I’m a designer and I want to help the world. Now what?

12 companies you should know about


It’s clear that our beautiful, incredible world is broken in many ways — so many of society’s processes have grown over the decades into massive systems that feel impossible to change. As designers, we love to solve problems, and the silver lining of our world’s complexity is that there are so many worthy problems for us to dive into. There’s a growing appetite in the design and tech communities to do this, which Mary Meeker’s 2015 internet trends report confirms: The most important factor for Millennial job-seekers is meaningful work.

Adapted from slide 114 of Mary Meeker’s internet trends report

But it’s not always apparent for designers to know where to look for jobs that match up with the problems they’re passionate about. Many smaller startups working on interesting issues aren’t as well-known to the design industry as the larger, consumer-facing product companies. My team at Opower often gives advice to designers looking to put their effort towards social causes, and we’d like to share this resource with the Medium community.

Advice if you want to work for a company with a strong social mission

  • Expand your scope of what design should be. Designing to solve thorny, complex problems that impact people’s lives on a broad scale isn’t always sexy. It isn’t always mobile, or responsive, or social. It may not be consumer facing. And you may need to work with industries that seem frustrating and bureaucratic. However, you’ll face some of the most challenging design problems of your career. Nadav Savio of google.org has a good approach to this with his principles for humanitarian design.
  • You don’t need to choose between financial stability and doing good. People tend to equate social good with nonprofits, but the business world is changing. There are many companies out there that have double bottom lines — it’s now very possible to join a hot new pre-IPO startup that also has a social mission. Many of the companies listed below are for-profit companies that likely have competitive pay and large potential financial upside.
  • You can start in your own backyard. There are incredible companies building innovative products and experiences for the developing world, but you don’t need to go international to work on important problems. The U.S. has its own share of issues in education, poverty, and health, and there are lots of ways for designers to help.

12 companies you should know about

Below is a list of companies that have strong missions relating to climate change, healthcare, education, and government. Most are for-profit, Bay Area technology companies, and all would be great homes for designers.

Climate Change (energy, food, water)

  • Opower: empower everyone on the planet to use less energy through behavioral nudges. Of course, I’m biased here, but I can fully recommend Opower’s design team as one of the best ;)
  • Good Eggs: support local & sustainable food production. Our agriculture system is a rich problem area— impacts not only climate change, but health and employment. Mark Bittman has an enlightening summary if you’re interested in food issues.
  • Watersmart: encourage people to use less water. Everyone in California should be rooting for them to expand their reach.

Education

  • Coursera: free, online access to classes at top universities. Participating schools are from all over the world.
  • Udacity: technology training to empowers professionals to elevate their careers. An online university, designed by Silicon Valley thought leaders, to teach relevant technology skills to everyone.
  • Khan Academy: free, innovative educational tools for students, parents, and teachers. You can watch the founder’s TED talk.

Healthcare

  • Collective Health: transforming the health insurance experience from a confusing, complex system to a simple product people love.
  • Omada Health: create digital therapeutic experiences — use science, design & tech to empower at-risk populations to prevent chronic disease.
  • Counsyl: redesign the genetic testing experience to empower people to make informed health decisions.

Government

  • 18F: transform our government’s digital systems. Currently building a top-notch team in SF to overhaul the design of tools & services for the public. Good reading on this topic: The Next Generation of Civic Designers.
  • Brigade: increase civic engagement and voter turnout. Still a bit in stealth mode, but you can read press on their site to learn more.
  • Code for America: transform local government systems through open-source technology and good design. One-year design/tech fellowships offered.

Of course this is just a small sample of mission-driven companies within a small subset of problem areas. I’ll continue to compile and update, so feel free to comment or tweet me @deenatweet.

Caveat: I didn’t include larger companies that have mission-based initiatives (eg — google.org, ideo.org), as the aim of this list is to spread the word about smaller places.