In this episode, Angie speaks to Suchita Isaac – a designer who worked for a nonprofit. Sushi and Angie discuss the positive impact design can have on the world around us.
Listen to the episode:
Suchita standing next to the wall at U&I next to her quote that she handlettered herself.
Sushi: Hi! this is Design Lota, the podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers.
Angie: I’m Angie
Sushi: And I’m Sushi
Angie: Sushi, we left off our last episode talking about meaning and making a difference as designers…I was thinking we could look a little more into that.
Sushi: When I think of making a difference, I think of designers who have done projects that have an impact on people and change their lives in some way. Like, Suchita Isaac, the designer you spoke to the other day?
Angie: Yes! Suchita has worked as a graphic designer for a non-profit in the past and now she’s freelancing but keeps an eye out for social impact projects as a designer.
Sushi: Wow, how did it go? What did you find out?
Angie: Why don’t you listen in and find out for yourself?
Interview with Suchita Isaac
Angie: Hey Suchi, thank you so much for coming on the show!
Suchi: Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure.
Angie: So Suchi, when my co-host Sushi and I were talking about doing an episode on designing for social impact, you were one of the first people I wanted to talk to. I think the listeners will know why in a while. So to start off, tell us about yourself…what you’ve been up to and what you’re doing now?
Suchi: Tell us about yourself is the most awkward question isn’t it – well here goes – I’m one of those coffee drinking geeks whose always been interested and involved in a ton of different fields – I was kind of building my career ever since I was 15 without even knowing it – just because I was interested in so many different things. What I’m upto now – at the moment – I’m a designer, an illustrator, little bit of a writer now and then. I’ve been freelancing and doing Logos, websites, social media strategy consulting for different companies and individuals while doodling and selling little products as well on the side.
Angie: That’s quite interesting. In fact, I went through your website and really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Absolutely loved the one about why you decided to work for an NGO. I think it served as a great starting point for the questions I want to ask you today. So thanks for making my job easier!
Suchi: I’m so glad you liked it!
Angie: So, what made you decide to work for an NGO?
Suchi: Honestly – it was a bit of a spontaneous decision. I had just graduated from college and I was looking up ad agencies to join when my friends Ajit & Satish had this idea to start u&i. So as a bunch of friends we used to do some social work together – honestly contrary to popular belief I’m not much of a social worker – I’m not good with kids and I’m not the most cuddly happy woman – I’m a bit reserved and awkward if you will. But they approached me saying we need someone who can do media and design – and that was up my alley. To begin with, I joined because I was interested in this aspect of building an organization from scratch on the design and media side. As the years went by I learned what a huge impact design can have in this space.
Angie: What were the reactions you got?
Suchi: Some really interesting ones! Back then – 7 years ago – it wasn’t very cool to work in a non-profit. I was asked why I don’t get a normal job and do this after I retire, I was asked if I will be paid… people flat out told me you’re an idiot and you’re wasting your time. Honestly I was enjoying my work way too much to take any of that seriously. It challenged me in a different way though – I noticed that people saw this as boring and unappealing and I really wanted to change that attitude.
Angie: Did you feel like you’re taking a risk?
Suchi: Honestly – no. at the time it didn’t really feel like a risk. Looking back I can see how people perceived it as a risk. I grew up around entrepreneurs so this was totally normal for me.
Angie: What kind of work does a designer do at an NGO? I can imagine you would have targeted a different set of consumers of your design based on the project, right?
Suchi: Events, brochures, print materials
Angie: How do you design on a budget when you’re at an ngo? You mentioned in your blog post that “NGOs and charities are looked at as the sector of society that everyone else is doing a favor for.” Do you have any examples of when you felt that way?
Suchi: Many times actually. Especially when you’re just starting out you have to call in a lot of favours. People do approach you with that attitude of – ‘we are helping this little organisation that may never take off.’ I think as the years went by people started to see the benefit – they started to see the community and the city being uplifted and becoming more socially responsible.
If you think about it even apart from making the world a better place – people need charities. Brands and companies need them to look socially responsible. Big corporations need CSR. Anf individuals and students need to show social work on their resumes and college applications. So I think its about time we face the fact that we all need each other.
Angie: You also talk about the lack of talent when it comes to NGOs and social impact projects…
Suchi: Yes, because people are looking for good money and salaries. But hey times are changing – even since I wrote this article. A lot of people, millennials, in particular, are looking for purpose now – they want to be a part of something bigger. – and the social work sector is a great place to work for people like that.
Also more importantly – I think this is a problem that good design can solve. For the longest time working at non-profits was not appealing at all. I think all organizations and companies need to take a step back and ask themselves what they need to do to attract talent, because it’s not about the money anymore.
In my experience it’s an issue for anyone starting from scratch. It takes a while to stabilize and find consistent streams of funding. Again – this is a problem good design can solve. If you want to approach companies and corporations for funding – they will take you as seriously as you take yourself. NGOs need to present themselves as legit well run professional ventures – this will make people want to invest in them.
