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8 posts categorized "Design"

Designing Brand Experiences for Social Impact

January 19, 2017

Brand-experienceIt takes great focus and clarity for brands to rise above the din and be noticed in today's message-saturated world. For social change organizations, the challenge is even greater. When the message is about a better future, somewhere down the road, mission-driven brands must figure out ways to create a sense of urgency among their supporters to act now. Often, this means explaining concepts and ideas that can be difficult for people to understand. And even when the lift is big, organizations have to figure out ways to demonstrate tangible results and progress if they hope to sustain our engagement.

Fortunately, changes over the last few decades have provided brand designers with both an environment and the insights necessary to meet these challenges. The rise of networked technologies and digital communications, the maturation of the design field, and a recent awakening within many nonprofits about the value of their brand have combined to provide new opportunities to increase the effectiveness of the social change sector.

The challenge, then, is to understand the environment in which social change brands exist and apply this understanding to design solutions that offer the best chance to maximize your organization's impact.

The Rise of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector

It's no secret that the concept of brand has had a rough go of it in the nonprofit sector. Fortunately, more nonprofits are getting past their skepticism (if not outright resistance) to the idea and have been re-examining their relationship to "the B-word." By making smart adaptations to traditional business-centric principles, organizations like the Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Communications Network are helping to change the way people in the nonprofit sector think about the role of brand.

This new way of thinking, spelled out in Nathalie Laider-Kylander's and Julia Shephard Stenzel’s book The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity, is summarized in the book's introduction by Open Society Foundations president Christopher Stone: "A brand is a powerful expression of an organization's mission and value that can help engineer collaborations and partnerships that better enable it to fulfill its mission and deepen impact, and [is] a strategic asset essential to the success of the organization itself."

CCD_Fig1

Understood this way, a social change organization's brand is far more than just compelling messages and visuals. It's the ideas, expertise, relationships, resources, and experiences embedded in the organization's DNA, and as such it shapes organizational culture by bringing people together around a shared vision to create shared value.

If you accept this idea — and you should — then you should also consider how social change organizations can translate the nuances of their brand into something more tangible. How does an organization create real experiences that make it easier for staff to participate in creating shared value? And more important, how can it ensure that the design solutions developed in response to that question maintain the integrity of the brand and deliver meaningful experiences that lead to sustained audience engagement?

Translating Organizational Strategy

It can be hard to fully understand what some nonprofits do — not just for outsiders, but sometimes even for those who work inside an organization! In large nonprofits, countless activities and moving pieces all come together in service to a mission. But how they relate to one another, and to what ends, isn't always clear. Brand strategy long has been a useful tool for helping organizations sharpen their focus and better understand themselves and their audiences. Done right, it provides an important foundation for expressing, with greater clarity and consistency, an organization's mission, vision, values, and key messages.

But for social change organizations, many of which are working to address complex, systemic challenges, brand strategy has an even bigger role to play, in that it educates people about the nature of the challenge and connects them more deeply to how change actually happens.

So how do brands make these abstract concepts and processes more tangible, meaningful, and valuable to a nonprofit's audiences? Well, as branding expert Marty Neuimeir likes to say, "You gotta design."

Design, Value, and Meaning

Think about how much of our existence is "designed." There's a reason humans live in such a thoroughly designed world: we're highly visual creatures, and design is how we make sense of it. Every day, countless designed experiences, many of which we are barely aware of, create context for our activities and help connect us to our emotions, greatly affecting our associations and perceptions of value.

Brands themselves are one of these designed constructs. Dating as far back as the use of heraldry to signify membership in a tribe or clan, brands throughout history have been powerful concepts that give greater meaning to our lives. And because the design discipline is all about context, for modern brands to deliver experiences that connect with these deeper feelings of value and meaning, the people who contribute to them must first understand the many contexts in which a particular brand exists.

An effective design process accomplishes this by making sure that stakeholders in the process are absolutely clear and in agreement as to the values their brand should convey. But what kind of value, exactly, am I referring to?

Modern brand theory organizes brand value into three categories, which every brand exhibits a mix of, to greater or lesser degree, depending on the type of brand:

Tangible value is the easiest to understand: Things we can see, touch, or empirically measure;

Intangible value is…less tangible: How a brand makes us feel or the meaning it adds to our lives; and

Aspirational value is the most abstract: Projections of who we hope to become or what we’d like to make possible as a result of our engagement with a brand.

