By AIGA Atlanta | May 21, 2014
Designing for Better

Angela Mitchell Aquino, former Sustainability Chair, AIGA Atlanta

I joined AIGA as a student, primarily to enter design contests. I’ve always been that vaguely competitive over-achiever who loves praise but hates compliments. I know, it’s twisted. But there’s undeniable truth in certain decisions that foreshadows who you are to become, and joining AIGA to enter design contests was one of those for me.

I went on to re-join the Atlanta chapter after a short post-university lapse. This time, the draw was to connect with fellow designers, get a better job and, of course, enter design contests. Since then I’ve met kindred souls, cultivated a booming career and entered one design contest. That was almost 10 years ago.

There’s been a running mantra since my design school days: Design for good, not just for money. So when I saw the buzz about the Design for Good initiative brewing within AIGA, I was all over it. It seemed to me to mesh perfectly with the sustainable design initiatives I was working on with AIGA Atlanta. But even with a natural draw toward it, I didn’t really know what sustainable design or designing for good meant. They’re big concepts, and unnervingly abstract when you’re mired in logos, brochures and ads for clients who may or may not give a damn about anything beyond their bottom line. A Design for Good session at the 2012 AIGA National Leadership Retreat in Minneapolis helped fix that.

Designing for good is really about designing better. It means designing with conscience, with foresight and sincerity, no matter what the deliverable is. The radical idea that I, as a designer of print collateral, could have a voice in the decisions that my client makes – and not just in their choice of paper – completely kicked me in the head. I could help my client develop the message, and not just the ad? Mind blown.

The general perception of design for good usually involves product development and non-profit organizations. And that level of work is substantial and important. But sometimes designing for good can actually do harm. It’s important to ask whether your idea is helpful and needed, and whether the problem you’re addressing is real or assumed. A simple analogy: do you need a new house, or will a coat of paint get the job done?

Depending on the problem and the idea, it’s ultimately most helpful to build a multidisciplinary team as soon as possible. Do the work to know the problem inside and out, as well as any organizations that may be influential in the solution process. Get policy makers and experts on board, and find a project manager. Would the project benefit from a medical doctor, architect, government official? How many other designers would help bring the solution to life? (Hint: there should always be other designers involved. What’s that they say about two heads?)

But design for good – or design for better – doesn’t come with a non-profit requirement. The basic principles apply everywhere, in your everyday work and volunteer activities, in your community at large.

That DFG session revved me up to throw a project in the ring for Sappi’s Ideas that Matter when I realized that I’d been designing for a friend’s theatre company, Synchronicity Theatre, not just because I enjoyed the work or the money. I’d been working for Synchronicity since 2005 because their Playmaking for Girls program is the only means to a voice that some young incarcerated women have, and I needed to help make sure this theatre kept running the best way I knew how: by designing for them.

We didn’t land the grant, but do have ideas for future Ideas that Matter projects. And I’ve come to actively seek out ways to help shape messages, strategies and initiatives for the clients we serve at Function:, with increasing success.

It seems simple and stupid and completely obvious now. But as my mom says, we all move at our own pace.

So now, 15 years after my BFA, almost 10 years of membership and 3 years of heading up the AIGA Atlanta Sustainability Committee, I’m finally entering another design contest – our Designers Against Human Trafficking poster competition – and doing my damnedest to design for better.

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