Archive for April, 2011

How much capital can you eventually attract by offering free samples of your thinking?

Do you believe it ultimately pays to be generous?

As members of a civil society, designers have many altruistic reasons to engage in providing pro bono services for nonprofit organizations. However in times of financial constraint there will be those who resist participation in this movement. How can designers even consider working for free when profits from their regular project fees have declined so sharply?

In order to continuously expand the field of motivated pro bono design participants, it’s crucial to recognize the full range of potential business benefits. In what ways is pro bono also good promo?


First let’s consider the nature of services that are needed by nonprofit organizations. Two individuals in particular are calling attention to the value of design as a powerful force for change and for feeding the soul. John Cary profiles forty impressive examples of design projects in The Power of Pro Bono; John Peterson founded Public Architecture around the idea of asking architecture and design firms to pledge a minimum of 1 percent of their time to doing pro bono work.


There is also an enormous opportunity for designers to bring their holistic thinking and imagination to complex problems – whether or not these services result in a built design. Designers are accustomed to envisioning a way through messy situations and working around obstacles that nonprofits wrestle with on a daily basis.

Now let’s think about the business case for each firm to contribute 1% or more. Consider how the nature of work and ways of pursuing new projects have changed in recent years. Whereas yesterday’s firm focused narrowly on selling design, today we also sell the quality of our interaction with clients and team members. This means a shift away from the tradition of designing for to designing with clients and other stakeholders.


Rather than attempt to promote outstanding collaborative skills with words and marketing promises, why not showcase these capabilities in real life? And isn’t it a far better thing to expand human networks naturally by working toward a common cause than through cold calls, interviews with strangers and related alien forms of promotion? In addition to giving back to society, pro bono really can be bono promo for business.

– Tye Farrow and Sharon VanderKaay

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    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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