CCD_Fig2

As the theory goes, the more tangible a brand's value, the easier it is to grasp that value. Conversely, the more intangible a brand's value, the harder it is to define and control. For social change brands, which often deal in large amounts of intangible and aspirational value, the challenge is to use the power of design to consistently deliver value on all fronts and create tangible experiences that deepen audiences' engagement with the brand.

Designing Better Experiences

Design has often been described as "strategy made visible." It's what enables the value in a brand to be experienced — online, in print, and in person. And because brands are not static things, these experiences occur over time, which means that to consistently deliver value across the lifetime of a person's relationship with a brand requires us to fully understand where, how, and why value is created — as well as the context, physically and conceptually, in which those experiences happen.

Which is exactly where a well-articulated brand strategy can provide benefits.

For social change organizations to consistently design experiences that bridge the gap between their mission and their audiences' motivation, a well-articulated brand strategy is not just a starting point to think about brand, it's also an essential through-line of the design process. Because design is the product of a collaborative, co-created process, brand strategy greatly improves the ability of designers and non-designers to more effectively frame challenges, opportunities, and outputs. And by translating the mission and work of an organization into a clearly articulated positioning and messaging framework, brand strategy helps stakeholders make better decisions that serve to advance the strategy throughout the process — and beyond.

Nowhere is this more important than in digital communications, where all of an individual's interactions with a brand are mediated by a screen. To create compelling experiences delivered by screens, cross-functional teams of content strategists and creators, UX and visual designers, and technologists must all work together to translate a brand's value through things like system architecture, interfaces, and content taxonomies. By adhering to a clearly-defined brand strategy that spells out the kinds of experiences we're trying to create, people with different perspectives are able to have productive conversations in a shared language about what constitutes such experiences and are likely to be more collaborative in applying their collective experience, expertise, and opinions to create them.

Putting Theory Into Practice

Ultimately, every organization engaged in helping to bring about social, economic, and environmental change has its own beliefs, culture, tactics, and goals. And their brands stand for something bigger than the organization itself, something that conveys different meaning and value depending on who is on the receiving end.

When the brand strategy and design process are united, the result is a powerful lens through which to understand the complexity and nuances of  your organization's unique dynamics and, ultimately, communicate them with greater clarity, purpose, and impact to your audiences. Together, they help an organization better understand itself so that its efforts are more focused and aligned, and make it easier to translate ideas, concepts, and value into tangible experiences with which audiences can engage and respond to. In the final analysis, they are what make it possible for a brand to stand up, stand out, and stand for something.

Headshot_matt_schwartzMatt Schwartz is the founder and director of strategy at Constructive, a New York City-based brand strategy and experience design firm dedicated to helping social change organizations achieve greater impac

Design Vendors Are Destroying Nonprofit Organizations!

June 30, 2016

Stop_figureven·dor

/ˈvendər,ˈvenˌdôr’/

Noun

  • a person or company offering something for sale, especially a trader in the street.
  • a person or company whose principal product lines are office supplies and equipment.

Synonyms: retailer, seller, dealer, trader, purveyor, storekeeper, shopkeeper, merchant, salesperson, supplier, peddler, hawker; scalper, huckster, traffic

__________

Over the last sixteen years I've learned that if there's a word folks in the nonprofit community love to use to describe design firms, it's vendor. Maybe it's me, but every time I hear it used in conversation or read it in an RFP, the "V-word" is accompanied by the soothing sound of nails on a chalkboard. I don't believe I'm being thin-skinned here, but applying vendor to a design firm like Constructive is, well, a bit insulting.

"What's the big deal?" you might be thinking. "Why should I care?"

Both good questions. The short answer is that if you work for a nonprofit and are tasked with researching and choosing a design firm to lead your organization through a website redesign or other design project, using the word vendor is symptomatic of a bigger problem. It suggests a mindset that misunderstands what design is. That shortchanges the value of good design and the value a social change organization can get from working with a design firm. And that damages the kind of relationship any nonprofit would want to build when working with one.

Sounds serious! But if I'm overstating the case, I'm only overstating it slightly.

To understand what's so troubling about putting the "vendor" label on design firms, it's helpful to deconstruct the term itself. Take a look again at the definition of vendor and its synonyms at the top of this article. Pretty uninspiring, right? By definition, a vendor doesn't provide insight or strategic value. Vendors have customers, not clients. (Does any nonprofit really want to be treated by their design firm as a "customer"?!). At best, they are trying to sell you something — usually a commoditized product or service. At worst, the thing they are trying to sell you is a lemon.

Would anyone in their right mind want a vendor to do something for them as important as design?! Well, it depends on how you view design.

