Interview: Laura Lin

by Danielle Kunitz

Next week’s Implementing Social Change Workshop explores the relationship between a designer’s role and social causes. International consulting firm and event sponsor QED Group  uses design as part of their solutions for global challenges, which former QED designer Laura Lin explains. Join Laura and others at the workshop by registering today.

Designer/Illustrator Laura Lin‘s work on the social change initiative FeedtheFuture.gov helped The QED Group win an AIGA Justified Award in 2012.

Tell us about yourself. 

I moved to Northern Virginia from China in 1996, and have lived here ever since. I have always loved drawing, making things with my hands and expressing myself creatively. My father encouraged me at a young age to learn HTML and I put together a Sailor Moon website in sixth grade.  I was encouraged and delighted by the response I received from visitors and started looking for ways to improve the content, design and user experience of the site.

What appealed to you about working on FeedtheFuture.gov?

Knowing I could make a direct and tangible contribution to the initiative. It was a huge opportunity for me to put into practice what I hold to be important as a designer, which is to create meaningful design that effects positive social change.  There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing you’re doing something you love and that it lines up with your core values and beliefs.

What advice do you have for designers who are interested in working on projects for social good?

I found that the easiest way to dive into social design is to start small. We are all surrounded by many local non-profits or causes that could really use the help of a designer.  After graduating, I had no clear career goals but knew that I wanted to make an impact as a designer. Going on that feeling, I applied for design internships and career opportunities in NGOs that tackled social issues that I wanted to get behind. My first two jobs were at an environmental organization and an international development firm, through which I had the opportunity to learn about the inner workings of NGO/NPO-type organizations and firms.  I learned about current social issues, effective strategies, best practices, and the consequences of failed attempts. It also helped me to see the importance of every role within an organization, and how a smart and informed designer can make a big difference in pushing forward efforts in social change.

I also learned an important lesson while attending the Impact! Design for Social Change program at SVA.  There was a large emphasis on doing thorough background research for any projects for social good. By doing so, it will help the designer to identify existing problems and challenges, learn from past attempts and figure out what the current needs are by getting to know the people the issue affects. It’s crucial that you meet the people where they are at and design for their benefit rather than for what you believe they need. Without doing thorough research, the designer may go in with good intentions but fail to solve the real problem, causing more harm than good.

This article by local designer Mira Azarm has more insights on the concept of starting small.

Danielle Kunitz is an art director at the Newseum, and editorial director of this blog.

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