Nonprofit Design Rules

10 Fundamental Nonprofit Design Rules

A great nonprofit design helps nonprofits and social good organizations and believe it or not can make a positive impact on our world!!

Whether you’re using a website to tell a story or creating innovative products, design and social change go hand in hand.

Some of the designers and creatives that work in the social good space have provided essential tips for nonprofits and designers looking to effect change.

1. Highlighting Positive Impact

positive_impactAlthough your nonprofit may be dealing with overwhelmingly discouraging world issues, your design focus should be on what good your nonprofit accomplishes, and how it addresses these huge issues.

A product designer from Khan Academy named Tabitha Yong says that it’s difficult to remember and remind yourself to focus on how the organization is solving problems because the issues themselves are so daunting. Yong also said that donors are inspired by being invited to observe the process and see their dollars put in action. It is important for them to see that their investments are doing well.

2. Design as a Compelling Story

compelling_storyA great design must not only be pleasing to the eye, it also must tell a compelling story by providing information or entertaining the viewer. This process is especially important when considering the social good space.

The principal and creative director of Hyperakt, Julia Zeltser once told us that a designers primary challenge is to be able to think through and create a story that will connect with or affect their audience visually and emotionally.

Both the key message and first impressions are the most vital components of any marketing strategy says Zeltser, these need to be clear, succinct and consistent throughout the all marketing communications.

3. It Starts With Empathy

Brian Vanaski, the creative director at CauseLabs, says that when designing for social good, the actual design comes later. Put it aside when you’re first begin.

In this field a good designer must start with empathy. That means taking the time to go out and actually connect with your client in order to gain a true understanding of why it is they do what they do at a real organic level. Once you understand this, the design will come naturally and will provide high impact.

4. Don’t Be Reluctant to Try New Things

Innovation and development are important to everyone, including those in the social space. Patrice Martin of says that innovation won’t happen if designers and nonprofits are not providing themselves with the authorization to experiment.

When you begin a project it is normal to not know what the end result will be, but you must be comfortable with that because in the end when you approach a project by being open to suggestions and shared ideas from your communities, your designs will have purpose and you will find better solutions.

5. Personalize Your Design

personalize_designTabitha Yong said that the most outstanding designs are the ones that make the viewer feel welcome, like they are already a part of the community creating change.If you don’t make sure that your viewers feel like they belong and can impact change they may end up blurry eyed as a result of an overabundance of statics and lack of personalization and leave your website feeling unsatisfied and unconvinced of your impact and intentions.

Emphasize your site’s language, use bright and pleasing color combinations, and integrate photographs of real people doing the work that you do in the community.

6. Pay Attention to Aesthetics

aestheticsWhen money is tight, aesthetic decisions may seem very important, but a visually engaging website could be the difference between gaining or losing support.
Make sure to use thoughtful type hierarchies, selective color choices and visual guides to make it simple for the user to understand how to join the cause.

7. Think Critically About Accessibility

accessabilityIt is important to know how people are going to access and interact with your design. What type of computers do they use, operating systems, or will they be primarily accessing from mobile devices? Designing specifically for your end users hardware, operating systems and operation environment is incredibly important, and a consideration that is often left out of the conversation.

8. Find a firm That Meshes Well With Your Organization

If your organization doesn’t have an in house designer, find a firm that shares your vision so that they will be able to effectively create designs in line with your thinking.
Don’t get stuck doing what everybody else is doing,  get creative and encourage your designers to do so as well.

9. Always be Ready for Change

be_readyFlexibility is always required when working with quickly evolving technologies. When working in the social good space one must always be one step ahead planning for shifts in the use of technology. It is important to consider things like increasing accessibility of technology in developing countries.

10. Don’t be Afraid to Fail, This is How We Learn

The most successful organizations create a culture of innovation and experimentation. They may not start out great or be very pretty, but if you stick with it the most effective and groundbreaking solutions come out of a willingness of an organization to take a chance and try something new. Plus it feels really good to do it. 🙂

Find out how Hawtin Consulting can help you better connect and establish relationships with new customers in 2015.

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Jaclyn Hawtin

Jaclyn Hawtin (M.S. Tech), a San Francisco based Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Tech Love is an award winning entrepreneur with extensive experience advising start-up ventures. Her unique methodological approach developed through years of academic research and experimentation on making 'right technology' decisions in the workplace has proven invaluable to Tech Love's client base. She also currently serves as a mentor to entrepreneurs at House of Genius and advises a number of international nonprofits and NGO's on best practices for applying technology in international development.

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