So why is vendor used so frequently in the nonprofit sector to describe the design firms that play such a critical role in translating organizational strategy into tangible experiences? I don't believe it’s because anyone is intentionally minimizing the value that design firms bring to the table. (If anything, the case for strategic communications in the sector is on the rise.) To me, it's a subtle sign of a more widespread misunderstanding that can lead to missed opportunity — one that's often exacerbated by design firms themselves and the organizations that hire them.

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The One Strategy You Need to Design an Effective Website

March 02, 2016

Bigstock-Web-Design-For many organizations, a website is the biggest window into their work and values, helping their supporters and other audiences understand what the organization believes in and stands for, what it does, and why its work matters. In many cases, it also is a critical component of the day-to-day operations behind those efforts, whether as a publishing platform for knowledge sharing and thought leadership, or as a direct link to the organization's events management and CRM systems.

Nonprofits, educational institutions, and businesses whose work is dedicated to advancing positive social or environmental change must not only make sure their websites meet all the criteria by which the success of websites in general are measured (i.e., usability, visual design, and compelling content), their websites also must paint a much bigger picture of the organization — elevating its issue(s), educating audiences, and generating action while clearly communicating everything in the context of the organization's mission and values. No surprise, then, that at Constructive we believe that as purposeful as organizations tend to be about developing the strategies and actions needed to drive change, they should be equally focused on the decisions that determine whether their websites contribute to those goals.

Unfortunately, many organizations with incredibly inspiring missions too often end up with a website that falls flat and leaves their audiences more confused than committed, more exhausted than energized.

Why is this?

The Discontent of Our Disconnect

When organizations set out to redesign a website, the problems in need of solving on every organization's list inevitably include things like: "confusing; not user friendly," "content and resources hard to find," "not engaging or visually appealing," "difficult to update," and, most telling of all, "fails to clearly communicate our mission and work."

It is baffling how so many organizations can go through a lengthy website design engagement and still wind up with something that fails not only in website-specific areas like usability, visual design, and technology, but also in terms of the most important strategic goal of all — clearly communicating an organization's mission.

The reason, I believe, is actually quite simple.

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Creativity: A New Pillar of Sustainability

October 01, 2015

Sustainability21.980x980Creativity. We hack it. We map it. We study it. We rate it. We take it places. We build industries around it. We invest in it. We recognize we need it, even when it hurts. We know our future depends on it.

This is the first in a series of blog posts which will explore the radical premise that creativity is a key driver of sustainability

We will look at the role creativity plays in strengthening communities and driving change. We will appreciate entrepreneurs using the arts, design, and making to tackle topics like healthy food, climate change, the criminal justice system, and immigration. We will remind ourselves how much research science, technology, and social entrepreneurship have in common.

We will imagine creativity as an investment theme and propose how it may be integrated into impact and mission-related investment portfolios. We will review creativity standards for companies and investment funds seeking to have a positive social and financial impact. We will start the conversation about how to measure creativity's contribution toward our sustainable future.

What Do We Mean By Creativity?

Creativity is the spark. When the spark catches, it catalyzes an expression, an experiment, a "creation." If the spark turns into an invention, an entrepreneur can build an enterprise around it. 

If the invention works and the company is profitable and grows, there can be a wide-spread change – that's innovation. Innovation makes markets.

Business uses the word creativity, too. In fact, the Conference Board reports that creativity ranks among the top five skills that U.S. employers believe to be of increasing importance.

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Five Ways to Improve Your Digital Strategy for Older Donors

February 17, 2015

Older-donors-with-computerSome of the biggest nonprofit campaigns of recent years were most notable for how well they mobilized the ever-elusive Gen Y demographic. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became a viral sensation, and the It Gets Better Project's successful YouTube videos helped bring light to important issues affecting the LGBT community. But while these efforts certainly have helped to illuminate the future of fundraising, they haven’t been as successful in engaging older people, who consistently give the largest donations year after year. For those hoping to use technology to connect with their older donors, here are five important points to keep in mind as you create your digital plan of attack.

Older donors are much more tech-savvy than many give them credit for

  • Nearly 3 out of 5 donors age 66 and older currently make donations via the web.

With the rise of tablet computing and streamlined mobile UIs, mobile technology is more accessible to different age groups than ever before. Studies show that in recent years, older users have proven to be very adaptable when it comes to new technologies and are just as likely to donate online as their younger counterparts.

Even though older users need a bit of extra care when it comes to accessibility, it's important that you don't view your older donors as technologically illiterate. The tough part is catering to these older audiences while still creating a digital experience that appeals to younger constituents as well.

