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Impact 0141: Design to help

Danielle Ng · 31 August 2021
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Danielle Ng, 26, is the founder of an initiative called Making Meaning which supports creatives who want to do meaningful work. It is a platform that connects creative volunteers with nonprofits. 

Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself and about the initiative you started!

Hi! I’m Danielle, I created and run a community initiative called “Making Meaning”, which supports creatives who want to do meaningful work.

Making Meaning is essentially a platform that connects creative volunteers with nonprofits. We hope to empower people to consciously think about the value of design for good and encourage more empathetic design. Our work includes education on healthy work culture, resources for personal growth and skills-based volunteering opportunities.

Question: Why did you decide to focus on design?

I think design is definitely an important, useful tool for change. At its core, design is really not just a cosmetic makeover. It’s a way to understand people and find ways to communicate with and reach out to them better, as well as to create meaningful experiences for them. It also plays a big part in outreach, awareness and education, which is key for most non-profit organisations.

Question: What pushed you to start this community initiative?

I started this initiative during the Circuit Breaker period last year. While I wanted to donate monetarily to non-profits, it was difficult to do so regularly as my own industry was struggling and I myself had a pay-cut. With my parents both unable to work at that time, I wanted to find other sustainable ways to give back that wouldn’t affect me supporting my family.

I realised that many charities, nonprofits and ground-up initiatives actually would benefit from creative help but lacked resources to really do so. This led to the creation of the platform which I put together in about two weeks. It is kind of like a job board where non-profits or ground-ups can post ad-hoc projects they need help with.

Question: What are some challenges you’ve faced while working on this initiative?

I think the biggest challenge would be getting enough volunteers to fulfil every project that comes in. It’s a tough balance between the two, as projects come in waves and there may not always be enough people available who are interested in a particular project, especially since I still think it’s important to retain an element of choice, where creatives can pick their own projects.

I try my best to promote projects, but there are often some that don’t get taken up, maybe due to tight timelines or just a mismatch of skill sets. I feel rather down about these instances and am still trying to find out how to best combat this issue.

The templated platform I’m using is also highly unstable and limited, meaning members don’t get properly notified about new projects. I’d love to have the budget to properly develop a platform or app, but this must wait until Making Meaning has grown substantially.

My other challenge would be a personal one – which is finding the time to really make things happen. I started Making Meaning during the Circuit Breaker, which meant that I had a lot more time on my hands. Now that it’s over, life’s demands can get in the way and when work gets busy, it’s tough to find time to make content for Making Meaning, and I feel really bad that I can’t contribute for a couple of weeks. I’m still working on finding this balance as well!

Question: With all these challenges, what motivates you to go on?

The most fulfilling part about this initiative is having conversations with both creatives and non-profits who share with me what volunteering or having creative volunteers has done for them and made them feel or learn. Seeing them find growth and opportunities for learning about each other has definitely been motivating and touching.

I also hope that each little effort will eventually lead to big changes in society. Right now, I hope this wave towards doing more socially-driven design will help influence the general mindset that generosity, kindness, inclusivity and the yearning to help and raise up others beyond ourselves is something we should value.

Question: Have there been any challenges with the initiative you’ve created?

There’s a big misconception that’s rife in the creative community, which is the confusion between pro bono work and “free” work, which some people feel are the same thing, when it’s really not. Of course, I don’t blame them – there’s often people who don’t value our work and ask us to work for exposure, which isn’t right.

But when you’re volunteering design skills for a cause, it takes on a different meaning. My favourite analogy is that of a chef who cooks pro bono meals for the needy on weekends. Would you say he’s devaluing the culinary profession? It would never even cross anyone’s minds to feel that way.

In the same way, what Making Meaning is trying to do is also educate others on that difference, which is why I always stress that the intention when taking up a project is very important. It should be because you care about the cause, and you want to give your time using the skills you have.

Question: Any tips for designers out there?

Designers should value the work they do and take their volunteering as a donation to the organisation. In fact, what I hope Making Meaning can eventually do is bring even more value to design.

In NPOs, design is often the last thing on their minds. But by giving them exposure to the impact of design, hopefully they also realise that a well-designed campaign can potentially boost visibility and have a high return on investment. In the same way, a thoughtfully designed experience might give their beneficiaries so much more.

So, in a way, Making Meaning helps these organisations experience the power of design.

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