Through desigNYC, Darhil Crooks, art director of Esquire magazine, last year designed materials for Eating Healthy in Bed-Stuy, a campaign by Bed-Stuy Farm Share, a nonprofit working to combat obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in a New York City neighborhood where residents have little access to healthy foods. Darhil designed a guide with bold graphics and new photography featuring local residents. The piece introduces preventive health care concepts with specifics on diabetes and heart disease, facts about the neighborhood, seasonal recipes, and information about community food projects.
Across the country there are about 286,000 graphic designers, and increasingly they are donating their skills to nonprofits like Eating Healthy in Bed-Stuy. They are also starting to work to apply designing thinking to societal issues around the globe and to design new products and solutions that address social, economic and environmental issues.
The critical need for pro bono design efforts
Good design is critical to addressing progress in our society and should not just be available to those who can afford to buy it. Nonprofits are increasingly in competition for visibility, support, and funds, and well-designed programs, products, and collateral can set nonprofits apart. The sector’s need for design expertise includes the generation of informational, event-based, and fundraising collateral; programs and campaigns; and branding guidance and implementation.
Pro bono service has been practiced by designers for decades but is only recently becoming more transparent. The majority of these design professionals work at firms, which is also where the bulk of the pro bono work is done. Anecdotally, we have seen that most design firms donate at least 10 percent of their time to pro bono efforts. AIGA , the leading membership organization for the profession, has recently recognized this trend and is in the process of rolling out a formal program to encourage all designers to at least donate 5 percent of their time.
Pro bono is also widely practiced at design schools and is integrated into the curriculum and portfolio building process. This is where most designers begin their work in the community. Design schools may even surpass law schools in the opportunities they provide students to give back what they learn.
Recognizing leadership in the movement
Pentagram has been the gold standard in pro bono efforts in the design industry. Not only is more than 25 percent of their work centered on for social change efforts, but it is also some of the most inspiring work in the field. Target has the been the exemplar for corporate pro bono design work with their breakthrough school library makeover project. Frog Design has become the early leader in putting design thinking to work in this arena.
One of the more creative models developed for designers to engage in pro bono work is CreateAthon, a model adopted by 73 agencies to do work-around-the-clock creative blitzes for nonprofits. While not all the results are adopted by clients, the Red Bull-fueled outcomes are inspired.
It is remarkable to see the adoption of pro bono in the design profession–certainly a lower-paying field relative to management consulting or law. As a profession, designers set the bar for pro bono service.