Fundamental Design Rules for Nonprofits

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Good design can change the world — or at least help nonprofits and social good organizations in the process.

Whether it’s using a website to tell compelling stories or creating an innovative product, design and social change go hand in hand.

  1. Let the design tell compelling stories. Good design isn’t just visual — it’s informative, and often entertaining. That’s how design draws anyone in, in any sector, but it’s especially relevant for the social good space. The challenge for designers is to figure out how to weave the story that emotionally and visually connects with the audience in a clear, succinct and consistent way.
  2. Don’t be afraid to continually try new things. Like others, the social and non-profit sector needs innovation. That isn’t possible if designers and nonprofits don’t give themselves permission to experiment.
  3. Add a human, personable touch. Visitors to your nonprofit’s website shouldn’t feel as if they’re closed off from the cause; they should feel part of the community creating change. Iterate with your site’s language, bright color palettes, illustrations or photos of people working together, helping their communities.
  4. Design for impact. Don’t just design to solve the problem; design specifically for your end users’ hardware, operating systems, and operating environment.
  5. Fail early; fail often. To create a culture of innovation and experimentation within your organization —you need a widespread understanding that all great things don’t necessarily start out great. It takes time, effort, perseverance and small learnings through failures and experimentation to find the right path.

Design is a fundamental part of any brand: it is meant to express what the brand is all about, give a sense of cohesiveness about the brand’s purpose, and well, look “pretty.” But design is not there just to be visually pleasing. Any brand, be it for-profit or nonprofit, uses design to help inform the public, and this is why design can (to an important extent) make or break what you try to communicate.

Megan Van Petten
CEO & President
Van Petten Group, Inc.

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