Dakila April Fools' - 3 Reasons Why Good Design for Non-profits is No Joke

"Design is in everything we make, but it’s also between those things. It’s a mix of craft, science, storytelling, propaganda, and philosophy." — Erik Adigard

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Avid followers of DAKILA's Facebook page were in for a shock last week when they were greeted with a complete redesign of our organization’s look. 

No, we weren’t hacked or suddenly abandoned by our artist-advocates. Rather, the DAKILA creative team decided to have a bit of fun on April Fools’ Day and make a point about good design for advocacy. 

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“Design is something that should be in every NGO’s toolkit,” DAKILA’s Creative Director, Andrei Venal, says,   “It can translate an abstract concept into something concrete and actionable.” For a sector grappling with such immense abstractions like justice, truth, and peace, the transformative power of good design is more crucial than ever. 

Whether you work for an NGO, volunteer for a good cause, or simply enjoy sharing your advocacies on social media, you’ll be more effective if keep in mind these reasons you should be conscious of good design. 

1. Good design stands out from the clutter.

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." - Henry David Thoreau

More often than not, meaningful but badly-packaged messages are drowned out by frivolous but eye-catching materials. The constant barrage of visual communication in people’s daily lives means that your message needs to rise above a never ending stream of Instagram photos, massive billboards, print ads, autoplaying videos and animated GIFs of cats. Your advocacy material is not just competing with other advocacies, but also with advertising and posts from your social networks. 

A expertly-conducted design process takes this into consideration and optimizes your content so it cuts through the visual noise to reach your intended audience. 

2. Good design isn’t just about creativity; it’s also about effectivity.

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” - Steve Jobs

Human rights campaigns are not known for having huge budgets. This is why it’s even more crucial to invest in designing materials that hit the marks for your strategic goals as opposed to wasting limited resources on dazzling but empty visuals.

It’s all too common for advocacy workers to ask designers the question, “How can we make this look good?” rather than “How can we make this understood?” or “How can we make this work?”. The first approach may result in seemingly impressive “designs" but the second actually taps into the core purpose of design: Problem-solving. A good grasp of design principles will help you to understand the difference between the two. In time, you will learn to avoid meaningless decorations and instead focus on effective solutions to communication gaps.  

3. Good causes deserve good design.

"Unfortunately, too many non-profits neither invest the time nor the resources in good design—and it shows. They look unprofessional, small and ill-equipped to change the world. [People] want to support a winner. Good design makes you look like a winner.” — Sean Harrigan

It is a mistake to assume that the nobility of a certain cause or message can transcend poor execution. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. Human beings are wired to perceive more value in dynamic and harmonious visuals regardless of content or credibility. Good design can make the most blatant of lies palatable. Meanwhile, bad design can discredit even the most established causes.

If a considerable amount of insight and talent can be put into selling shampoo and fast food, isn’t it only right to invest the same (or more) in communicating social justice and human rights? Design for advocacy and social change must reflect the importance of its subject -- and any fool can see that.

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Micheline Rama is the Co-Founder and Campaigns Director of DAKILA: Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism.

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