4 things you need to know when designing for nonprofits

Rich Hollant, lead strategist and design director at US studio Co:Lab, gives four reasons why patience is a virtue when it comes to socially responsible design.

Earlier this week we explained why it pays to design for nonprofits. Here Rich Hollant offers the benefits of his experience and gives four expert tips on how to go about it...

01. Social initiatives take time

We stay clear of the helicopter projects that leave behind more questions than they answer. These are burdens on communities, on organisations, and real baggage for the designer willing to put time into them. Community work is rarely about traditional problem solving. It's more about providing people with the tools and the opportunities to empower themselves. We are careful about that dynamic when we enter into a project.

02. Shortcuts can corrupt social value initiatives

There is a lot of value in subject matter expertise, but you have to be careful not to take what you think you know and apply it to a new scenario simply because they have similar characteristics.

For example, just because two communities are doing youth empowerment work doesn't mean a successful initiative in one town will be effective in a neighbouring town. This kind of heuristic shortcut can corrupt social value initiatives in subtle ways. Take the time to go through the discovery and assessment process for each initiative.

03. There will be setbacks

When you're deeply committed, they can be quite painful. The possibility of feeling like you've failed could overwhelm you. We encourage designers to maintain objectivity.

There are instances when we thought we were failing, but it turned out to be the way the community was processing the efforts to which we were contributing. Just a little further down the line, we were able to witness the benefits of that work. It takes time.

04. Change happens in the long-term

Long-term gratification is key here. In fact, remove any personal investment in the outcome from the equation. Most of the needed change that gets funding will be monolithic in scale. If it were easy to achieve, it would have been done already.

Head in knowing that it will take time to get to a significantly positive evaluation of outcomes. Instead of looking for gratification from short-term efforts, find it in your commitment to work towards something that will eventually make a real difference to others.

Words: Rich Hollant

Rich is lead strategist and a design director at Co:Lab, the US studio that switched from corporate work to projects focused on positive social impact back in 2007.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 219.

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