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10 Ways to Take Design Action and Make a Positive Difference in the World

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Can we make a positive difference in the world through the use of design? If so, how? Let's look at ten ways to take decisive action through the use of design.

Designers deliver messages with impact, and are trained in conceptual and high-value visual thinking. They can use these skills to assist non-profits, eco-friendly companies, and active charity groups. We can raise funds through the sale of our donated design work, launch projects with big concepts that are grounded in practical campaigns, and more. Let's discuss some of these ideas.

1. Sell Your Design Work and Donate the Funds to Charity

There are numerous models to follow here. In the example below a large assortment of talented designers put together a book featuring their work. The book is titled, "Designed To Help." The proceeds went to help the tsunami crisis in Asia.

With the recent "Solving Poverty" Button Design contest here on Psdtuts+, we'll be using the winning entries to set up a store where proceeds of the button sales will go to Kiva.org. This leverages the Psdtuts+ community to empower individual designers to create artwork for a worthy cause.

Let us know in the comments other examples of artists selling things they've created to help solve global or local issues.

2. Deliver a Message with Impact and Give it Exposure

Whether you're creating the message, or working within an existing campaign, as a designer you can communicate with impact. Ultimately, the message should make you think or be something positive that makes people want to grab onto. You can also get creative with your method of delivery or use of social media. Of course, this is what we do best as designers - give ideas shape, form, and strong visual appeal. Choose the right cause and jump in.

Shepard Fiery has created numerous critical political designs, has participated with delivering messages on the street, and worked to deliver strong messages. Here is an interview with him where he discusses his beliefs, artwork, and how they work together. His Obey campaign is well known and for a good overview of his work see the Shepard Fairey Wikipedia entry. The artwork below is a poster he did for the Rock the Vote campaign.

Leave a comment about your experience with spreading a positive message, or other instances of designers doing this that you've noticed.

3. Choose to Work with Companies or Organizations that Make a Difference

You could choose to work directly for a charity or non-profit organization. Thereby, contributing daily to assisting the groups cause. This could be on an individual project or permanent basis. Or, as a freelancer choose to only take on work from organizations and companies who's polices and practices you agree with.

You may choose to work for a corporation or business though. Before accepting a design position with a company, you should review their policies, evaluate what they contribute to making a difference, and what your role might be in these initiatives.

This is something I didn't consider when starting to work for Envato, which was Eden at the time I can to work here. It's really inspiring to be writing this post, and contributing to Blog Action Day, which is a nonprofit, grassroots movement of thousands of individual bloggers coming together for one cause. Each year the cause is different, and this year the cause is Poverty, as shown below.

Let us know your experiences with choosing whom to work for. Or, which companies to work with as a freelancer.

4. Create a Website or Video Dedicated to Solving an Issue or Spreading Awareness

Now this requires a bit more technical knowhow than visual design alone, as it requires you to pursue more technical knowledge, or find someone to partner with, but it's far from outside the boundaries of what we could pursue. Many of us are savvy web enthusiasts and could really pull together a unique website dedicated to solving issues or spreading awareness in support of a cause.

A one person driven initiate called the UnculturedProject has been popular for quite some time. It's a YouTube channel put in place to change the conversation about poverty. The channel has had much more success than any other Global Poverty channel on YouTube. Shawn, who runs the project has touched many lives and educated numerous people on ways to assist with solving poverty issues.

Let us know of any other solo or small group initiatives aimed at solving global issues that you know of and that creatives could get involved in.

5. Train in Working with Eco-Friendly Practices or Making Graphics for Green Companies

Educating yourself on up to date standards regarding eco-friendly practices will allow you to serve as a resource to help your clients make good decisions. Here is an introductory article on Green printing to get started on this topic. There are certainly many more topics that will allow you to serve as a resource for your customers.

Also, consider your role as teacher. How can you help other designers with their client projects geared toward eco friendly customers. Ryan one of our regular writers at VECTORTUTS, wrote a tutorial on creating an environmentally friendly type treatment that gives some great techniques that could be used in branding this type of company or organization.

Leave a comment about other environmentally friendly topics to learn about or that you've taught to others.

