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I’m a creative director, and sometimesI think this is how people see me at work. I’ma total pain in the ass. I play with pictures.I ask “why” a lot. I can be demanding, self-centered, and cranky if I don’t get a nap. BUT isit all just a cover for my super secret identity?
Underneath all this black beats the heart of an Idealistic and humble creative soul, trying to save the world through meaningful design for nonprofits & good causes. I work for Beaconfire, a web design & development firm in DC that works only with non profits. Clients include Feeding America, Ad Council, American Museum of Natural History, AFL-CIO. So what makes me so freakin’ special? Because I believe one thing, spoken by another hero….
No, I'm not a tree hugger or an activist. Hell, I’m not even a vegan. I'm just your friendly neighborhood creative superhero.And I’m not alone
I’m a member of the Design Avengers (Local 202), and we make incredible things happen in the world every single day. Advocating for great design & meaning in ourwork. So what IS creative superhero?
Aside from the official definition, this is what it really means.
The REAL creative superheroes are YOU. We move semi-stealthily within agencies & organizations, creating purpose-driven visual experiences that put a human face on important issues. Andcan mean the difference between life and death for causes like…
Breast cancer awareness - http://www.avonwalk.org/
Disasterrelief - http://www.redcross.org/
Ending hunger - http://feedingamerica.org/
Saving the planet - http://www.conservation.org/
Endingpoverty through empowerment - http://www.girleffect.org/
Nope, none of that's easy. But neither is changing outfits in a phone booth under a time constraint so let's try to keep some perspective, shall we?It’s not about easy. It’s about changing the world through design.
On a good day, design is hard. And it should be hard, or everyone would be able to do it. I like it that way. Feels like you’re really accomplishing somethingDesign is often the least well understood part of a project precisely probably because it’s the most visibleHarder to designer for non profitsand causes than more corporate ventures. Cokewont lose soda sales if you don’t go to their site. A small non profit will lose fundraising dollars if you don’t get to the site OR are not drawn in. Our work needs to move people vs moving product. Instead of getting audiences to…
Buy – www.zappos.com
Our design needs to get people to ACT – www.nokidhungry.org
What IS design that matters? Doesn’tALL design matter? In my former life, I was a theatrical lighting designer & my prof told me a story of his experience working on a Broadway show in 1983called K2.The plot centers on the plight of 2 climbers, trapped on aledge at 27,000 feet, 1,250 feet below the summit of K2, the world's second highest mountain.Set was designed by Ming Cho Lee, known for his minimalistic approach.Opening night, the curtain went up and there was an audible gap because the stage was transformed into mountain.55 feet up were two men huddled together on what appeared to be an icy ledge.The audience burst into applause.And Ming was pissedWhy? Because before a word was uttered & or any character was revealed,the point of the play was already lost.The play is not about the mountain.It’s not even about the guysIt’s about the human condition itself.Meaning matters.
Back to being easy.Ok, big talker, HOW the fuck do we do that? We’re just designers! AH HAH! Remember you’re a creative superhero. And what do they have?Utility belts.
Well, even if you DON’T have a belt, you have TOOLS
Sure,software is important but I’m talking about a different and more important one. Before you pull out your laptop, or even crack open a sketch book, there is one key tool every creative superhero MUST have…
Every superhero not only needs a utility belt but a plan on how to use it. Back to being a pain in the ass. As a lapsed philosophy major, I use questions to reveal reality. This process helps me define the direction for deliverables like creative brief & design comps and create trust with a client.
If you don’t know what you’re using our superhero powers for, how can you save anyone? The real work of your design is determining WHAT youneedto accomplish and then setting metrics for success. Id hate to see you guys jump off tall building only to realize that you were headed in the wrong direction.
And if you don’t know WHO you’re designing for, how can you snatch them out of a villain's’ grasp? I don’t care how you find out who your audiences are (Focus groups, stakeholder interviews, personnas) just do it. And help you client prioritize. If you have too many audiences, you’re designing for no one. Be specific and encourage your client to shift their thinking to that of what their audiences will need.
