This week’s Designing for Good Interview is with Denise Spiessens, Senior Designer at rtraction – a digital agency interested in positive change (creating it, learning it, influencing it, and helping clients navigate it).
DF: As a designer works with clients in the non-profit industry, how has design impacted the causes you have worked on?
DS: Design impacts any organization, non-profit or for-profit, regardless of cause or opportunity. Hand-in-hand with good marketing, it’s what people recognize as your brand, and it’s what sets you apart from your competition. Good design is synonymous with credibility and professionalism. It gets noticed, respected and, more importantly, remembered. Design is an essential element of any organization’s identity. For non-profits, that identity is what attracts donors, volunteers, talented staff and board members that allow the organizations to continue doing their great work for their communities.
What are your thoughts on how an organization or one of your clients would function with poor, default, unthoughtful design and branding?
DS: Poor design could hinder your cause. That’s really what it comes down to. The message gets lost or confused and it doesn’t have the impact it would if you had well-designed materials. Potential supporters don’t get to know your work well enough to have faith in it and want to be a part of it, and potential benefactors may not know where to go for help.
Do you feel that non-profits, social enterprises and grassroots initiatives can survive and compete for attention with the visual branding of large companies?
DS: Yes, I do. There are plenty of non-profits that have great branding and design. A well-designed logo doesn’t need to cost $100,000 for example. There are also initiatives out there for organizations that need designers but don’t necessarily have the budget, like Sparked – an online volunteering hub with a section specifically for non-profit groups at sparked.com.
On the other hand, it’s important to consider whether non-profits need to compete for attention with large companies. Certainly, people’s attention spans are only so great, and there is always some level of competition for that. But creating a visual identity that is actually targeted to the appropriate demographic is more important than competing with Pepsi or Volkswagen for general attention.
DF: In your opinion, should all designers have some sustainability or social conscious in their practice and philosophy?
DS: I don’t believe it should be a requirement, but I would urge them to help those causes that are important to them personally. Too often careers are seen as a means to make money, but it’s beneficial to all, and a worthy thing, to help people and community when they need it. I think by nature designers are passionate people. The designers I know live and breathe design and they do it every day because it feeds some part of them. How great would it be if they could pass that passion on to an organization or community that truly needs their support? The same could be said for any industry.
DF: Do you think that a physical storefront or studio dedicated to offering design services for “good” would be a useful idea?
DS: I think having a space where designers can come together to discuss ideas and work with each other is great. However, this could be accomplished quite easily online. Additionally, there are companies like the one I work for that allocate a certain percentage of their work to non-profits every year in an attempt to give back to the community.
DF: Are there any non-profits or social causes that you would identify as examples of good design having a positive impact overall?
DS: Last year we worked with a local non-profit called ReForest London on its Million Tree Challenge initiative. Basically, the goal of the challenge is to get the community involved in planting more trees in London, Ontario. We donated a new website to ReForest London for this great cause, and the response has been terrific. The website design has been featured in numerous blogs and galleries across the web. The added exposure from the design has increased site visits, and inherently increased the number of people who have committed to planting trees in London.
Do you know of any causes, movements, groups or non-profits specifically that lack great design, and could benefit from some assistance should the services be provided?
DS: There are plenty out there. Unfortunately, most non-profits don’t have a budget for design. It’s the sad nature of their business. Recently, rtraction ran a Canada-wide contest to find the worst website in the nation (Canada’s Worst Charity Website). It called for people to submit websites from registered charities across Canada that they think needed a makeover. There was a total of just under 150. Each entry was judged and a top 10 list was compiled. It was up to Canada to vote on the “worst” website, which will receive a $25,000 makeover courtesy of rtraction and a handful of other businesses in London, Ontario. The winner is at rtraction.com.