Contrary to what you might think, design is not decoration. Design is not an afterthought. The design process should be integrated at the beginning of creating a business or project. Good design is a critical investment in strategic thinking around your nonprofit, social enterprise, or socially minded project. For business, design creates value in terms of competitive advantage, the creation of customer loyalty, trust, and market share.

Many startup organizations do not understand the value of design – it is as important as setting up a good legal structure. Ill-considered design will actually work against you, undermining your goals and objectives. It will make it difficult for your target audience to grasp why you even exist. The role good design plays is critical in communicating your mission and vision and it will make the job of communicating who you are and what you do much, much easier.

The power of good design should not be underestimated. In the commercial world the obvious example is Apple, one of the most profitable public companies in history. From the physical design and user interface of their products and retail spaces to how they advertise and communicate with their customers in print, on TV, and on the Internet, every single aspect of Apple’s business is boldly driven by design. As Apple founder Steve Jobs puts it, ”Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Now, imagine this design-driven power applied to social issues.

These ideals are all transferable to the world of social entrepreneurship, where design can be a strategic asset when applied early on in the process. When launching a social enterprise, one of the most critical imperatives is to harness the power of branding, which is the quickest way for your organization to communicate to your constituency who you are and what you offer.

You can leverage design in a number of critical ways. With good design you can communicate clearly, ensuring that your mission is understood and that your message will be heard. In a complex world where competition for time and attention is at an all-time high, good design will help you rise above the fray and achieve your goals, which in turn will help you to build your constituency. Good design will help you attract potential partners, funders, and donors. Good design will allow your audience to interact with you in a memorable, dynamic, efficient, and user-friendly way. Design is a powerful tool – it can engage, inform, mobilize, and inspire!

The power of design can be distilled into this simple story. In 1977 the New York State Department of Commerce hired the advertising agency Wells Rich Green and graphic designer Milton Glaser to help them promote New York State. Glaser imagined that the “I heart NY” campaign they created would only last for a few months, so he did the work pro bono. It has turned into an enduring global pop icon with the “heart” concept embedded in culture.

The value of good design can be measured in a number of ways. Here are a few examples: increased awareness (i.e., more hits to your website); a more engaged constituency (i.e., more volunteers); more money raised (i.e., a successful fundraising campaign); greater awareness and visibility (i.e., more press and media attention).

Everything man-made is designed. We can narrow the field for changemakers into the following broad categories:

Branding + Identity

Branding and identity include the design of a logo and what is called an identity program – the colors and fonts that are used with the logo to create a consistent brand image. A well-designed brand identity is the foundation on which you build all of your communication efforts. We live in a culture where we have been trained to respond to brands and marketing. In fact, the majority of successful companies use branding effectively. A good brand identity communicates a lot with very little. Think of socially responsible brands like Seventh Generation, Tom’s of Maine, and Ben & Jerry’s. Each one of them has a memorable personality, which allows them to connect with their customers in a powerful way.

To learn more about the critical role branding plays read Branding + Identity by Deroy Peraza, one of the guides in this series.

Digital and Interactive Communications

This includes websites, blogs, online advertising, online videos, brochures in digital formats such as PDF files, tablet and phone apps, customization of Facebook pages, crowdfunding campaigns on platforms like Kickstarter, Kiva.org postings, email campaigns, etc.

Print Communications

This includes any printed material that will help you to deliver your message and communicate with your constituency. Printed collateral may include stationery and business cards, invitations to events, brochures, posters, magazines, advertising, advertorials (a combination of advertising and editorial in print), annual reports, books, etc.

Information Graphics

Many nonprofit organizations need to distill and articulate complex information to tell their story and communicate with a range of individuals. Information graphics – or infographics – are quick and clear visualizations of data or knowledge. Well-designed and well-illustrated charts, graphs and maps can instantly engage an audience in thought-provoking and compelling ways.

3D Design

If you are creating a product you will need the services of a product designer. If you are renovating a space you will need the services of an interior designer or architect.

Environmental Graphics

Environmental graphic design is concerned with the visual aspects of wayfinding (signage and maps), information design, and shaping a sense of place. Some examples of work produced by environmental graphic designers include the design and planning of sign programs, exhibit and interpretive design, entertainment environments, retail design, and wayfinding consulting. It also includes information design, which includes maps as well as memorial and donor recognition programs.

