Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dear Bonnie: Helpless in Hermosa Beach

Editor’s Note: Dear Bonnie is our truth-telling advice column from Bonnie Siegler. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and invite our readers to submit their questions directly to: [email protected]

Dear Readers,

Last week we announced a contest in which the winner would receive two tickets from Moo.com to the first annual Hopscotch Design Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina on September 3rd and 4th. In order to win, you had to send in the best answer to the posted question.

As a reminder, here was the question:

Dear Bonnie, 

The situation in Ferguson, MO is messed up. What can designers do to help? And generally, what is the responsibility of a designer when s/he sees something wrong, but feels powerless to stop or change the situation? 

Helpless in Hermosa Beach

And now, without further ado, I would like to share the extraordinary and thoughtful winning submission. There is a lot that I love about Erica's answer, especially, given this context but more broadly as well: “work collaboratively, without the need for recognition.” I assure you that if you work that way, the recognition will come.

Congratulations Erica Heinz!

Dear H.,

I also feel blinded by the cruelty and corruption that Ferguson has exposed. I just hope that it's a catalyst for systemic change. To help, I'd say:

1. Look at what's already out there. Many great projects already exist and need design, development, marketing, or administrative help. There can be a tendency for each person to present individual versions of similar ideas; everyone wants to be the hero. Try to get past the Hollywood narratives and work collaboratively, without the need for recognition. If there aren't groups or meet-ups near you, Catchafire, VolunteerMatch, DoSomething and other volunteering sites can match you with a good cause.

2. Research the issue further. Situations like this are a perfect opportunity to learn more about large or overwhelming issues like racism, or detailed niches like disaster relief. Yes! magazine and Wikipedia are my lifelines. Read about other activists, or historical struggles. Share what you learn in a blog post, for other people at your stage.

3. If you're willing to commit, LISTEN to the community being affected. Reach out to citizens and community leaders who have years of experience with local issues and may have specific requests for help. But they DON'T need designers or other do-gooders swooping in, asking lots of questions, making big promises, and then disappearing after a month or two. That happens a lot. Be respectful of people's time (in person or online), and only promise what you can deliver.

4. Focus locally. You might be better equipped or connected to serve a related cause in your own community. Find like-minded people in your community, and create a group so you have a schedule of work and support. (Try to invite diversity, not just designers, so you have a more nuanced perspective.)

5. Speak for yourself. Personal projects are also a way to help the world, by clarifying and sharing your own feelings. But you might be better at organizing people, or making a show of protest/support. 

I think our responsibilities as designers are to educate ourselves, and to make public service a priority. Choose to contribute to communities instead of consumerism, and use your empathy and sense of aesthetics to polish and support your vision of the world.

If, like our questioner from Hermosa Beach, you are interested in specific ways to help in Ferguson, Erica included a link with a variety of suggestions from the Organization for Black Struggle, who is doing amazing work on the ground there.

Posted in: Dear Bonnie

Comments [2]

Off the subject, but what has happened to 50books / 50 covers?
Wesley Tanner

Off the subject, but what has happened to 50books / 50 covers?
Wesley Tanner

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