You come to work. You want it to mean something. If you’re a designer like me, you may belong to AIGA. Maybe you’ve seen the ongoing dialogue about Design for Good…contributing to causes with your design work. Volunteering your time. Designing for free.
If you find it difficult to find time to volunteer your design services and still make a living, I’m here to tell you that there is a middle ground.
You can work as a profitable designer, and still make a healthy and sustainable contribution to people and causes you support.
A Small Piece of My Story
Both of my parents were teachers. My mother just retired in 2015 after 40 years of teaching kindergarten. My father too worked as a first grade teacher in the same low-income school district.
Parents there are young (having kids at age 16, or 17 is common), money is tight (grocery store workers, baristas, gas-station attendants), and time is limited (families commonly have two to three minimum wage jobs to make it). Many children are on free or reduced lunch.
Often children do not have the support they need completing homework, getting ready for school or even arriving on time.
My parents, as teachers, in this community worked tirelessly to improve the lives of young children.
I thought about being a teacher; helping people in a similar way. I even volunteered my time to lead various educational programs for children. It only took me two summers of leading the community Drama Camp for Kids to realize my gifts lied elsewhere.
Sometime late in high school I found creative writing. Later I discovered graphic design and finally web design.
I decided I wanted to make an effort to support educational organizations through design.
Making it All Happen
During college I began working for a non-profit called NetCorps. The organization offers websites and computer networking services for environmental and social change organizations. I worked on website interfaces and HTML/CSS for groups like Environment Oregon, LGTBQ of Josephine County, People for Roadless Areas. I met people with a passion for social change. I kept in touch.
Later, after college I went to work for Nike in their Public Relations department. I designed marketing materials to be sent out to the media along with product press releases. After work, I came home and completed freelance work environmental groups and social change organizations. I met more people with a social conscious. I kept in touch.
After five years of freelancing on the side of my full-time job, I left to run Flower Press Creative Studio full-time. I prioritized inquiries from organizations with an education, social change or environmental focus. I got a design contract working for Maya’s Mom, a forum and networking site for parents. BabyCenter acquired the service. My studio came along.
I met Product Managers, UI Designers and Marketers. I was introduced to a Design Manager who left to work for GreatSchools. My studio came along.
A friend was going into medical school, and tracked his test stats along with the results of a few colleagues. He compared admission results. He came up with the idea to create MD Applicants, a site to allow students to review their experience with medical school admissions. He hired my studio to build it.
Meanwhile, one of the marketing team leads at GreatSchools left for InsideTrack, a company offering success coaching to college students. After successful completion of the MD Applicants project and my previous exposure to the education space, my studio was hired to build a series of tools for InsideTrack targeting college students. The program improved adoption significantly, and increased my contacts in the education space.
MD Applicants was taking off. They grew through organic search, word of mouth etc. Student Doctor Network discovered them. SDN Forums represent the largest student medical community on the Internet. Forum traffic soon represented the majority of MD Applicants direct referrals. And, when SDN got to know the creator of MD Applicants and asked for resources to build out more student tools…my studio was recommended.
Today Student Doctor Network is one of my largest clients and has an enormous impact on people’s lives. With their resources, SDN is able to make sure that doctors succeed in studying for the MCATs, choosing the correct medical school, specialty, and career placement. They offer a community of support that ensures the pressures of a medical career path don’t become too much. Many of these tools have been designed and tested by my studio. These tools have been successful in growing the SDN network and increasing their positive impact on people’s lives.
As Flower Press Creative Studio grows, I will continue to look for ways to work for organizations that have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
I have been fortunate. All of my work for a cause has been well paid. I come to work and know that what I do matters. I do not have to give my time away to make a difference. This makes my contribution sustainable. What I have to do is choose my clients carefully, do a good job, network within a community of socially conscious individuals and care a lot.