Last year Sidebench began hosting OpenIDEO MeetUps in order to strengthen our relationship with the design community. Since beginning our involvement, we have been inspired (and lucky!) to work on various ‘designing for impact’ projects. For this blog we spoke with members of the LA Chapter to discuss the current design landscape and reflect on some of the events and initiatives that make Los Angeles so unique.
All design enacts some sort of change, but there are some design challenges that seek to impact on a larger scale — institutionally, economically, socially, politically, interpersonally. The LA design community is enthusiastic about designing for impact. Designers and product teams are interrogating systems and defining opportunities for change. Sidebench has recently had several opportunities to work with and influence impact design champions in the Los Angeles community, expanding our own social reach and helping others build meaningful partnerships to design the future.
Los Angeles designers are looking forward to the future of impact design: “I think we are strong community leaders, and we have the opportunity to be even stronger,” said designer Erika Backbury when Sidebench asked her about her perspective on the design community in the area.
LA creatives like Erika are looking to these trends to carve the path to the future of impact design:
Merging Creative Communities with More Traditional Social Impact Entities
The diverse Los Angeles landscape is home to a number of social impact organizations. Designers and creatives are forming valuable alliances with nonprofits, political entities, and institutions to share in their long-term vision and collaborate on solution-driven design. The members of Social Enterprise Alliance Los Angeles are encouraged to meet often with a network of professionals, including a number of creative and tech professionals.
We visited our first meetup with Social Enterprise Alliance at their Professional Services Night, hosted by West Monroe Partners earlier this May, and were inspired by the social impact organizations in attendance and their missions. We observed firsthand the importance of partnerships between the public, private, and social sectors to sustainably scale solutions.
Designer Gina Valona honed in on this value when we asked her about what the design community needs to grow: “More collaboration between industries,” she said, “that includes a social/political/economic strata of partnerships to address issues from varying perspectives.”
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide have at least one disability, and the tenets of accessible design have long stood as the standards by which to assess a design’s universal usability. Long-standing members of the disabilities community, the WITH Foundation makes it their mission to improve accessibility in healthcare. They recently embarked on a partnership with Sidebench to teach designers about and encourage them to practice accessible design.
At the Universal Design workshop hosted by Sidebench and the WITH Foundation, designers were encouraged to harness the possibilities of universal design through participatory prototyping and testing with the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) community. Designers learned that user experience design is about users after all, and having a diverse user set improves usability for all.
Designing accessible technologies help designers center marginalized voices — a central imperative of social impact design. “The most surprising thing to me was how how well–intentioned designs can end up being super confusing or unusable by accident,” said one designer who attended the WITH workshop, “That’s why testing and talking to people is so important, especially people with disabilities whose perspective you may not consider upfront.”
Events for Accelerating Innovation
In their free time, LA designers are flocking to meetups and challenges focused on social impact solutioning. Through hosting a few of Open IDEO’s design meetups, we’ve had the privilege of being a part of an energetic wave of impact innovation. Because the majority of social impact design rests not in finalizing and shipping a product, but rather in observing, getting feedback from, and continuously iterating with communities in need, events to spark empathy and innovation are an invaluable resource to designers hoping to make a social impact.
Designer Dan Vang believes that more events can only lead to more positive idea-sharing: “Ideas are meant to be shared. I think the LA design community could use a larger platform that encourages sharing their ideas so that more connections could be made.”
As members and supporters of the Los Angeles design community, we look forward to the continued emphasis on designing for impact. We hope to see designers harness the fast-paced evolution of technology to guide organizations, systems, and structures to utilize technology to further the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and the world.
— Cassandra Gibson, UX Designer at Sidebench
Cassy is a Rice University alum and Texan transplant surviving in Los Angeles. Her interests include environmental justice, vegan cooking, discovering great podcasts and petting dogs.