Making your site more accessible to older donors

When catering to an audience of older constituents, the ideal goal is to strike a happy balance between quality design and carefully considered user-friendliness.

A few design details in particular, like font size and page navigation, are critical for making a site accessible to older visitors. According to Nielsen's usability tests of users aged 65 and over, older citizens require larger typography, with 12-point fonts (and higher) working best. In addition, older users tend to be more frustrated by frequent site and design changes. While this is less of a design detail, it's a good point to note for web designers who like to make tweaks on a regular basis.

When it comes to driving conversions, make sure you're prominently featuring all of your most common actionable functions. If you have a "donate" button, make it clearly visible on every page. By minimizing the number of clicks between your users and the option to donate or volunteer, you create an online presence that is simultaneously accessible and streamlined. For examples of sites that do this well, visit the Sierra Club, New York Road Runners, or the American Cancer Society.

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[Data Viz] How Does Foreign Aid Work?

March 08, 2014

Today's infographic isn't one, per se; it's a Web-based "visual explainer" created by Newsbound, a San Francisco-based design and software company, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that "debunks several prominent myths about foreign aid, including the argument that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars." Part photo essay, part data vizualization, the "stack" (which was included in the foundation's 2014 annual letter) comprises twenty slides easily navigated with a mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard.

(Click here to view)

Foreignaid_explainer

What do you think? Is the less than 1 percent of the federal budget spent on foreign aid a waste of taxpayer dollars? Does foreign aid work? Or, as some argue, does it do more harm than good? And on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the Newsbound approach to a complex issue like foreign aid? Share your thoughts in the comments section below...

Design or Not to Design? Does It Matter?

February 12, 2014

(Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in Indianapolis. In his previous post, he blogged about the fundraising secrets of internationally focused nonprofits.)

Feldmann_headshotAs the dust settles on another hectic fundraising season, I've been taking some time to sift through the direct mail and e-mail donation requests I received. It seems like the past year was extra busy for many organizations, and there was a lot of competition for my attention and charitable support as the year came to an end.

When analyzing the various pieces, I typically start with design, putting those that stick to a basic black-and-white format and avoid graphics other than an organization's logo in one pile and those that incorporate the latest design trends and National Geographic-quality photographs in another.

I also sort the pitch letters based on degree of personalization. A lot of them start with a generic salutation like "Dear Friend…," which always makes me smile and think: How can we be friends when I don't even know you? Then there are letters that address me as "Derrick" – well, because apparently we're on a first-name basis.

As someone who deals on a regular basis with fundraising campaigns, direct-mail appeals, and e-mail solicitations, I can almost always spot the pieces that were done in-house, as opposed to those created by an agency or outside contractor. In most cases, there's a certain polish to the latter, and you can tell the organization has paid good money to achieve that look and feel.

But does it matter? Do sharp, well-designed pieces lead to more and bigger donations than bland, generic pitches created by an in-house team?

Actually, not so much. As a number of recent studies show, a simple direct-mail or e-mail pitch is likely to raise just as much money as a well-designed piece. Indeed, according to fundraising expert Rachel Beer, A and B testing demonstrates that "something plain, functional, and straightforward will often out-perform something that is beautifully art directed or conceptual."

So if the design of your fundraising solicitations doesn't really matter, what does matter?

Brand. Your nonprofit's brand is what matters.

As the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations' Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone put it in a 2012 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, "Strong brands in all sectors help organizations acquire financial, human and social resources, and build key partnerships. The trust that strong brands elicit also provides organizations with the authority and credibility to deploy those resources more efficiently and flexibly than can organizations with weaker brands."

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The Role of Design and 'Design Thinking' in Philanthropy

December 05, 2012

(Kris Putnam-Walkerly, an award-winning philanthropy consultant, evaluator, and speaker, is the principal author of the popular Philanthropy411 blog, where this post originally appeared.)

At the turn of the twenty-first century, after decades of percolation in academia, the concept of "design thinking" began to appear in popular business literature and conversation. Although finding a clear, consistent explanation of design thinking is rather like asking bridesmaids to agree on the perfect shade of blue, Wikipedia gave it a shot:

Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.

Ill-defined problems. Combining empathy, creativity, and rationality in developing a solution. Sounds perfect for philanthropy, doesn't it? It's no wonder, then, that as design thinking has become manifest in the business world, it's beginning to pique the interest of the funding community.

In a recent conversation with Kyle Reis, Manager for Strategy and Operations at the Ford Foundation, we pondered the question of how foundations might partner with design communities to help them learn how to more fundamentally and intentionally integrate design and design thinking into their work.

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