Designing for Impact

As young and inexperienced graphic design students, we believed that design existed as a tool to create something eye-catching, draw attention to a company, or tie a bow on a finished product. While those are all positive byproducts of design, our experiences as graphic design interns at the Sorenson Impact Center taught us that the real purpose of design is to communicate.

Within our first weeks at the Center, we were tasked with infographics for Forbes and branded environmental graphic material for a major project event funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As students, it was empowering to be entrusted with designing high-level materials that would be used by real-world companies, local governments, nonprofits, and philanthropists. Confidence in our abilities grew while working with Sorenson staff who believed we could handle work of this caliber and importance. The high expectations of this work helped us prepare for the demands of a professional design career. We’ve been pushed to apply the skills and design principles learned in theory courses, ultimately leading us to producing our best design work.

The nature of the design work we’ve completed for the Center has required us to work effectively alongside colleagues from other professional and educational backgrounds. Both of us quickly learned that those different backgrounds brought a lot of new perspectives to our design projects. Unlike graphic design class assignments, these projects were not simply about whether a typeface was unique enough or if the line weight of my icons matched. It was about understanding and comprehensibility. We were designing to communicate ideas. In order to do so effectively and impactfully, we had to learn how to ask the right questions and get the right team members involved when there were topics we didn’t fully understand. We learned how a designer brain works versus how the mind of a data analyst or a writer works, and how those minds can come together to be much better than one alone to create a comprehensive, usable, beneficial project for our clients. We also learned how to defend design decisions with purpose and clarity instead of an “it looks cool” approach. In school we learn what design looks like. At the Center we learned what design can do: educate, change perspectives, and communicate ideas on another level.

Our collective time at Sorenson has far exceeded our highest hopes. It’s been incredible to see the caliber of work by the Center’s staff — all amazingly kind in addition to being amazingly good at what they do. Seeing designs come to life in the real world on projects headed by philanthropists, thought leaders, and billionaires who are passionate about positive social impact has been something we could never repay SIC for. The Sorenson Impact Center showed us that we can impact society for the better with creativity and make a real difference in the world with our work, even as student interns.

By graphic design student fellows, Hannah Allred & Justin Chen

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