Ok, who has nightmares about this simple little phrase? It’s the difference between life and death for non profits and causes. Big red donate button isntenough Contextualizing based on goals & audiences and then design an interface that doesn't’ compete. Need to move audiences towards engagement.
Speaking of engagement, how do we do this without manipulating? You want to draw people into the story & mission of the organization honestly. I hate the ASCPA ad with the Sarah MacLaughlin song, showing dying & abused animals. There are orgs like Share Our Strength (mission is ending childhood hunger) who even write in their style guides that you can ONLY show pictures of healthy, happy children. Know how to find the balance between moving people through emotion and taking advantage of them.
And now to the thing we are always chomping at the bit to get to, telling the story through design. PROMISE ME- don’t use stock art. Many orgs cant afford photoshoot but it’s better to use photography of real people even if the quality isn’t perfect. It’s the imperfections that will tell the story even more. Or use creative commons (but give credit).Infographics – everyone wants, But how do you use them for good? Make sure you’re telling the real story behind the data. Superheroes don’t lie.
Ok, we get it. Do good. So, what stops us?! Where there are superheroes there have to be .. Villans.
League of Misguided design foes. There are many of them, but we’re just talking about 3 right now.Not really evil and with some education, you can win them over
You know this guy.Have to justify even quantify the importance of good designAnd explain why it’s not something his nephew can do with clip art.Hardto beat, but you can share metrics to make your case. And get rid of the nephew
For wasted pretty, the visual is the only thing that matters.I am not at all against beautiful design. Or even design just for design’s sake.I’d be out of a JOB if I was against beauty, But remember the mountain? It has to mean something. When it comes to designing for causes, Wasted pretty might be most dangerous villain.Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.— Shakers
Another controversial one here since many designers are also responsible for the front end coding. Talking about the developers who are shut away in a room and fed skittles. How to defeat? Its simple.Talkto them. Bring them into the team. Hell, show them the batcave
Can you name some others that you have encountered or defeated in your experience?
Rubber meets the road. Now it’s time to DO something.
what does it take to be a superhero?
Of course, it takes more than jumping into spandex and leaping tall design challenges in a single bound to be a true creative superheroDon’t wear your cape as a prop. A WARNING If you're just in it for the accolades & navel gazing, hang up those tights right now, baby. This ain't the gig for you.
But if you're really passionate about using your skills to create real change in the world, let’s start on your your path to superhero-dom.By emulating what they do.
Stand out from the crowd by using your powers for good, especially in the face of uncertainty. World-changing design doesn't happen by accident.
Do your homework and always think before you draw.Ask questions, Brainstorm, Ask more questions and LISTEN TO THE ANSWERS.Readbetween the lines and document it all. You can defeat the League of Design Foes with brains, not brawn.
Believe me, you'll be more successful by being genuine. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. DON’T BE AFRAID to creative decisions driven by the greater good, not the latest trend.Let your freak flag fly if you must, Just do it with authenticity and integrity
Be strategic about choices & cherry pick appropriate elements. Thismay be a visual medium but need to write and speak clearly to articulate vision.
As creative communicators, our job is to serve the needs of our clients, and help them achieve their goals. Ego is anathema to that lofty mission. Superheroes don’t take curtain callsPutting personal preferences aside in favor of altruistic design solutions won't dim the glow of your talent one teeny bit, I promise. But every time you make it all about you, a fluffy little kitten dies. Don't be a villain. Think about the kittens.
Fight for what you believe in and be ruthlessly fearless no matter what. True superheroes don't wait until they see a signal flash in the sky to do the right thing, but intuitively spring to action when they're needed. Don't let doubt or disbelievers be your kryptonite, and never take no for an answer (unless it's in reply to "Does this utility belt make my ass look big").
Don that cape and mask with purpose and throw yourself headlong into the crusade for truth, meaning and creative justice with everything you've got.With these rules firmly in place, now it's your job to raise awareness through engaging visual storytelling that drives people to act instead of consume.Welcome to the good fight. We’re all counting on you.
Welcome to the good fight. We’re all counting on you.