Jessica Teal

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PRINCIPAL, TEAL MEDIA, WASHINGTON DC/ROYAL OAK MI

I’ve been designing in service of social change for almost 20 years. I honed my skills in designing for social good in lead design roles at the U.S. House of Representatives, the Democratic National Committee, Blue State Digital, and the National Gallery of Art. Then, in 2008, I was asked to join Barack Obama’s campaign as Design Manager (one of only two female leads in the New Media department). There, I oversaw a powerful design team who produced the bulk of everything you saw during the campaign — from the podium signs to the website and microsites, to print brochures, email graphics, and fun things like t-shirts, car magnets, and even airplane wraps. It was the job of a lifetime, and a life-changing experience. There was no going back.

I could not imagine that working for someone else would bring the same amount of energy and fulfillment as my work on the Obama campaign. I opted to go out on my own and to design for issues, causes and organizations I cared about. I never intended to start a business. I was only doing what I loved for what I felt was important. I promised myself I would stay faithful to the lessons and values of the campaign, which is why we describe Teal Media as a “full-service creative agency with a conscience.” We believe purposeful design can transform organizations, inspire action, and enable progress. We are committed to quality, dedicated to our clients’ missions, and offer research-driven solutions. These characteristics, our approach to design, and our amazing, diversified staff is clearly working well for us – Teal Media will be celebrating our tenth anniversary in 2019!

HOW AND WHY DID YOU COME TO USE DESIGN TO ADVANCE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE AND/OR SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS, CLIENTS AND CAUSES?

A couple years out of college, I moved to Washington DC. I thought DC would be a ‘short stop’ along the way so I figured I better live up the “DC experience” and applied for a job at the U.S. Capitol. I was hired as the Design Specialist for the nonpartisan Office of the Clerk at the U.S. House of Representatives. A few years later, I saw a job posting for a “progressive organization seeking a designer,” applied, and was offered a position with the Democratic National Committee (DNC). This was a tipping point for me. At the DNC, I was able to see how my designs could contribute to the national conversation.

I have found that design is a particularly effective tool to motivate action because the design process often prompts our clients to make organizational change decisions involving their evolving mission, structure, methods, and relationships. Design allows you to imagine your ideal end state, and that naturally leads to and inspires rethinking almost every aspect of the present.

One example is our work with Greenpeace USA. Teal Media transformed Greenpeace USA’s web presence from an outdated, unfocused homepage into a highly-engaging website showcasing their bold personality and demanding user action. A successful launch established the new look as the model for Greenpeace chapters worldwide.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES, URGENCIES IN 2018?

Today, more so than a decade ago, there is a lot more “noise” to break through on social media, email, and other communication platforms. More noise requires more time and effort to affect real change. Plus, there are people just as passionate, innovative, and dedicated as you working on the other side of issues. Changing someone’s heart and mind is a long-term play. People today want to see instant results, but that isn’t the way social change comes about. To make an impact, you need to be relevant and timely, but it’s just as important to be memorable, consistent, and persistent over the long run. The best way to overcome obstacles is to build long-term partnerships and make design decisions rooted in research and grounded in strategy. When we work closely together with our partners over time, we’re capable of producing amazing results.