I'm interested in hearing how you use your practical design skills and knowledge to improve your local community (preferably outside of your day job).
Upvoted this instantly, I'm curious to know as well and have been brainstorming/researching "design for good" projects lately.
I see that you're a designer at Wildlife Conservation Society. Sounds pretty awesome - what's that like?
Hi Oz, Thanks for your enthusiasm! AIGA's Design for Good is actually a great resource of inspiration along these lines.
Working as a designer for the Wildlife Conservation Society is an incredible experience. As a designer I get the chance to contribute to the protection of wildlife and wild places all around the world, and hear firsthand from field scientists who are the best in their field. Working for a non-profit isn't always glamorous but it's very fulfilling and inspires me to use design as a framework to tackle issues in my local community.
As a follow up question (to anyone): What is stopping you from using design to improve your local community?
Im not sure about supporting local communities, but this site fcancer lets you donate your Design/Web/Photography etc. skills to charity by working a few hours on some of their on going projects.
Wonderful resource, thanks for sharing, Vincent! Along these lines Gallery of Mo is an exciting project I've participated in which uses illustration to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer during November.
I actually have refashioned a few of my interaction and publication design classes so that students have to come up with altruistic project ideas. It helps them think of others, define and examine altruism, and still turn out credible project-based work. So far, my students at Parsons and CUNY love it! I need to write it all up so I can ask for input here.
I want my students to become aware of that vein of work as soon as possible so they can discover how to approach it, how to avoid being exploited in the name of pro bono work, and how to define problems for themselves.
Thanks, Libby, that's very exciting to hear! I would love to learn more about how those projects panned out. When I entered university I recall being primarily interested in working for a top brand or agency and wasn't aware of the value in working with non-profits, community organizations, or even small/local businesses until I had a similar class project. I agree that being aware of potential exploitation is very key here and that ground rules can help neither side feel like they're being taken advantage of when contributing to such projects.
I've thought about this a lot, because it's something I've struggled with.
As a traditionally trained print graphic designer, I have helped local organizations through things like creating a logo or creating a website. But, I think the best opportunity for impact is in providing design thinking and strategy. For example, if you consider how much improving the design of a weekly newsletter is going to help a non-profit the answer is probably: not much. If you think about it in a different way, that could be much more helpful, for example: does the organization even need a newsletter? Maybe they need to grow their social media presence instead, or maybe they would benefit in changing the tone and voice of their newsletter to reach a new audience.
To bring an example from my experience, I designing a logo for a local non-profit, but what really ended up being the most helpful was actually doing the work they needed to get done, which wasn't making a logo, it was interviewing members of their program and writing about their experience to share with the organization's supporters. It was also sitting down with the volunteer coordinator to talk about how the volunteering process could be improved so future committees are more focused and productive.
I've always been interested in design as something that creates better experiences for people, and I've found that to do this for my community, I've had more success focusing on designing better communication and a better process rather than designing visuals or a tangible object.
Going forward, I want to improve my skills in strategy and high level design thinking so I can really help design positive impact for clients and communities alike.
Thanks for providing this insight, Bridget! I think your example is a great takeaway for how we as designers are capable of pitching in beyond the narrow scope of a logo. Sometimes a visual may affect a real valuable change but usually it's more of a drop in the bucket, especially if there are real immediate needs.
I have a couple things I can add this. First, I am the president of AIGA Central PA, so from two perspectives the board and I are trying to positively the impact the design community in our region and the greater community who live in our region.
Design for Good is an initiative started by AIGA to to build and sustain the implementation of design thinking for social change. In our chapter, we just voted in a Design for Good chairperson. One of his roles is develop relationships with community leader, non-profits execs, and neighborhood groups to see where we can help in certain areas. If this means, putting local designers in contact with a group that needs their services, we can act as the go between, the introducer. Programs like create-a-thons and design-a-thons are helpful too. Part of the responsibility as well is joining in events and meeting people, whether they are design related or not. If we are going to help our community, we need to be present in it.
For the design community, we are becoming the hub for all things design and technology related in our part of Pennsylvania. New initiatives like a local jobs board, member spotlight profiles and an updated blog are items that fill up our website with content, but we make it a point to meet with designers on an one on one basis as much as possible.
