Several organizations are attempting to help designers find activist opportunities — although none of the organizations call their opportunities “activist.” Sounds too political? There are a few different models, from online, searchable databases of designers and organizations in need, to organizations that themselves do the work and take on volunteers to help them.
Below are some examples of architecture and graphic design groups. I haven’t seen a matching service like this for product/industrial designers–if there is one please let me know.
Search designers or search organizations in need
As far as matching designers and good causes in the United States, there are at least two searchable databases, one for architecture and one for graphic design.
“The 1%” is US-based Public Architecture‘s effort to encourage professional practices to give 1% of their time to pro bono projects, and the website offers a searchable database of architects and projects. The group notes the potential impact:
“If every architecture professional in the U.S. committed 1% of their time to pro bono service, it would add up to 5,000,000 hours annually – the equivalent of a 2,500 person firm working full time for the public good.”
And they include interesting details on that calculation. The focus is typically on US projects. When I last checked, The 1% had 444 architects registered and 194 nonprofits requesting assistance. There were 175,799 hours of pro bono work pledged.
By way of the Social Design Notes blog (a venerable design activist effort going back to 2002) I learned that Designism has now set up a project called “Designism Connects” which links graphic designers with social change organizations that need design assistance. At last check there were 120 creatives registered on Designism Connects against 600 projects-for-a-cause needing help.
Work for Humanitarian Architecture Organization
Several groups that work on international humanitarian aid efforts draft architects (and other built environment professionals) to help with projects the groups take on. U.S.-based Architecture for Humanity and U.K.-based Article 25 (which used to be Architects for Aid) both operate this model. Australia-based Architects without Frontiers uses this model emphasizing “Australian design expertise” to aid communities in need in Australia and worldwide. All three organization encourage design professionals to register their interest and expertise in case of future opportunities.
Architecture for Humanity also runs the “open architecture network” project that allows architects to share designs solutions world wide, making them available to anyone who wants or needs them. When I last checked there were 2128 projects filed on the network and 13729 members. Members are also encouraged to match themselves according to needs and interests.
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A recent Architectural Record article presented some insights on the issues of “professionalizing” pro bono practice. The issues would seem to differ depending on whether designers are working with a US-based “good cause” group, such as The 1% or Designism Connects emphasize, or with disaster and emergency relief efforts that Architects without Frontiers, Architecture for Humanity and Article  tackle.