Angie: You mentioned how the thinking needs to change from ‘donations’ to ‘investment’. What did you mean by this?
Suchi: These little subtleties play a big role in our perception. Donations have the connotation of JUST giving. Investments are about what you get in return. Changing the language you use communicates the larger community aspect of what people get in return. We all want to live in a better community and a better world – ‘it’s worth investing in people who are working to create that every day.
Angie: What do you think Design can do for social impact? Design students, design professionals?
Suchi: I think the potential here huge. As designers there are so many solutions we can provide for global problems. Take the soap project for example – listeners can look this up. This organization started to add a tag with a helpline number to soaps in motels so people could report abuse or trafficking or if they were being forced into prostitution or help against their will. This is a brilliant design solution. From my experience if I was to look back at my time at u&i – like I said I had this dream of making social work appealing – and we did that by running fun campaigns both online and in college – and before you knew if college students were walking around in our t shirts and wearing our wrist bands and most importantly – volunteering and being involved in social work. So it’s not just about a singular design – it’s about creating solutions and creating appeal.
When you think of design – people, (especially people who are not in the field) tend to think of a single unit of design – be it print design or web design and so on- but what a designer can do for you is create an end to end experience with anyone who interacts with your organisation across platforms. So I think the potential here is HUGE.
Angie: Do you know of any other designers who are doing work specifically for social impact?
Suchi: I believe it’s more common internationally – bigger charities have full time designers on board. I think it’s still picking up in India.
Angie: What would you say to designers who want to do this full time but don’t know how to take the risk…and also for design professionals who want to take up social impact work apart from their day jobs…is there something they can do?
Suchi: I think if you’re inclined to do this – go for it and take the plunge. In your previous podcast I remember you guys said ‘I didn’t choose design, design chose me’ so you know – as spiderman says – with great power comes great responsibility. Jokes aside, you’ve been given a gift – and you have the power to create amazing things and solve huge global problems. Don’t ever say what can I do I’m just a designer. You can do SO much because you are a designer. Go ahead and share that gift with the world. If you already have a day job and you want to help out – do some pro-bono work. There are tons of charities in India that could use a hand. Find someone in your community or in your circle and offer to help. Make it a part of your lifestyle to contribute however you can – whatever your career or skill – we can all make the world a better place.
Angie: Before we close, I really want to read out the part from your blog post that I found super inspiring:
“So looking back, I could have gotten paid a lot more doing another job, but why have I given three years of my life to the nonprofit sector? I did because I am big headed enough believe the least of us deserve the best of us. People don’t work for charities out of a lack of other jobs, out of boredom or even out of a need to stroke their feel good ego. People don’t work for charities because they can afford to feed their families and they are happy with a minimal income. People work for charities because they believe in their investment. They have a gift of faith and foolishness to believe that they can change the world.”
[Read Suchita’s full blog post here]
Now, that’s amazing and means so much because it comes straight from your personal experience. I also noticed that you’ve made a lettering piece out of these words. Where can our listeners get it and where can they find you on social media? 🙂
Suchi: You can head over to suchithaisaac.com/store and depending on where you live – India or abroad you can buy it through my soceity6 or Cupick. Follow Instagramtagram at @suchi001 and check out my fb page fb.com/suchisaac
Angie: Thanks again Suchi for joining us, it’s been great!
Sushi: I’m at a loss for words! That quote you read out at the end was really moving.
Angie: Yes, isn’t it reassuring to know that there are people who believe that they can make a difference and are actually putting their time and energy into the issues they care about.
Sushi: I liked what she said about every designer having the opportunity to make a positive change. If you have a gift, you must share it with the world… To me, as an industrial designer, what that means is, even the design we do, for profit, for upscale consumers, can have a positive impact down the line, if we pay attention to why and how we do it..in our choice of materials, producers, production techniques etc, and the very design of the business model.
Angie: Yes, it’s more a perspective on a fundamental level. I also love how good graphic design can have a huge impact on making social work attractive, like the example of the student volunteers responding to a well designed campaign.
Sushi: And today, design for social impact is really gaining traction, with more and more designers realising the fulfillment that comes with it.
Angie: Yes. We’re going to list out some organisations that you listeners can get in touch with if you want to do some impactful work at the grassroots! You can find them in the blog post for this episode.
Sushi: Do you guys have a story about design for social impact? Tweet to us @designlota and tell us.
Angie: Yes, and you can find references and links from this episode at designlota.com. We’ll be back next week where we talk about getting out of our comfort zone as designers. Stay tuned for that.
Sushi: That’s all folks!
You can check out Suchi’s work and purchase her products at suchitaisaac.com
Suchita’s blog post that is discussed in the podcast is this one.
Suchita refers to the S.O.A.P project in the podcast.