Interview with Gopika Prabhu: Graphic Designer for Clients that make the world a better place

This week’s Designing for Good Interview is with Gopika Prabhu, the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Elefint Designs, a design and marketing firm dedicated to serving people and organizations who are making the world a better place.

DF: As a graphic designer (specifically one that works a lot with social-cause clients), how has design impacted the cause or organization you are involved with?

GP: Great design brings out the credibility of an organization. I designed a booklet for an international non-profit that was given to the Prime Minister of Iraq. Through photos and just the right amount of content, the booklet illustrated the work the organization had been doing throughout Iraq. The meeting went great and the Prime Minister gave his full support to further advance the work the organization was doing for women in Iraq. That one booklet is not the reason why the meeting went well, but it did help to uphold the image of this organization as one that is professional, credible and really dedicated to their cause.

DF: What are your thoughts on how your design business, and that of your clients, would function with poor, default, unthoughtful design and branding?

GP: I run a design studio so poor design would very much hurt our brand. Design to us isn’t just the end product, it’s the entire journey from when a prospective client first gets in touch with us, to after we deliver the final product – be it a website, infographic, video etc. Every time a client interacts with us, it’s an opportunity to showcase what we stand for. That’s why we pay attention to every detail – from the length of our contracts, design of our invoices, and process of giving/receiving feedback. Design helps us create a pleasant experience for our clients. Our business is almost entirely run on referrals, so the happier we keep our clients and I think this is definitely tied to delivering high quality and beautiful design as well as paying attention to all the details in between.

DF: Do you feel that non-profits, social enterprises and grassroots initiatives can survive and compete for attention with the visual branding of large companies?

GP: Yes. Just because they’re not selling coke, doesn’t mean non-profits and social enterprises can’t be just as sexy, sleek and impactful. It’s all about branding and getting yourself out there.

DF: In your opinion, should all designers have some sustainability or social conscious in their practice and philosophy?

GP: Using your talent/skills to help others is something that needs to come naturally and without much effort or thought. A designer who is constantly asking him/herself how they can be of service is someone who will do great things. That doesn’t mean that everyone else who may not think this way, is a bad designer or a bad person. Being forced to think a certain way or serving through obligation is the opposite of having a social conscious. I do think that design education can educate students on sustainable design practices, and assign class projects that could make a difference. Ultimately people who are driven by a cause or feel close to a certain subject will want to focus on that. If young designers are exposed to social issues and are equipped with the tools to tackle those issues, then great things can happen.

DF: Do you think that a physical storefront (or space or studio) dedicated to offering design services for “good” would be a useful idea?

GP: It’s an interesting concept. Sounds like a hybrid between a design studio and collaborative workplace. There are communities popping up like that – for example, the Hub in SoMa was started to build a community around social entrepreneurs. I used to work out of there and it really helped to be around like-minded people with different professional backgrounds (from lawyers to people who created yoga bags). It’s a super fun, creative and collaborative space where great things happen. We were working as their in-house design studio and actually created some great partnerships with the people there. I think “physical storefronts” are being replaced by communities centered around sharing of knowledge and expertise. Designers have a huge role to play in such networks/communities.

DF: Are there any non-profits or social causes that you would identify as examples of good design having a positive impact overall?

GP: Back to the Roots, an East Bay based company, did a redesign and saw their sales increase tremendously. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has the warm, iconic panda that we can all relate to. I had an opportunity to interview one of the Founders of Back to the Roots, details of which can be found here. Also, see the article on Why Design Matters is published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

DF: 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?

GP: I’ve always wondered why the United Nations had such a stark website. They are tackling some of the worlds most pressing problems, and have such incredible leadership, yet they have such a boring and lifeless online presence. They could definitely benefit from a more robust, and inspiring website.

About The Author

Daniel Francavilla

Daniel is a graduate of OCAD University's Graphic Design program. He is the founder of Now Creative Group, and is inspired to make positive change through design and youth organizations like ACCESS and Speak Up for Change. Follow him on Twitter @Francavilla and @NowCreates.

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