Interview with Jay Eckert, Innovative Graphic Designer

This week’s Designing for Good interview is with Jay Eckert, R.G.D, the Principal and Art Director of Parachute Design, who believes good design is all about creating the most positive user-experience.

DF: As a designer, or someone who has worked in the non-profit industry, how has design impacted your design business? 

JE: The quality of the design used to marketing our business is two-fold:

  1. We are designers, so showing a high level of design which is thoughtful, current and showcases visual strength we set ourselves apart from the melting pot of average design studios.
  2. The simple and clear communication of our online and print material provides to-the-point, direct information to the viewer and generates action.


DF: What are your thoughts on how your organization or project (or one you know of) would function with poor, default, unthoughtful design and branding?

JE: With poor design representing our business we would not convey strong talent and experience in the service we provide to our clients.

We would not stand out from the crowd.
We would not portray professionalism.
We would not instill confidence in our clients.
We would not be taken as seriously.

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?

JE:  Without strong branding and clear and effective communications the message can be lost or not effectively delivered to the audience. Without a memorable and effective brand, the organization is not as easily remembered, or taken as seriously.

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

JE: In my education (post secondary) working in partnership with non-profits was a great exposure to the working world of design and good practice for working with a client for the first time. This experience is very important and should be provided to new designers. The positive for the non profit is free work, however, the quality of the work rarely compares to that of a professional studio (very good example of “you get what you pay for”). For non profits in startup mode this is a great solution, but once up and running, considerable effort and resources should be put into furthering or refining the brand if not from the very beginning. I don’t believe all designers should have some sustainability or social conscience in their work as its a personal choice and should not be forced.

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

The owners of “Designing for Good” are colleagues of mine and their mission is to provide full service solutions for non-profits. There are studios out their already following this mantra. I do think it is very useful though.

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

JE: YMCA, Salvation Army, United Way, World Wildlife Fund

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04 2012

Interview with Denise Spiessens: Designer and Developer for Positive Change

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.

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03 2012

Benefits of Designing for a Cause and Pro Bono Design

What are the benefits of designing for a cause, working with non-profits, or doing pro bono design work? The following is a list of benefits produced as part of RGD Ontario‘s (Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario) Designer’s Guide to Pro Bono Work. This document was created by members of the RGD Ontario Provisional Committee in 2007 to assist designers and non-profits to work together on pro bono projects that benefit the community.

  • Creativity: It is refreshing and inspiring to work with dedicated staff who believe in what they do.
  • Networking: Non-profit or charitable organizations’ Board of Directors and other volunteers are great people to network with since some of them are business owners and prospective clients.
  • Philanthropy: What is better than using your talent and knowledge to help effect change and support something that you believe in?
  • Portfolio: It is a way to explore areas of design that are not yet prominent in your portfolio and develop creative and innovative new work.

Although this is only one resource, and refers mainly to “pro bono” work, it is very relevant to the benefits of Designing for Good – whether it be officially documented for a registered charity or non-profit, or simply for the benefit of society and the greater good in general.

RGD Ontario’s Designer’s Guide to Pro Bono Work is available for download at this link.

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03 2012

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.

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03 2012

Interview with Catherine Clement: Public Engagement and Non-Profit Communications

This week’s Designing for Good Interview is with Catherine Clement, Vice President of Public Engagement and Communications for Vancouver Foundation, where she has introduced a new brand for the organization. She has also worked in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors including the City of Vancouver and Ontario government in addition to running her own communications firm in Toronto which specialized on communications for non-profits.

DF: As someone who has worked in the non-profit and public service sectors, how has design impacted the cause or organization you are involved with?

CC: Design has been key to attracting people our philanthropic message. A modern yet approachable logo, and strong, eye-catching images for our ads has been important to help us stand out from all the other messages.

DF: What are your thoughts on how your organization or project would function with poor, default, unthoughtful design and branding?

CC:  We would not get noticed if we had poor design, and that would truly result in waste of money.

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?

CC: I absolutely do think they can compete. But more non-profits need to recognize the importance of not only the message but the medium. Too many produce mediocre design. Most charities have that same vanilla look.

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

CC: I am not sure it is important for all designers to have this. But it would be nice if in school each designer in training had an opportunity to apply their skills to a non-profit project.

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

CC: I think this could be useful for the smaller non-profits. Bigger ones have their own machines to help with communications and marketing and the design that goes with it. It is the small charities that could really use a resource like this.

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

CC: I like some of our own materials — Vancouver Foundation. There are some good design pieces coming of out the US. Can’t think of who off-hand, but I know that every once in a while I see something that grabs my attention. It is relatively rare.

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?  

CC: British Columbia Cooperative Association is a great organization, doing fabulous work in the community, but could some updating. Nice logo, but that is about it. Some animal welfare non-profits could also you some assistance. These organizations have the most challenge raising money.

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03 2012

Video of Designers, Non-Profit Professionals and Design Educators coming soon

Footage of designers, design educators and non-profit professionals is being produced into a short video aimed at awareness for Designing for Good and encouraging designers to use their skills for the greater good. Additionally, a series of clips from the individual interviews will be posted on this website.

Designing for Good Video Preview

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03 2012

Interview with Carol-Anne Ryce-Paul: Multidisciplinary Creative Designer

This week’s Designing for Good Interview is with Carol-Anne Ryce-Paul, a Graphic Designer at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street. She has studied at both Parsons School of Design in New York and the School of Visual Arts.  

DF: As someone who has worked in the non-profit industry, how has design impacted the causes and organizations you are involved with?

CR: Design is crucial to our call to action and to the presentation of our work. Our sponsorship, corporate collaborations and our internal understanding of our global work is enhanced by a good, clean and clear design approach. Our message must be enhanced by, not made fuzzy by the use of design.