Thank you for sharing, Timothy! AIGA really continues to make strides as an organization with social responsibility in each chapter I've been a part of. Another great case study from AIGA is Design/Relief which was a design initiative aimed to support three New York communities heavily affected by hurricane Sandy.
I helped with promotional items, website and logo for my local skatepark. Being a skateboarder myself and knowing the positive impact of such a space within a community I was more than happy to help.
Aside from the design stuff I would help with events and maintenance, and being an actual user of the facility I'd connect with a wide demographic and promote the idea of ownership of the space.
Now that I have a family I can't spend as much time there as I used to and events often conflict with family commitments. With design I can still support the skatepark with the strongest set of skills I can offer.
To actually create a positive impact as a designer, I think branding is where its at. All places need foot soldiers on the ground spreading the word and doing other small tasks that really require no thinking and can be done by any profession. That's totally fine, all places need that, but what you're asking is what you can do as a designer using your design skills. What you can do as a designer is seek out and find out whats important to your community. Listen to what needs to be heard and offer services to start campaigns to bring awareness. It's already been said, these places NEED people to help out. Whether it be their time, money or other services. Why do they need more people? More than likely, its because people don't know about it. Use your design skills to bring awareness and bridge that gap. A local community only works if the community is a part of it.
Great comment, Cliff! Couldn't agree more. I think beyond building awareness once you understand the needs you can also help strategically guide the process.
At risk of being labeled a troll, I have to express my frustration at your use of "impact" as a verb.
Thanks for pointing that out, Derryl! I should have used "affect" instead.
Last year one of our designers became an AIGA mentor, which gave us an opportunity to hold a few Q&A sessions and studio tours with students from the AIGA mentor program.
During one of them, I gave a small presentation on CSS Animations, and that led to me volunteering to teach a formal HTML & CSS Animations workshop at Basecamp’s HQ.
This is something I’m still exploring, but I’m looking forward to and eagerly trying to finding more ways to give back, not only on the web, but also in our local community. I’m a self-taught developer and designer, and with all those who’ve given me the opportunity to learn with their contributions, I felt it was only right and my turn to give back.
Thanks for sharing, Jonathan! I agree that there seems to be a wonderful level of generosity in sharing tools and information online within the design/developer community and I hope it continues to inspire people to take that generosity into their offline backyards!
I haven't done nothing to help local communities so far, i'm so busy with my own work.
But I feel more and more the desire to help real and non profitable projects, that can improve life around.
Great to hear about the "AIGA's Design for Good", I will definitely check it and find a project I can help.
We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. We have been bombarded with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill and imagination to sell such things as: cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, beforeshave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons.
By far the greatest effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contribute little or nothing to our national prosperity.
In common with an increasing number of the general public, we have reached a saturation point at which the high pitched scream of consumer selling is no more than sheer noise. We think that there are other things more worth using our skill and experience on. There are signs for streets and buildings, books and periodicals, catalogues, instructional manuals, industrial photography, educational aids, films, television features, scientific and industrial publications and all the other media through which we promote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world.
We do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible. Nor do we want to take any of the fun out of life. But we are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes. With this in mind we propose to share our experience and opinions, and to make them available to colleagues, students and others who may be interested.
Thanks for sharing, Wouter! One of the largest critiques of the First Things First manifesto is that not everyone is able to work for a museum, school, or other institution outside of the commercial realm. This is one of the reasons why I ask this question, as some designers would like to make more of a positive impact outside of their jobs which may have more of a commercial slant. Others (like me) may simply want to make the largest positive impact on their local communities by utilizing their professional skills (design).
Full disclosure: I'm fortunate to actually work for a non-profit institution, but even so I may not always work in that sphere.
For me First Things First is about the realisation that you might have a choice to not work for big corporations, and use your abilities to better the world. (notice the use of the word: might).
During art school I became fascinated with Tibor Kalman (have you read Perverse Optimist?) and his work with Oliviero Toscani for United Colors of Benneton. The way they used social issues, in such a way that were respectful to the issues at hand, but also gave value to the brand that was sending the message. It seemed a stroke of pure genius, as it combined commercialism with idealism in such a way that was beneficial for both sides.