Design tips and insights for nonprofits and social enterprises.

What is design for social impact?

What is design for social impact?

Do you know what design for good is and how it can make a difference in the impact you have? This type of work goes by a few names: social design, design for social impact, design for good. But what does it mean? It used to mean doing pro-bono work for nonprofits between paying gigs. Now, it’s much more complicated than that.

Many designers are now tasked with driving impact and improving services and processes. It’s new and exhilarating territory for creatives like myself.

My two cents on what design for social impact is, and can be:

  • Any project that strives for positive economic, social, or environmental goals.
  • A bottom-up approach to the needs of the audience.
  • Being inclusive in who your audience is and how to reach them.
  • Designing anything for a nonprofit or social enterprise
  • Design-developed solution to a specific social problem, without a client.

How to use design to increase your social impact

It can seem complicated to engage a designer to help you think, or even rethink, a problem. It’s so much easier to just say, “I need a new brochure.” If that is all you ever do, then you’re just scratching the surface.

A few tips on how to use design for social impact:

  • Explore the value that design can bring, and tell others about it
  • Bring a designer to the table early in the process, not at just when you’ve already decided what you need.
  • Start small

How have you used design for social impact? I’d love to know.

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Perfection should not be the goal

Perfection should not be the goal

I’m a designer that doesn’t believe in perfection. Yup, you read that right. Now, I know there are many people who would say I’m crazy for admitting this out loud. Let me be clear, I don’t mean that I’ll send your 10,000 brochures to the printer with typos. No, that’s not happening.

Like Facebook, move fast and break things
In today’s digital space things can be iterated and tweaked constantly as you test and learn. Also, solutions to complex social problems should be prototyped and tested quickly to get insight from the community and not waste resources. If you wait too long to get something perfect, you’ve missed your chance to be done and on to the next version.

So, what do I strive for in design?

  • making connections between your purpose and the needs of others
  • bottom-up approaches to solutions, instead of top down
  • trying a few things and see what sticks
  • rethinking the question


What do you strive for in your work?

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6 common design myths about social impact

6 common design myths about social impact

Design for social impact can be nuanced and complicated. Here are 6 common myths to keep in mind:

The issue is too complicated to be presented simply
The problems you’re tackling are multifaceted and complicated, but if you can’t drill down to the essence of what you’re trying to accomplish, you overwhelm your audience and they will turn away. You’re the expert on the issue, but they don’t have to be. In fact, they shouldn’t have to know everything in order to support your work. Be succinct, don’t talk above them or below them, and let them know how it benefits them.

Nonprofits don’t have competitors
I don’t think people believe this anymore, but I’m including it here just in case. I know there are other organizations that share a similar mission with you. I generally believe that people are generous, but they will not give to every organization that they see. Figure out what makes you different and what makes your audience different. Use that to guide everything you do.

Printed materials can’t look expensive
I’ve heard this before from nonprofits. I get that the average person doesn’t know how much printing costs, so if they see something big and super glossy they say it looks expensive. But that is not necessarily the case anymore. Digital printing has changed the game and sometimes it can actually be more expensive to print something in 2 colors on craft paper, then full color on glossy paper.

Innovation is for companies like Apple, not nonprofits
Innovation comes in many forms and shapes. More and more nonprofits and social enterprises are starting up every day, and I’m sure you’ve come across organizations with similar missions in your research. It’s safe to say the market is getting crowded, which is good, right? More people are trying to make a difference. Bringing new ideas to social impact through resources, inventions, approaches, partnerships, etc., can be your differentiator. Many foundations are looking for these very types of things to fund and support, so don’t let “It’s never been done before,” stop you.

Making it pretty is enough
Yes, sometimes a killer logo is what you need for a campaign, but sometimes it’s not. The right designer can help you get to the heart of your objectives and needs, and help you develop a unique solution. Don’t forget metrics. A nice looking website doesn’t necessarily mean that more people are clicking that donate button.

Good design is expensive
The cost of good design is relative, like everything else in life. It really depends on who’s doing the designing. Large creative agencies are going to be more expensive than an independent designer, but then again bigger agencies might have more resources to do pro-bono work. There are also organizations like Taproot that provide grants for creative work, and sites like Catchafire to help you find the perfect volunteer designer. Also, free tools like Canva help you DIY something that can look pretty good. Don’t be afraid to approach a designer you’d like to work with, you never know what you can negotiate.

Do you know of any others? I’d love to hear them.

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What’s been inspiring me lately

What’s been inspiring me lately

I’m reading The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, and what can I say? It’s challenging and inspiring all at the same time. I first heard about this book from a podcast called Your Business is Your Life. This book is something that I can see myself reading again periodically, just to give myself that nudge to keep pushing through. I highly recommend it.

New ways to create
I’ve been hearing about Risograph printing a lot recently and it seems really cool. I love learning about new production techniques and seeing how other designers are using them. I for sure want to try it, and I know someone that just got one of these in their studio.


Your mission in 8 words
I first saw this video of Kevin Starr from Mulago Foundation when I was prepping for the SVA’s Impact! Design for Social Change, a week-long residency. This video was eye-opening and I watch it often when I’m trying to synthesize the mission of something I’m working on. If you can’t say what you do, or your purpose in a few words, then its too complicated.

What it’s like to paint a mural
A secret dream of mine is to paint a mural. I love street art, from conceptual to graffiti and everything in between. Reading about this Heather Day’s process has helped me understand what it might be like. One day…


What’s been inspiring you lately? 


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DIY Behind the Scenes marketing campaign

Campaigns | Marketing
DIY Behind the Scenes marketing campaign

Telling your story and the impact you have can be difficult. It takes planning and resources, so here are a few tips on how to DIY a “Behind the Scenes” marketing campaign.

First, spend some time thinking about the actual project/initiative you’re working on and what kind of behind the scenes story you want to tell. Are you working with a photographer to get some client stories for your website? Or maybe putting together your Fall line of sustainable accessories? Each one will call for a slightly different approach.

Take pictures and video of everything.

  • Equipment, accessories, production assembly line
  • Transporting and going to venue
  • Setting everything up
  • People in action
  • Team meetings and gatherings
  • Taking a break and having fun

Take notes and ask questions

  • Capture funny things said and profound insights from participants
  • Get someone that participated to write about what it was like from their point of view.

Now edit and upload

  • Post 1-2 per day on your social media accounts. If you have multiple accounts try to use slightly different angles and cropping, so that it doesn’t seem like the same exact picture is being used. Add text to provide context, tag people, and use a hashtag.
  • Combine a few into grids using apps like Layout.
  • Add some to your blog or website.
  • Using an app like Canva and design a graphic with a quote from one of the participants
  • Feature a short synopsis of the day by one of the participants on your blog or website.

A few things to keep in mind

  • Bring extra cameras
  • Have someone dedicated to taking pictures and talking to participants
  • Be flexible and a fly on the wall
  • Tell a story using images and interviews
  • Don’t be a perfectionist

Everyone loves to see how things come together and get a glimpse behind the curtain. This is your opportunity to showcase your dedicated team and the hard work they put in—even if it’s a team of one.

Have you done a behind the scenes campaign before? What worked and didn’t work?

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