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Diving Deep into Design for Good
Cui bono?

by Matthew Porter

DIG…
As with Wikipedia, the users of Design for Good’s site are its creators, editors and police. If you have a story to tell, put it up. If you see trouble, flag it and alert the responsive contact line at AIGA. Or you can simply enjoy a leisurely perusal of this site full of wonders.

The site has people. You will meet the persistent and lightly combed Mark Dudlik, who led the Phoenix Design Summit. Or you can visit the New England hedgehog-hugger Lindsey Ruane, whose Critter Calendar “to benefit animals in need” is a pastiche of overwrought, overexposed cute animal calendars.

The site has politics. In the story of a “community-sourced exhibit” at the El Paso Museum of History, you’ll learn how a team of designers turned themselves into curators of cultural memory: Neighborhoods and Shared Memories/Nuestros Vecindarios y sus Memorias is a fully bilingual exhibit of local residents’ diverse cultural stories and remembrances, keyed to works by local artists. Elsewhere, in national politics, the case study on Make Congress Work! tells the tale of a nonpartisan public information campaign aimed at breaking political gridlock in twelve steps—and how it infiltrated the Capitol and cable TV on a shoestring.

And the site has back-to-the-wall heroics. Since working affordably and in response to social problems can mean working fast, it’s fitting that several impressive cases feature projects realized with amazing speed. The Wild Fire Tees project, for instance, conceived and launched in under 48 hours, raised $600,000 for victims of the 2012 Colorado wildfires—just by selling batches of one-off T-shirts by volunteer designers.

Dig in and learn. From Los Angeles to Boston, and from whimsy to disaster, you’ll find ideas at work for good all over the map.

CONNECTING AND CELEBRATING
The site not only showcases success, but also creates connections. Those who have contributed stories to the site are also eager to help others get started. For Doug Grimmett, Atlanta AIGA 2013 Fellow and a founding member of Good Thinking Atlanta, the forging of new professional connections is as central to the new pro bono paradigm as the demise of the donation model.

“I want the idea of social benefit to be two-way,” Grimmett says. “At our nonprofit, pro bono equals quid pro quo. If you want design to get real social results, your designers need a real motive. Does it have to be money? No. But it does have to be more than a warm fuzzy feeling.”

The premise of Good Thinking is to supply that motive—and spread it around. The creative Atlantans from firms around the city who volunteer their talents gain new friendships and see their work honored and promoted. The organizations served by Good Thinking gain the benefit of “free” creative. But those organizations are requested to ask their benefactors to become sponsors of Good Thinking services at a 90 percent discount.

“We view this as a new means of investing in the common good,” explains Grimmett. “It’s not a donation—it’s a mutual investment. We invest our time in these nonprofits, and we make it smart for foundations and other sponsors to invest their money in our time. Their investment in us allows us to help their pet nonprofits, but it also helps us help others who lack the means to even attract sponsors. Is this a sustainable model? We will see.”

I found a clear and inspiring answer to Grimmett’s question in the story of COMMON, an incubator and promoter of new ideas in social innovation launched by Bielenberg, Alex Bogusky, Ana Bogusky and Rob Schuham in January 2011. COMMON’s senior officer Mark Eckhardt explains COMMON as an ecosystem of people who are aligned based on shared values, with a mission of accelerating positive social innovation by launching businesses and celebrating the new generation of social entrepreneurs.

COMMON believes the “celebrating” part is crucial. “John, Rob and Alex have often expressed that the social responsibility space was too drab, severe and joyless, and I agree,” says Eckhardt. Whereas Galle and Powell reject the tradition of charity work as a giveaway, Eckhardt rejects the idea of the do-gooder as an anonymous benefactor. In Eckhardt’s view, social good and professional glory should go hand-in-hand. He says he wants “to make social entrepreneurs rock stars.”

He may get his wish. And it will be good. But it won’t be free. ca
http://image.commarts.com/Images1/1/3/4/43197_54_0_NTAyNTAwMC05NzQ0NjcwNjM.jpgMatthew Porter
Matthew Porter is a writer, critic and creative consultant who lives in his hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. His company is PorterWrite Design Consulting.