User Experience

Another aspect of design is user experience or “UX” as it is called in the field. A UX designer explores and designs systems, software, and applications to make the interaction between humans and computers, websites, products, or experiences, effective and meaningful. User experience, which is subjective in nature, is about how a human feels and interacts with what they are being presented with. In the industrial design world this is also referred to as user interface – the interaction of humans with machines.

Social Good Guides (SGG): If you could impart only three ideas about the role of design in the social sector, what would they be?

Mark Randall (MR):

1. Good design creates value and drives positive outcomes.
Design is about solving complex problems with clear, accessible, and elegant solutions. Include a designer in strategic planning at the beginning of the process.

2. Do not ask a designer to do the work pro bono.
This is an important investment in your success and you will most likely get a better end product.

3. Develop a long-term relationship with a designer.
Your designer will come to have a deep understanding of your goals and objectives as well as the challenges you face. In the long run this can be more cost-effective as the learning curve phase for projects is eliminated.

The AIGA, the professional association for design, has a great section on their website called “Why Design.” It outlines design’s capacity to benefit business and society, and the pivotal role a professional designer plays in that process.

SGG: What design tools are most important for those starting a social enterprise or nonprofit organization?

MR: Before starting a successful business or project here is a list of what a changemaker needs to think about:

1. A good name

Do not underestimate the power of a strong name and the time it will take you to settle on one. A good name is memorable and speaks to the mission and vision of your endeavor, be it a socially-minded business, project, or program. Developing a strong name is often difficult.

A great little book that talks about brand strategy with a section on naming is Zag: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands by Marty Neumeier.

2. A strong, well-designed identity

To support the great name you’ve created you need a strong brand identity. A strong identity is just as important for a business as it is for a particular project or program. It is the foundation on which you will build your entire engagement platform.

You may have the most beautiful logo in the world, but if it is not used in a consistently rigorous manner it is not going to do what it needs to do. It needs to powerfully and memorably communicate to your constituents who you are and what you do. Consistent application of one’s identity is critical.

3. Additional collateral

Once you have a great name and a strong visual identity, you need the tools to deliver your message. This could include, but is not limited to, the design elements listed previously: print communications, digital and interactive communications, environmental graphics, information graphics or 3D design. You may want to advertise or use social media to spread your message. In this category the options range far and wide.

SGG: When you first start a client project, what is the first thing you ask?

MR: We always start with questions about goals and objectives:

1. What are you trying to do?
2. Why are you doing this?
3. Who is the intended audience?
4. What is the desired outcome?

The project will determine the number of phases needed to reach a successful outcome, but we like to break it down into at least four basic phases.

1. Objectives and Strategy

It is vital that you have clarity about what you are trying to do. If you are starting a business you need a mission and vision statement. This is fundamental for any business plan.

When we start a project we develop what we call an Objectives and Strategy Statement. We begin with interviews of the key players to discuss the team or organization’s vision and philosophy, the profiles of and requirements for the target audience, marketing and/or business plans and strategies, and any key attributes and messaging that may drive the overall conceptual direction for the project.

Combined with additional interviews and research, we then create a document that outlines a strong positioning statement as well as a strategy for execution of the project. A positioning statement provides clear direction or focus on a business, organization or project. This becomes a road map with clearly articulated goals that everyone involved in the project can agree upon before the actual design process begins.

2. Exploration

Once you have a clear direction mapped out in the Objectives and Strategy Statement the process moves into the exploration phase. This allows you to see how different design approaches to a problem can be used. Usually a number of options are developed, which explore different ways to tackle the project. For example, if the assignment is to create a brochure then the designer may present a number of formats showing different ways to present the information. Step one is to create enough sample pages to give a client an idea of what the overarching concept is and what the finished outcome will be.

3. Design Development

Once a direction has been clearly defined in the exploration phase, the project is then fully developed. In the case of a brochure, the copy will be written and any images created. This becomes final content and it will be shaped into the design that was defined in the exploration phase. In many instances there will be a lot of back-and-forth between the client and the designer to refine the content and turn the project into a success.

4. Implementation

Once the design phase is complete and everything has been developed to your satisfaction, the project moves into the implementation or production phase. In the case of a website, the programmer will take the content and layouts from the design development phase and program them for the Internet. In the case of a brochure, the designer creates the final artwork according to the printer’s specifications and supervises the entire printing process.

The British Government Digital Service has published a list of design principles that illustrate another approach to what constitutes good design.

SGG: Please tell us about your company, Worldstudio.

