Doing Good, Better: New Initiative Will Support Socially Focused Designers

Posted by Alissa Walker

From a story about Occupy Design's infographic kits to a challenge asking readers to redesign the report card, GOOD features designers using their talents to improve their communities almost every day. But the triumph of solving a social challenge often comes at great cost: Most of this work is done without pay and during overtime hours, which can strain a designer's business. "Designers say, 'I'll take my own time and my own resources and try and solve a problem alone,'" says Manuel Toscano, principal of the corporate identity firm Zago. "That's wrong."

A new initiative by AIGA, one of the country's largest design associations, hopes to support designers in their quest to create social change in a way that doesn't threaten their practices. The group launched a new initiative, Design for Good, at its biennial conference, Pivot, last weekend in Phoenix. Toscano, AIGA's national director of social engagement, says the project could shift the traditional role of socially focused design. "It's a transformation from a singular individual working alone to a community working in groups toward solutions that are not driven by the ego, but by the needs of a community," he says.

For AIGA, the initiative is an opportunity to serve the design community in new ways. "We know designers are doing this kind of work everywhere and it's having impact, but it's fragmented," says Doug Powell, principal of Schwartz Powell in Minneapolis and president of AIGA. Often, he says, the project relies on one or two people who are passionate about the cause, but eventually run out of steam. Using AIGA's network of over 22,000 designers in 66 chapters, he says, the program can lessen the burden on individuals by combining complementary efforts, publishing case studies, and teaching designers how to get funding for their solutions. The project has already attracted major corporate funding, as well as a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts' Art Works program.

Ideally, Powell says, AIGA can help designers on multiple levels: Enabling individuals working on similar projects to share resources, allowing individual AIGA chapters to take on a specific projects in their home cities, and proposing nationwide problems that designers can work on remotely. The goal, he says, is to connect and amplify existing efforts, and to allow other people to learn from them. "We're hoping to create a network so people can share best practices and work together," he says.


A farmers market in Bertie County, North Carolina built by high school students as part of Project H, a social design program cited by Design for Good

For now, there's plenty for to dig into on the Design for Good site. A list of resources allows designers to connect with each other. A series of case studies provide useful templates. Another effort will look at how schools are integrating the work into their curricula. Design for Good workshops will start in several cities next year.

GOOD is involved in the Design for Good program through GOOD Ideas for Cities, which matches creative professionals with local civic leaders to address urban challenges. Working with AIGA's vast network, we're hosting five events in mid-sized cities across the country to connect designers with their communities and develop creative solutions to urban problems.

If you're a designer, tell AIGA how Design for Good can support your work for social causes. Leave your ideas in the comments, share your story, or use the hashtag #dgAIGA