Dear Lone Nonprofit Designer,
Congratulations on making it here. I know you have a lot of fires to put out, so good on you for taking the time to do some professional development. High five.
You also deserve another high-five because you’re solving important problems with some pretty serious constraints. You do good work in this world. You should be proud.
Oh, and one last high five, because your job is hard and no one seems to know it. Actually, forget the high five. How about a shot instead?
I’ve been a Lone Nonprofit Designer for most of my career, so I know you have a job that can be overwhelming, but also very rewarding. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in my time as a Lone Nonprofit Designer. I hope they will make your nonprofit work more rewarding. I also hope you will continue to use your skills in design to keep fighting for a better, more just world.
Get inspired. Sparingly.
One hour of “designspiration” a week is a great way to keep your mind fresh with new ideas. One hour of design research a day is a great way to crush your soul.
“Designspiration pieces” are like Victoria’s Secret Models. They’re beautiful, but achieving that standard of beauty is unrealistic for many of us. Models look the way they do because it’s their job to look like that. Your job is to use design to do good for the world—not to make a Mona Lisa. Focus on that.
Make friends with other designers.
When you’re the only designer on board, it can be hard to challenge yourself. The feedback isn’t very helpful, and you’re not naturally exposed to new ideas.
Here’s the good news: tons of other people have this problem. Find another Lone Designer. Meet up for coffee. Show each other your work. Give constructive feedback, and press them to do the same.
There’s no reason to be afraid of reaching out. I have not met a single designer that isn’t excited to get real, hard feedback on their work.
Heck, send me something. Email me at marice [at] fissionstrategy.com or tweet me @symarice. Send me something you’re working on and I promise I’ll send you some feedback. Seriously.
Invite your coworkers to design with you.
You may be the only designer, but that doesn’t mean you’re flying solo.
Working through a design problem? Ask your coworkers how they would solve it. About to get started on a new project? Invite others to brainstorm and sketch with you.
This will feel awkward at first. That’s good. Encouraging design ideation and facilitating feedback sessions are essential design skills that require practice. There’s no better place to hone that skill than where you are right now. Take advantage of it.
Also, career protip: When you ask non-designers for their opinion, they get really excited. Involving others in your work is a great way to build goodwill. Try it. It works.
Before you close this tab, here’s a to-do list for you:
- Send your work-in-progress to marice [at] fissionstrategy.com. I will give you honest, constructive design critique. For real. You can also tweet me @symarice.
- Go to LinkedIn and look for a designer your age and working at a similar company. Ask them out to coffee. Critique each other’s work.
- Ask your coworker for feedback on something this week, or set up a meeting to do a design brainstorm.
- Close the Designspiration tabs. They’re hurting you more than you know.
About the Author
Marice Sy uses design thinking to make the world a little more just.
In her time as a professional designer, Marice has worked exclusively to push important charitable causes. Most dear to her are issues of corporate accountability, global inequality, and human rights.
Following Citizens United, Marice created a scorecard that graded members of Congress on their actions to keep corporate rights in check. The scorecard is still used in lobbying efforts today.
Marice has a breadth of hobbies that change seasonally. Right now, she’s cooking unfamiliar foods, spinning (cycling), and building tiny robots. She is based in Seattle, WA.