I am an Art Director at Media Cause, a mission-focused advertising and marketing agency serving nonprofits. Prior to Media Cause, I worked as a freelance graphic and web designer and creative consultant, helping elevate the aesthetic of purposedriven, heart-connected organizations. In short, my job is to help organizations that do good, look good.
I grew up in rural Virginia, with many artists and doctors in the family. As a kid I was always drawing, but I didn’t really see or understand the practical application of art and my parents nudged me in the direction of medicine. So when I went to college, I took the pre-med path, but eventually drifted over to anthropology. I was drawn to learning how people think, and became engrossed in topics like the anthropology of capitalism in America; social and economic structures; and in particular, homelessness. And as all of this was going on, I still found myself pursuing creative art projects on the side – things like developing flyers for the resident assistant program and the recreation center. Art was a passion that I just could not escape.
How did you become involved in socially responsible communications and why do you believe design can be an effective tool for this goal?
With my interest in anthropology, I started traveling and ended up in Southeast Asia teaching English and doing volunteer work. I wanted to help the people there succeed within the structures that exist, using capitalism for good. I also started volunteering with an American-founded social venture that was working to connect customers around the world to artisanal goods — like yoga straps, jewelry and scarves — made by female artisans in developing regions. The goal was to create opportunities for these women to develop stable incomes for their families beyond the tourism season. This, I saw, required marketing. I put my art skills to work, undertaking web design and marketing projects to showcase the women and their work. It was my first experience designing for good. Compelling and engaging design helped the women present themselves and their work in a polished and professional way. In a world of media clutter, compelling design can truly be the key to capturing attention and turning the tide.
One body of work I’m particularly proud of at Media Cause is an effective end-of-year campaign we ran for Pathfinder International focused on driving awareness and support to Rohingya refugees. The organization supports sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world by helping to mobilize local partners in the communities that need them. They wanted a look and feel for their campaign that pushed boundaries and drew new eyes to their mission. We landed on multimedia collage-style ads that wove images of the refugee camps into the clothing and hair of Rohingya women. The narrative and deeply emotional nature of the ads drew attention and we ended up raising $250,000 for thee mission, a 40 percent increase over prior year.
Given the confluence of events and challenges our society now faces, does 2021 present any special opportunities, urgencies, obstacles to designing for good?
Given how pervasive media is in all our lives — particularly with the advent of shareable social media — it is more important than ever for designers to be forward thinking. They must be able to create design that cuts through the clutter while also realizing what we put out there can have a sizable impact on our children, our families and society. The pandemic, and the resulting internet dependence and isolation has played a large role in America’s polarization. Responsible design should help foster inclusive communities and reflect the world we want to live in. During this time of rapid change, designers should think critically about what divisive systems they may be perpetuating, and how to help forge a path for something new.