February 24, 2014

Designing for good: why I do what I do

Erika portrait

I’ve always cared a lot about our planet. I was the kid asking other kids not to dig all the clay out of the creek bed at our elementary school. I’ll never forget coming home from a trip at age nine to find a forest off the main road gone. Or at age ten seeing clearcut mountains on the way to Tofino. It hit home for me. I understood the issues. After all, this was the age of Captain Planet. But I think kids generally “get it.” I never understood why people litter (because garbage magically disappears, right?). I stomped on tin cans a lot to recycle them and was brought up to not waste food. I have an obsession with trees that’s visible in my drawings going back, well, forever.

At 21 I moved to Surrey for two years, where I became aware of a lot of issues like transportation, local agriculture and urban planning. A strong focus on sustainability at university reinforced it all, and I later realised I’ve really been a treehugger my whole life. Hardly a surprise given my upbringing in the natural beauty of Deep Cove.

Six years ago, I was told it would be challenging to make a living working for non-profits and various causes. This didn’t stop me. My commitment to doing work that benefits communities and the environment led me to work at the David Suzuki Foundation from 2008 to 2012. It never felt like a job to me. It was what I did. I feel the same way now about my business, my career. It’s my life’s work rather than a job. Making the world a better place — more fair, more equal, more sustainable, healthier — is what I do. As a designer I believe I have a stronger influence and broader impact because I can help all those other changemakers, large and small, to achieve their goals and reach more people — like wearing many hats at once. So I get excited about values-driven businesses, non-profits and civic bodies, and helping them do good things for people and the planet. I love participating in their success. And I especially love public engagement/fundraising/acquisition campaigns.

The other aspect of why I do what I do is a little nerdier. I’m really focussed on creating usable and even enjoyable user experiences for people. Naturally I also want to uphold good design principles that apply equally to print, but it’s the web that gets me really excited. (I launched my first website at age 13, fifteen years ago. Holy crap. Has the internet been around that long already?) Just as I prefer toilet paper dispensers, intersections and blenders to be accessible and easy to use, I want to ensure that the experience of using a website is free of frustration and confusion, on desktop and handheld computers. So if I can help an organisation make their visitors happy, improving brand perception in the process, and make a positive impact in the world, I’m a very happy camper. So I guess it’s reasonable to say I work to make the web a better place, too.