The only competitors that matter

“Who else does this?”

At Greater Good Studio, we get the question all the time. From designers and researchers looking for meaning in their work, and from social sector folks looking for innovation in theirs, everyone wants to know who else does what we do.

They’re asking about social design, a field which really has very little definition at this point, but nonetheless a field which we are trying to simultaneously understand, define, support and lead.

At first we’d rattle off the handful of “big players” — at least, big by our standards —, Catapult Design, Firebelly here in Chicago. But as we started to get deeper into the social design space, we began to hear of other firms, and other types of groups, doing things that looked suspiciously like social design. Consultants, volunteer groups, classes, collectives, conferences and contests, all using design methods to solve social problems.

And so, like any good trend tracker, we started a Pinterest page. That page has grown, and I probably refer someone to it at least once a week. Partly because we can’t hire everyone we want to, and partly because we want students and young professionals to know they don’t have to choose corporate America, we send out the link, again and again.

Now why would a small company want to refer potential hires, collaborators or future clients to its so-called “competition?”

The answer is simple: we don’t see any of these groups as our competition. They are all doing their own version of awesome, and we only wish there were more companies like them. More places for designers and researchers to work where they don’t have to feel compromised. More companies determined to tackling the greatest challenges facing humanity. More case studies for future generations.

Plus, we know how hard it is to create your own opportunities in this space. It’s hard to find funded clients. It’s hard to find long-term projects. It’s hard to educate folks about what you do. Most of all, it’s hard to confront the fact that real people are suffering, all the time, and that you can only do so much. This is not glamorous work and it’s not easy work. We couldn’t be more grateful that there are others out there, doing what we do.

So who are our real competitors, then?

When it comes to hiring, our main competitors are design and innovation firms.

When it comes to projects, our main competitors are traditional nonprofit consultants.

But none of these competitors matter either.

When it comes to the work itself, our competition is poverty, racism, apathy, disorganization, bureaucracy, power imbalance, misaligned incentives and good old lack of awareness.

These are the only competitors that matter, and the game will be on for the rest of our lives.

We only hope that more designers join us.

And so please, check out our Pinterest page. Follow these friends on Twitter and Instagram. Support their work and encourage their growth. Let’s build the social design field bigger and stronger.

And tell us who else belongs on this page! We’re always looking for new folks to pin.