Design for Good? It Starts With You and You and You…

Written by in Profiles

To celebrate wind down of 2012 and the start of 2013, Against the Grain begins a new series that focuses on some great new projects affiliated with AIGA’s national platform Design for Good.  We can all agree that the Season of Giving includes giving back to your community. We start with a review of a great new book on the subject.

First things first: Design for Good was created to build and sustain the implementation of design thinking for social change. Adds AIGA’s national president, Doug Powell, “By connecting and empowering designers through online networking tools, inspirational stories, chapter events, training, national advocacy and promotion, Design for Good serves as a powerful resource for designers who wish to work in this area and a beacon for designers leading the charge.”

A valuable new resource is The Design Activist’s Handbook from HOW Books co-authored by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) professor and design activist Noah Scalin (see his consulting firm, Another Limited Rebellion) and Cincinnati-based design journalist Michelle Taute (who often contributes to this blog).  The book is filled with advice colored by experience, all useful, practical and actionable: “This book is for every graphic designer who’s ever sat at a computer, thinking: Is this it? Isn’t there more? It’s a tool to help you figure out how to start making a difference and making a living at the same time—no matter where you live and work right now.”


Pro Bono Does Not Mean For Free

The Design Activist’s Handbook will give you courage and show you how. Among its fine morsels is this blunt advice:  “We won’t achieve a viable, widespread socially conscious design movement if we’re all giving it away for free.” (page 21) Or, as AIGA President Doug Powell reminded us in our discussion on Design for Good, “Pro bono means ‘for good’ not ‘for free.'” Amen.

The book grew out of Noah Scalin’s life-long interest in activitism (he says it began in his stroller while attending a ERA protest rally with his mom) and continues today with his teaching at VCU (see Design Rebels: Socially Conscious Design in Theory & Practice).

Behind every good design book, is good writer. Michelle makes the text sing with clarity, brevity and power, reigning in any chance of polemic and superfluous side talk that could make this book both didactic or self-righteous. This should be required reading for anyone interested in Design for Good. Here is a synopsis of the book’s chapters:

•  Chapter 1 offers three useful tools for the “Activitist’s Toolbox” — understanding the power of design and how and where to apply it.

•  Chapter 2 is for designers who work alone or run their own small business: being a rebel can be fun, but it can alienate others; how do you navigate ethics and the practical reality of running a business and earning a living for yourself, your family and your employees?


•  Chapter 3 covers alternatives to the traditional “client,” an entrepreneurer’s guide to starting your own nonprofit, launching your own product and pursuing self-directed design projects — essential knowledge.

•  Chapter 4 is for the rebels working inside the beast — just because you work for a big agency or corporation doesn’t mean you cannot foment change.

•  Chapter 5 offers six ideas on how you can start being a design rebel today, with advice as obvious at going to Kickstarter and as surprising as repurposing and reusing old protest materials for new causes!

Buy the book. Share the book. Become a Design Activist. Get involved in your local AIGA Chapter’s Design for Good projects and initiatives. Ask. Call. Dig. Discover. Change starts with you.


Hey!? What’s the Big Idea?!

Neenah Paper supports AIGA and its many local chapters in many ways. We are proud to promote Design for Good efforts in your community. Leave us a comment on the blog or TWEET with news and information about any Design for Good project, plans or activities in your community using the hashtag #dgAIGA. We want to hear from y0u.

  1. 11
    tom wright said:

    Great article Matt. Best of all you live and walk the talk. Thanks for all you do to serve the design community and your fellow man.


  2. 11
    Noah Scalin said:

    Thank you for such a great article. You did a fantastic job of succinctly explaining the contents and our goals!