Design that Connects to the Audience

This question has been asked of me before: since you do design for nonprofits and foundations, do you really want it to look too good? Might that look like the organization is spending too much on graphic design, and not enough on their mission?

The answer is simple: all design must look good, especially for clients who work with nonprofit clients.

The importance of beautiful design for everyone
There is a need for design to be beautiful. American graphic designer Milton Glaser says that beauty is the “ultimate challenge” for designers. In this interview he says that we respond to beauty as a species, and that it’s the responsibility of graphic designers to “inform and delight by creating beautiful designs.”

Since aesthetics is a main component of design, a designer needs to value and work hard at the qualities that make every project look great. No matter who the client is—for profit or non-profit—the charm, refinement, and style of the design needs to be at the forefront.

Make the message clear, and connect to the audience
Especially in the social good space—for clients who focus on actions that create positive societal impact —graphic design needs to tell a compelling story. “Good design isn’t just visual—it’s informative, and often entertaining,” says Julia Zeltser, principal and creative director at Hyperakt.

I find that my responsibility as the graphic designer is to work with my social good clients very closely to figure out how to tell the story. When we collaborate to figure out the message, the message is clear and concise. Then it’s to the drawing board to create a design uses emotion to visually connect with the audience.

Say more with less
In the social good sphere, there may be less budget to use for graphic design. Often a non-profit or foundation will think of aesthetic decisions for a project as a minor thing, not to be taken seriously. However, a simply and beautifully designed brochure, website, or brand identity can be the hallmark of getting the support you need. It could be the difference between your cause being understood and compelling someone to action , vs. confusing and not compelling them to act.

Reclaiming Native Truth
Recently the Metropolitan Group, a communications agency that works with social causes, brought me in on a project for Reclaiming Native Truth (RNT), whose goal is to provide inclusion and social justice for Native Americans. In this project I partnered closely with a strategist and writer to develop a Message Guide and Narrative Change Plan that helps both native and non-native allies to advocate for more representation of Native people in culture, sports, media, and government positions.

The guides were quite large, and needed to talk about the appropriate usage of language. Collaborating with my client we brainstormed to create clear type hierarchy and infographics. We partnered with a Native American photographer that lived the life of a contemporary native person, and was able to give us the true story of native peoples.


RWJF Building Blocks
I also worked recently with Prichard Communications and their client, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on a series of social media images and interactive web graphic. This campaign supported Culture of Health Action Framework, a program to help everyone the opportunity to a healthier life.

The infographic was used as a tool on the RWJF website to highlight facts important to the campaign. The graphic was embedded on their website, and when you hovered over portions of the infographic you learned specific statistics.

We were able to use a playful look that called attention to the kids and families our campaign helped. Also a clear set of type hierarchy was used to call out important facts: bigger type to state statistics, and bolder type to show calls to action. The social media images led people to the Building Blocks infographic on the website.

Get it right
So from my point of view, the question isn’t whether or not a nonprofit/foundation/social change organization spends too much money on design. The real question should be: will you hire designers and thinkers who know how to create a clear, concise campaign that also looks beautiful AND leads users to act? All design needs to look good. Period.

Have you worked with nonprofit clients as a creative? If so, what’s your experience? I want to hear your story.