For designers working on building their portfolios, adding a design for a cause project offers an opportunity to enhance your design skills and boost your portfolio while also benefiting or contributing to a social cause.
What is design for a cause?
MD Riyadh, the founder of Common Giving Labs, which provides pro-bono UX and web services to charities, non-profits, and like-minded organizations, said that these projects have the capacity to amplify a portfolio while making a real difference.
“To make it simple I use an analogy of run for a cause. When you’re running for a cause, it extends the benefit to society. Similarly, when you are designing for a social cause it goes beyond the design itself and reaches society. It makes the design more powerful,” he said.
Common portfolio pieces include redesigning existing applications or websites or developing mockups for imaginary services. Why not build something that will actually exist in the real world, providing you with valuable work experience along the way?
“I wanted to design an app as a side project to improve my portfolio. As I was doing this without any funding it had to be simple and I thought rather than making something random, I can probably help someone with this app, help a charity or a like-minded organization doing good work for society,” Riyadh said.
He happened to know someone at an education-based charity, so he reached out to his contact directly.
“I shared my idea with him and he seemed to love it actually because they’re getting a free app out of this,” he said.
5 Benefits of Design for a Cause Portfolio Projects
The organizations benefit by getting a free service out of the deal, but you also reap the rewards. Here are five of the many benefits design for a cause projects can offer you as a UX designer.
- Design something tangible. Show potential employers an actual product you built that demonstrates your understanding of UX and highlights your design, communication, and problem-solving skills.
- Get experience working with a real client. These projects provide an opportunity to work with an actual organization, helping you to better understand the client and user needs—and the difference between the two.
- Contribute to society. Choose a cause you believe in and feel good about volunteering your services to make a difference knowing that you’ll be leaving the organization with a tangible product at the end that is aligned with your values.
- Hone your problem-solving skills. Design for a cause projects requires you to think outside of the box to create solutions that balance your design skills with the organization’s needs. You’ll start asking questions and discover new ways to solve problems, all while boosting your team building skills and incorporating different ways of thinking.
- Learn something new. Every project offers the opportunity to learn something, whether it’s a new program, tool or technology, a better way to optimize your design process, or what questions yield better answers, and thus better results. Each lesson is a gain and will help you become a better UX designer.
“I learned a lot during this process,” Riyadh said. “To write the app, I had to learn a new framework. I had to talk to different people in the charity while I was doing it, and it gave me a sense of engagement to the community and also that I’m contributing to their cause. They’re working for education, basically providing education for the underprivileged population, so I got a feeling that I’m also helping those people out with my work. A lot of things are happening with just one app.”
How to Approach Design For a Cause Projects
First, spend some time researching local organizations that align with causes you care about. Reach out to your network to see if anyone is part of or can connect you with someone at a like-minded organization who may be in need of design services. Send a cold email to an organization that sparks your interest. These types of projects require you to take the first steps. Embrace this! It’s all part of the challenge.
If you’re just starting out or transitioning into a new career as a UX designer, don’t hesitate to share your portfolio intentions with the organization. If you’re excited and passionate about the idea, there’s a good chance they’ll be open to hearing about it too.
Riyadh already had experience working as a UX researcher and a developer, so he didn’t mention the portfolio component when he reached out to the charity of his choice. Make the call that feels true to you.
Since you’ll be working with real people, it’s imperative you outline the scope of the project and what you have to offer.
Be transparent about your skills, the amount of time you have to donate and how long you think the project will take you. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Instead, focus on designing something simple and within your means. Even a small project can have a big impact.
Inspiration For Design For a Cause Projects
Riyadh decided to build an app for his design for a cause project, but he encourages other designers to feel empowered to approach these projects in a way that suits them.
“Designers have their own creative ways to think about things and I’m sure every designer will have unique ideas about design for a cause,” Riyadh said. “If designers keep the social good in mind and in their design discussions, they can identify their own ways to do this. This is just one way to do it.”
Other ideas could be to:
- Conduct a usability audit at an organization that has never worked with a UX designer before
- Redesign an existing app or website so it’s more user-friendly (for those who have coding skills as well)
- Develop user personas so their design team has a better understanding of who they’re designing for/who their users are
- Create something internal for the organization to make fundraising or something else easier or more accessible for them
- Create something open-source that others can use to help solve a social problem
“I think if designers keep social cause as one of the factors in their design assignments, they’ll improve their portfolio while helping to contribute something to the community,” Riyadh said.
There is no better way to put your design skills to good use in a portfolio project than by incorporating an element of social good. Design skills are powerful. Where will you contribute yours?
How do you approach design for a cause in your projects? Do you have any additional advice to share with other UX designers looking to add a design for a cause project to their portfolio? Please share in the comments below.