Innosanto Nagara was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and moved to the U.S. in 1988 to study zoology at UC Davis. But instead of becoming a zoologist he became an activist and a graphic designer. He also writes and illustrates social justice themed children’s books.
Inno got his start as a student activist at UC Davis where he discovered his skills as a designer and photographer were effective contributions to organizing. After graduation he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he worked as a freelance designer for a range of activist organizations and campaigns until he joined Inkworks Press Collective in 1995. It was during his time at Inkworks that he started developing the Graphic Design for Social Change principles that have guided his work ever since. In 2002 he launched Design Action Collective. Modeled after Inkworks, Design Action was to be a worker-owned collective union design and strategic communications firm dedicated to serving the Movement for Social Change. The following year, Inno proposed what was to become Designs on Democracy: Communication for Liberation—a national convening of design and communications activists aiming to share strategies and build community.
Over the next decade and a half Design Action grew and established itself as a leading social justice design studio providing graphic design, web development, and visual communications services. In that time Design Action served countless grassroots campaigns and organizations supporting labor rights, the environmental movement, gender equality, racial justice, indigenous rights, and international solidarity. Inno’s activist design philosophy grounded the collective’s work and was integral to Design Action’s success and contributions to the Movement over the years. The worker-owned collective decision-making and business structure has served as a model for other self-sustaining mission-driven projects (for more on Inno’s design career and philosophies click here).
In 2012 Inno wrote and illustrated a little board book that launched another type of movement. Originally A is for Activist was just a personal project for his own child. He wanted to have the book that he wanted to read to his kid over and over and over again. But friends encouraged him to print more copies, and after a successful kickstarter campaign, A is for Activist came into being as a self-published board book. It almost immediately sold out, and that’s when it was picked up by Seven Stories Press. With their help, A is for Activist has become a national bestseller.
In 2015, Inno wrote a follow-up board book, Counting on Community. Where A is for Activist is about the issues, Counting on Community is about how we live.
As his child grew past board book age, Inno started to write (and illustrate) picture books. His first was My Night in the Planetarium, a true story from his childhood in Indonesia about Art, and Resistance. That was followed by The Wedding Portrait, about why sometimes we break the rules. His latest book is a highly-illustrated early middle grade chapter book titled M is for Movement aka Humans Can’t Eat Golf Balls.
Inno continues to do creative cultural activism through graphic design, visual communications, and cultural strategy projects (as an advisor to reSet). He is also very active in the broader children’s book world. Inno serves on the Editorial board of TheBullHorn.org, an online magazine dedicated to social justice-themed children’s books and their creators. He is a regular collaborator with and advisor to Wee the People in Boston. And he is involved in local Bay Area organizing and skill-sharing for #OwnVoices authors and illustrators.
Inno and his partner Kristi Laughlin and their child live in the cohousing community they helped build in North Oakland. He also trains and teaches martial arts at Suigetsukan, a collectively run dojo near Lake Merritt.