the end of the summer, the number of students increased from 3 to 30.

[31:47] His vision – Bring design education to as many underserved communities as he possibly can.

[34:14] What they offer: Free classes, access to tools and supplies, classroom space, advocacy (showcasing designers of color that are doing successful things)

[34:49] Basketball versus design: Only 2% of kids make it to professional sports and we’re investing all this time into sports. Designers have access to so many careers (industrial design, architecture, interactive design, graphic design, branding, project management, fashion)

[36:11] The Inneract Project is a conduit to bring together the professional design field and underserved communities in order to to create opportunities for young people across the globe.

[36:59] Maurice’s design journey:

[38:53] His fascination with interactive design: It gives you immediate feedback which you can turn around, correct it, make it better, and learn from that

[44:05] Working at startups is how he really got into the “tech space” which allowed him to make mistakes and gain massive experience that prepared him for his position at Yahoo and Microsoft.

[44:42] The different design specifics:

  • Visual Design – graphic design
  • User Interface (UI) design – buttons, dials, landing pages
  • User Experience (UX) – the “meat” of the product; more on the planning side looking at the product’s ecosystem and what it means to users

[49:03] How to acquire specific skill sets or make yourself more marketable to small startups or large tech companies: Identify the skills you can use to gain leverage within the business. Prepare and use your existing skills to get your foot in the door. Then once on the inside, learn more and expand your skill set in other areas.

[51:22] Tools you can learn to build and improve your skill set:

Adobe Sketch

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Photoshop

[52:33] – STEPPING STONE:  Ways to prepare yourself to get your foot in the door: Practice. Take the harder projects. Study what other successful people are doing. By doing these, you get good at doing it and get even better. Then everything becomes natural to you.

[55:49] The Lightning Round

What would you do if you were dropped into a new city with only $100?

  • Save a little bit for food and use the rest to figure a way where you can learn or get connected to people doing things you’re interested in. It doesn’t take a lot of money, but it only takes one opportunity to put you in the right position.

When you ran into roadblocks or struggles, what piece of music or movie that you listened to or watched that helped you get through that roadblock?

  • Gospel music (Abundantly by J. Moss) and prayer

What is the one piece of advice for listeners who are thinking about breaking into startups or tech via the design route?

  • Be prepared. Do whatever you can and whatever it takes to get that position. Do your homework. Capitalize on your existing skills and talents. And once you get that opportunity, be ready for it.

Articles Mentioned & Resources:

Learning Resources

Adobe Sketch
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Photoshop
Zimmerman Design
Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners
Pentagram Design
The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda


Inneract Project
Designer Fund

Contact Information:

Maurice Woods
Twitter: @dlrowseom
Inneract Project
Twitter: @InneractProject
Facebook: Inneract Project

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