Redesigning 'Service': Why I Started a Design Group That Gives Away Half Its Work for Free

I started verynice in my apartment as an undergrad at UCLA by staying up late every night to design all kinds of things for non-profit organizations that I would find on craigslist and on campus, at no cost to them. At the time, I had a difficult time seeing verynice as a business, and I never bothered to ask myself the question: “How do I scale the impact I am making?”

Then I got a random email in my inbox. A young designer wrote to me, expressing a sincere interest in my initiative to leverage design as a tool for volunteerism. It turns out that they liked what I was up to, and asked if I had interest in taking them on as a volunteer to help in any capacity possible. The moment I finished reading that email, a light bulb went off: Imagine what a group of people, as opposed to just me, could accomplish. It turns out a lot of designers in the corporate scene are struck by the realization that all of their talent and energy is being put towards selling stuff. Who would have thought?

Funny enough, many designers are actively looking for an opportunity to use their talents to give back, learn something new, and grow as a maker. Cleaning up a beach doesn’t provide that kind of experience. To this day, in honor of that random email I received, we do not have any strategy in place for acquiring volunteers. 100 percent of our volunteers come to us. By avoiding turning our volunteer program into an application form, as many popular match-making pro bono solutions have, we are able to develop a very authentic team built upon sincere altruism, trust, and friendship.

Our team ranges immensely in age and location. Our youngest volunteer is a 15 year old high school student, and our oldest is 65. With only five team members in our Downtown Los Angeles HQ, 95 percent of our team is remote, and we are spread out across six continents. We've found that incentives and motivations differ greatly by age group. We have been able to help young high school students pick a college major. Our college volunteers have been able to develop real-world experiences, all while building a portfolio and giving back. Our volunteers who are working professionals have found teaming up with verynice to be an outlet for producing meaningful work in their careers, beyond the context of their day job.

Anyone can clean up a beach. That's a simple task, and people have been doing it for years. Sure, we can continue to define 'service' and 'volunteerism' in that way, but wouldn’t a more productive question be 'how can we ensure that beaches never get dirty again?' That is a big question, but it is one that can be answered by leveraging the unique talents each of us bring to the table. This isn’t a new idea—it's actually a movement, the idea of skills-based volunteering. I believe that design has the power to answer big questions like that, and that designers have a unique ability to see the big picture in order to integrate sustainable impact in our daily lives.

We’re challenging the GOOD community to commit our time to service. Go here to pledge 1 percent of your time—that’s 20 hours—being part of the solution this year.

Original image courtesy of verynice

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

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