MR: Worldstudio is a hybrid organization. We offer client services as a strategy and communications firm. Through Worldstudio Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we develop our own social initiatives which support creative professionals engaged in socially conscious work. This structure allows us to not only service our clients, but it also gives us a platform for our own self-generated nonprofit projects. Our communications firm and our foundation cross-pollinate each other in a variety of ways depending on the project at hand.

SGG: In addition to Worldstudio and Worldstudio Foundation, you founded both Impact! Design for Social Change and Design Ignites Change. Can you tell us a little about each?

MR: In the summer of 2010 we launched Impact! Design for Social Change, a six-week summer intensive at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. The program places an emphasis on social entrepreneurship – educating students about how to ideate, develop, and launch their own creative businesses, projects, and programs. Design Ignites Change was founded in 2009 and supports creative professionals as well as high school and college students who want to use their creativity to improve the lives of individuals and communities. We do this by providing awards, scholarships, fiscal sponsorship, mentoring initiatives, and workshops.

SGG: What has been your biggest challenge in working with clients at Worldstudio?

MR: A big part of my job is to educate clients about how the process of design works. Good design takes research and time to execute well; iteration is a very important part of this process. A solution, in the end, may look easy, but the road to getting there can be somewhat convoluted. Design is not just a coat of paint you slap onto something. It is a thoughtful process that is strategic and goal oriented.


This is by no means a complete list, just some suggestions to get you started:


Worldstudio’s Branding and Identity Questionnaire for New Clients


AIGA Get Inspired
Art Directors Club
Communication Arts Magazine Annuals
Print Magazine Regional Design Annual
Webby Awards – Honoring the Best of the Web


Change Observer
Core 77
Design Affects
Design Observer
Fast Company’s CO.Design
Fast Company: The Generosity Series
Impact Design Hub


Design Ignites Change
!mpact Design for Social Change
Index: Design to Improve Life
The Living Principles
Public Policy Lab
Startup: This Is How Design Works
The Center for Urban Pedagogy


AIGA: The Professional Association for Design
Art Directors Club
Society for Environmental Graphic Design


AIGA: How to Hire a Designer
AIGA Member Portfolios
Taproot Foundation (pro bono multiple locations)


Font Squirrel
Google Web Fonts


Branding + Identity
Building Your First Website
Marketing: Lean In and Control The Lane
What You Don’t Know About Social Media
What’s Strategy Got To Do With It?


The guides are primarily intended for social entrepreneurs based on the United States, though some of the resources may be generally of interest to an international audience. Please remember that many of the topics covered by the guides, such as corporate structures, laws and legal customs, accounting, business planning, funding and fundraising, etc., vary widely from country to country, and that the information presented here may not be correct, applicable, or relevant to any other country or jurisdiction.

We strongly advise those of you building social impact ventures outside the United States to seek advice and support from reputable professionals who are licensed in your jurisdiction, and/or have area expertise in the country where you plan to build your businesses. For more information, please see our Terms of Use.



Principal + Creative Director, Worldstudio

worldstudioinc.com | designigniteschange.org | impact.sva.edu| Email

For more than twenty years, Mark has been principal of Worldstudio, a New York City strategy and communications firm that builds bridges between clients and communities to enable positive social change. Clients range from Enterprise Community Partners and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to the Times Square Alliance and the City Foundation of New York.

Worldstudio’s focus on socially responsible marketing is mirrored in its synergistic relationship with Worldstudio Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers scholarships and mentoring programs in the fine and applied arts. The Worldstudio AIGA Scholarships program have awarded over $1 million to over 660 minority and economically disadvantaged college students. Mark is president of the foundation, the first nonprofit in the U.S. devoted exclusively to encouraging social responsibility in the design and arts professions.

In 2009, Worldstudio launched Design Ignites Change in collaboration with the Adobe Foundation to support architects and designers who want to make a difference in their communities.

Mark lectures regularly on social design at colleges and universities and industry conferences, such as AIGA and HOW. Mark is the Co-Founder and chair of Impact! Design for Social Change, an annual six-week summer intensive at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In addition, he has taught at Parsons School of Design, Fordham University in New York and Hartford University in Connecticut.

Worldstudio’s work has won leading industry awards and has been featured in books on design and social change and in publications such as The New York Times, Fast Company, Metropolis, Communication Arts, and Eye. Mark and Worldstudio have been twice selected for the prestigious I.D. Forty Award, an annual listing of leading innovators in the design industry chosen by I.D. (The International Design Magazine).

He currently served on the advisory board for desigNYC and is currently on the committee of the Times Square Arts Advisors. He also served on the national board of AIGA, the professional association for design.



