When I started my journey in 2014, a lot of people thought I was mad and could never make a living doing what I do. Now people get it. Being a pretty vocal advocate of social entrepreneurship, I get a fair amount of requests for advice from designers who want to move into the social space. I am always afraid of giving others advice, so instead I share with them the questions I ask myself, to check if I am on the right track:
Am I in this for the right reasons?
It’s become rather sexy to be seen ‘doing good’ as a designer. The danger of doing work for good, is if we stop there: at our intentions. If the work doesn’t do any good, we can excuse ourselves by saying our intentions were in the right place. But some of the challenges we work on are urgent, so if we don’t get it right, we could actually hurt others. If ever I get to the point where I have a portfolio of cool-looking social brands that actually don’t make a difference, or the work was ineffective, it’s time to listen, learn, or pack up and get out.
Am I the right person for the job?
When working for clients in foreign countries, I always ask myself if I am the best person for the job. For example, designing a brand for family-planning technology targeting 18 to 24-year-old women in the UK is enough of a challenge, but if you transport that to another continent, you are at risk of utter failure. You are probably the least-qualified person to understand their world, pains and needs. To reduce risk, you need a solid research process that involves local experts. I don’t like to overestimate my own abilities; white saviour complex is one of the issues low-income countries face, and I don’t need to add any weight to that problem.
Do I have the depth it takes?
Coming from an art-based, design background (rather than a scientific one), I have to be aware that the road to creating something that works is long and hard. It has really confronted me with my own blind spots and shortcomings. Every day I have to leave my ego at the door, and be in it for the bigger picture.
Working for social impact is not for everyone, and nor does it have to be. I don’t propagate design for impact as the only worthwhile pursuit. There is value in creating beauty, and there is value in a commercial creative sector that creates jobs. We are all part of an ecosystem where, over time, every single individual will add to something bigger and hopefully better.