by John Trybus, Managing Director

“You can do a lot more with great design than you can do with words alone,” contends Matt Scharpnick, today’s social strategist.

Matt is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Elefint Designs, a San Francisco-based boutique design and marketing firm dedicated to serving people and organizations who are making the world a better place.

Matt and his firm are on the forefront of a growing ‘design for good’ movement to use the power of strong design – simple, compelling and action inducing visuals – specifically to help promote organizations with social impact missions.

“So many great organizations out there doing great things in the world don’t have really wonderful or powerful design,” Matt says of the nonprofit sector. “We wanted to create a [design firm] that would just do work for these good causes.”

With services ranging from branding and strategy to print and digital design services for a range of nonprofits, that’s exactly what Elefint Design has done.

Design for good is hot, as is the related principle of design activism.

“Design activism is an emerging movement that puts design as a central focus in solving basic civic and societal problems,” according to a post on Elefint Designs’ website.

Here are a few key ‘design for good’ and design activism principles that Matt and I discuss in further detail in our interview:

  • Think before you design. Good design – the type that actually drives people to support a good cause – doesn’t just happen. Design for good proponents are strategists first and foremost and spend much time thinking through the desired outcomes for a design project before starting. Says Matt: “It’s our jobs as designers to ask the right questions and focus in on what’s important.”
  • A laser-focus on audience. “Everything starts with the audience for us,” Matt explains. Just as in other forms of communication planning, identifying and developing deep insights into the audience you’re trying to reach is crucial in design projects. Says Matt: “We want to understand what’s important to the audience but also what’s important to the organization’s goals.” Keep in mind what you what the audience to do. Whether it’s to sign up for a newsletter or donate money, a call-to-action specific to each audience is imperative. “You need to determine how to create something at the intersection of both audience and organizational goals,” Matt advises.
  • Combine emotion with data points. Good design evokes emotion. According to Matt, combining emotional visuals with data points that inform audiences and provide proof points for desired calls-to-action is a crucial aspect of design for good. “Designers are really thinking about and anticipating the interaction that people will have with different types of objects and experiences as well as creating that interaction and the way it’s facilitated,” Matt explains.

So what does good design that actually does good in the world look like?

One of Matt’s favorite examples is Back to the Roots, a social venture started by two students that sells kits to grow mushrooms in the home through stores like Whole Foods. A simple redesign of the product’s box was the key factor in increased product sales for the social venture. You can read more about that case study in Matt’s Stanford Social Innovation Review blog post.

“Good design is really something the social sector is starting to get,” Matt says. “It’s pretty remarkable; we’re seeing it grow quickly.”

Listen to my interview with social strategist Matt Scharpnick to learn more about how good design can create social impact and why good causes need great design.