6. Apply Your Conceptual Design Experience to Solve Local Issues and Impact Global Issues

The Art Center College of Design has an interesting program called Designmatters. In it students take part in project where they work with agencies toward making a real world difference.

One such project had students working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Safe Motherhood Initiative to create an awareness campaign on maternal mortality, which is an often overlooked issue within third-world countries. This project offered no direct calls to action and required deeper solutions. "Designing for the UNFPA challenged students to think beyond just a client’s vision or brand, but to consider how to effectively communicate to the global public about a real-world problem."

This is just one of many example of designers using their conceptual abilities to help solve a problem or raise awareness. Link up to other examples in the comments.

7. Launch a Good Project with Great Intentions

Doing some good in the world is a noble mindset. Creating a good project can make a tangible difference. The makers of Good Magazine have raised over $800,000 for various charities with their hybrid online and bimonthly print magazine. It offers a unique model whereby %100 percent of subscription costs go to charities of your choice. The magazine offers a combination of inspiring, thought provoking, and informative content about pushing the world forward through progress and change.

Let us know of other projects you've scene with good intentions and great design that you would like to get behind.

8. Donate Your Design Skills Directly to a Non-Profit Organization or Charity Group

This is a fairly simple model to follow. Take on a client project pro-bono for a non-profit. This is a great way for young designer's to build their portfolios with real projects and experienced designers to stay connected to the community.

About a month and a half ago Mark Hayword, one of my blog friends, mentioned a non-profit project he planned to launch that had some really interesting concepts behind it. Here is a link to a post that describes the model he was proposing. What also really caught my attention was that social media savvy individuals and popular bloggers were behind the project. They had some great launch and long-term plans.

I had the opportunity to design the logo, which I mention in an article here. They recently launched Train for Humanity, which is a site that allows endurance athletes to use their training to help raise money for humanitarian causes (the project leverages getting fit + social media + blogging for social good).

Leave a comment or link to projects you've donated your design time to.

9. Run a Donation Driven Design Contest on Your Blog

If you have your own design blog, no matter the size, then you can run a contest to drive donations. Here is a post on running graphic design contests to get started. Styletime is running a contest in support of Blog Action Day and has amassed quite an impressive array of prizes. To be eligible requires you to donate a dollar at a minimum.

Really you could run any kind of fundraising event as well that is design driven. Here on Psdtuts+ we just launched the "Solving Poverty" Button Design contest, and on VECTORTUTS the accompanying "Solving Poverty" T-Shirt design contest, which uses both a competition and sales of designed items to provide funds toward Kiva.org, a micro-loaning non-profit group that helps entrepreneur in developing countries lift themselves out of poverty.

Let us know about other design contests used to promote a non-profit organization or to donate money to a cause. Also, let us know if you're planning on running one.

10. Create a Mission for Your Design Business That Makes a Difference

Aside from being listed within numerous web design galleries as having a high-impact site design, Studio 7 Designs Inc. also stand out based on their focus on working with eco-friendly practices. They seek out environmentally conscious companies. This is stated on their about page, but can also be viewed in their portfolio, which indicates they practice what they are saying. There page on environmentally friendly web design indicates that they donate to Kiva.org and myclimate.org, it also shows the eco-friendly standards they adhere to.

Leave a comment about how you're developing your freelance companies mission. Or let use know about other design companies that follow good practices.

Additional Resources

These are certainly many more ways you can take action and make a difference as a designer. Here is a blog that is focused on the topic of Design to Make a Difference.

A simple solution for a successful design agency is to join One Percent For The Planet. This is a pledge that you'll contribute 1% of your earnings every year to 1% For the Planet, which then distributes those funds across over 1,500 approved environmental organizations. I found this organization through the blog SimpleBits.

If you want to read a more critical stance on this subject, then read this post Does graphic design really make a difference?, or for an inspiring stance read Graphic Design Firms Can Make a Difference.

How Will You Take Action?

Let us know in the comments any other unique ways that we as designers can take design action and make a positive difference in the world? I'd like to hear what members of the Psdtuts+ community are doing to make an impact through the use of design? We had some passionate debate yesterday with this digital painting tutorial, which is great, today let's carry that energy into discussing making a positive impact in the world through design.

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