DF: What are your thoughts on how your organization would function with poor, default, unthoughtful design and branding?

CR:  Until recently (the past 10 years) the use of poor design choices and even the confusion about the name of the organization in relation to its most well known product, created brand confusion which lead to poor results in sponsorship/fundraising and collaborative efforts.

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?

CR: Of course! Design should not be the way you do your work, but like everything else in business, an adjunct to the way your business and brand succeeds and is represented/accepted in the world. It is the choice of design, the strategy, and the consistent use of a design choice that best works for the organization that is key.

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

CR: Well, personally, I believe all humans should have a sustainable and social practice in their daily lives. Once that is established, the way design is practiced and implemented will be more than a philosophy.

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

In this day and age physical storefronts are needed only for actual product transfers. Virtual services don’t need storefronts as they may not even reach those most in need; and good design services may profit most from a direct and smart marketing strategy.

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02 2012

Interview with Steve Virtue: Public Affairs Specialist

This week’s Designing for Good Interview is with Steve Virtue, Director of Communications at PDAC and former Marketing and Communications at OCAD University, who has a background in political management, higher education, and government policy development. 

DF: As someone who has worked for various non-profits and public institutions, how has design impacted the cause or organization you are involved with?

SV: Clear, concise, and authentic communications (be it graphic or language based communications) is critical. Society is bombarded with a high volume of communications material on a daily basis – and in particular, for non-profits – ensuring your message is heard/seen above all others  is paramount (specifically because they are most likely to have been done on a limited budget).

DF: What are your thoughts on how an organization would function with poor, default, unthoughtful design and branding?

SV: They would not function. Many organizations run on flat, stale, outdated branding and don’t give it much thought. Understanding the very essence of a ‘brand’ is to realize that its nothing short of a promise, a value proposition – and if you let that exhaust its own contemporary value, what are you left with? The spill over is poor design and more than likely deviations from brand architecture that has ‘offshoot’ branding or those that choose to or attempt to be unique because the parent brand is so terribly old or outdated.

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?

SV: The reality is that they shouldn’t have to compete with the global brand. Rare few not-for-profts have the experience capacity or value proposition to deliver at the highest ranks – so perhaps trying to be a global brand is an objective that is unrealistic.

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

SV: All of them need better design, but the bigger question is value proposition, strategy and context. I think you want to be careful not selling ‘design’ as the answer to the woes of an organization that has ‘systemic’ issues. Keeping in mind that in absence of substance, individauls such as executives and board members will often jump to tactics – design, marketing, communications – as a means of finding ‘quick wins’. More often than not, if someone starts with ‘we have a marketing problem’ there are much, much deeper issues.

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02 2012

Design Excels Youth-Run, Non-Profit Organization

ACCESS is a non-profit organization I started 6 years ago as a high school student. As an organization, we have acknowledged how significant it is to have well-designed materials and identifiable branding.

From early on we had a website that has been constantly improving, and receive many comments about its design (creating a pleasant experience for donors and supporters would result in more support for the organization and increased likely hood to share). Having these materials designed from day one of our initial School Supply Drive in a suburban church foyer has helped ACCESS gain recognition and credibility, even as a smaller grassroots group.

Recently, ACCESS had a student designer through the Designer Combiner program of ArchiTEXT Inc, which gave us the opportunity to experiment, give direction and try several options without accumulating a massive bill (or any bill). A detailed article on the process and launch of the new logo is available at this link.

Design has been an asset as a grassroots, youth-run, non-profit group, especially in a field with so many new organizations sprouting up and expanding. The branding and design has helped us to receive grants with additional design standards for two of our major programs; Speak Up for Change and Youth Making a Difference.

Without consistent design work and branding, ACCESS would not have been able to grown nearly as fast, and may have had a much more challenging time in acquiring sponsorships, grants, and booking presentations at various schools and conferences.

Design will continue to play a key role in the success of ACCESS as we move on to new partnerships and funding opportunities.

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02 2012

Interview with Kanika Gupta: Social Entrepreneur and Community Engagement Advocate

This week’s Designing for Good Interview is with Kanika Gupta, a social entrepreneur and community advocate who co-founded SoJo, an online platform that combines social innovation, youth empowerment, technology and online media to inspire and inform youth to initiate social projects by providing them with the tools and resources to turn their ideas for social change into action. 

DF: As someone who has worked in the non-profit and social enterprise industries, how has design impacted the cause or organization you are involved with?

KG: As an organization that is building a consumer-facing product, design is important for first impressions and engaging the audience to interact with our product. Design is integral in delivering content and effectively reaching out to our audience.

DF: What are your thoughts on how your organization or project would function with poor, default, unthoughtful design and branding?

KG: For a product such as SoJo, good design and branding is crucial. For example, our logo was created with thought and purpose and is actually symbolic of our entire organization and what we represent. It is amazing how powerful something as basic as a logo can have on engaging our audience and stakeholders in our product (which it has).

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?

KG: Absolutely. Any organization with a compelling message can get the attention it merits. It is important that this message be communicated effectively to its audience, and design can play a big role in this – however I do not think a big budget is needed to compete with the big companies. Creative and fresh thought is enough (in my opinion) to engage an audience.

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

KG: Design needs to be viewed in a holistic sense. In sense of students contributing 10% of their time to nonprofits or social-purpose organizations, they should be responsible and engaged in all of the projects they do. For example, even if a designer is creating a product for a large company they should look at the design project in a larger ecosystem and design accordingly (ie: reduced packaging, honest marketing, positive emotions, etc.)

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

KG: I think that’s a great idea. Design is not accessible to startups or nonprofits (as all their funds are focused on delivering on the programs/mandate and there is limited cash flow).

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02 2012