Graphic Designer


Benjamin Gaydos is a designer, filmmaker, artist and educator. He has filmed sadhus in Nepal and fisherman in India, worked as a designer in Germany and the UK, and has collaborated with blues musicians in Virginia and electronic artists in Detroit. His experiments in typography, design, sound, film and video have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Ben has conducted research in design and anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received his MFA in Visual Communication. He has presented his work at Rhode Island School of Design and MIT’s Media Lab, among other institutions. Ben is co-founder of goodgood, an interdisciplinary design firm with offices in Detroit and Boston. He is an Assistant Professor of Design at the University of Michigan, Flint.

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Consultant and Strategist, Social Good Guides

Website | LinkedIn | @think5577

As a Design Strategist and Creative Facilitator, Marc focuses on human-centered design and social innovation. Marc organizes, plans, and leads creative workshops to create positive change and tackle some of today’s gnarly social challenges.

Through playful exercises, he helps people come up with fun, usable, and innovative solutions to challenges. With a graphic and web design background, Marc is able to put ideas generated from these workshops into action, which continues conversations and encourages further collaborations across multiple industries. He loves finding ways for organizations to make huge changes and impacts in unexpected places.

Since 2009, Marc been actively involved, as both an advisor and facilitator, in Project M, an immersive program designed to inspire and educate young creative individuals by proving that their work can have a tangible impact on the world.

A multitude of his collaborative workshops and projects have been featured in the New York Times, Fast Co, AIGA, GOOD, Print, ID, PSFK, and various other design and culture outlets. Marc has lectured and facilitated numerous workshops at a number of distinguished universities and conferences throughout the country. Among other things, Marc is building out Secret Project @ CCA along with teaching in the graphic design department, and leading GOOD SF. He also rides a bamboo bike, makes homemade hot sauce, and unplugs in the outdoors. You can follow him on Twitter, @think557

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Founder, Social Innovators Collective
Series Producer, Art Director and Editor, Social Good Guides

Website | Email | LinkedIn | @shanadressler | @sic_org

In 2011, Shana Dressler founded the Social Innovators Collective with the mission to train and nurture the next wave of social change leaders to help them achieve measurable impact and financial sustainability. Since then she has been creating and leading workshops on business development for social enterprises and nonprofits at General Assembly, New York’s premiere center for entrepreneurship, the Social Good Summit, and social enterprise conferences at Harvard, Columbia, New York University, Brown, the School of Visual Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, and others. In 2014, she designed the curriculum for a startup business school designed to support 21st century entrepreneurial problem-solvers and creatives tackling the most pressing social and environmental challenges of our time.

A deeply committed social entrepreneur, Shana is widely recognized as the first person in New York to organize rigorous educational programming for social entrepreneurs in startup mode. To fill a notable gap in the lack of resources available, Shana co-created the Social Good Guides, a series of 20 guides focused on the essential small-business skills that would-be changemakers need to know and an 8-week workshop called Social Good Startup: Idea To Launch.

Shana is an Aspen Institute Scholar, a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and a judge for The Webby Awards. In 2014 she became a Delegate to the United Nations Foundation Global Accelerator which brought together a “100 of the world’s top entrepreneurs to work together with policy leaders on global issues.” Shana was recently honored by the World CSR Congress as one of the 50 Most Talented Social Innovators. In addition to frequent travel to far-flung places, Shana loves all things chocolate, and makes her way around New York on a midnight blue Vespa. You can follow her @shanadressler and @sic_org.


Project Manager: Marc O’Brien
Copy Editors: Kelly Cooper + Gladie Helzberg
Web Developer: Keyue Bao
Consultant + Strategist: Marc O’Brien
Series Producer, Art Director + Editor: Shana Dressler

whydonate_green_fullbanner_whitetext_110614Three years in the making, the Social Good Guides are the result of the generous contributions of a team of esteemed authors, designers, copywriters, proofreaders, project managers, marketing consultants, researchers and interns. Initially conceived as a “nights-and-weekends” labor of love, the project quickly expanded beyond its original scope once we realized that accessible information about the essential small-business skills needed to build sustainable social impact organizations was missing in the social impact space.

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Guide © 2015 Mark Randall
Cover © 2015 Benjamin Gaydos
All other graphic design and elements © 2015 Social Innovators Collective.

All rights reserved. All guides have been created for private use. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, published, transmitted, photocopied or stored by third parties for download or for sale in any form or by any means, including electronic or mechanical methods, except with the written permission of the publisher, the Social Innovators Collective. Please see our full Terms of Use for more information.

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