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How do I find design jobs with positive, social impact?

16 days ago from , UX Designer at Octave & Octave

Hello DN,

(TL;DR at the bottom)

I'm looking for some career advice as I'm not really sure where to go from here. Just for some background info, I'm an American guy working in a French digital agency as a UX Designer. I have about 3 years of professional experience as a UX Designer and a total of about 5 in web.

Here's my current problem: Lately I've been feeling a little bit disillusioned with my work. Even though I like the people I work with, I'm mostly working on projects that really just help big companies get bigger, and rich people get richer. I thought at first that maybe it's this specific agency, but then I realized that I felt the same way about my last job, and the job before that. I think earlier in my career I was content just to have the opportunity to work in an esteemed company and get some experience under my belt. But I'm finding more and more that I want to be more than just content, I want to feel good about my work. I want my work to have a real impact. Many designers think impact means the amount of people who see or interact with their work, but I disagree. For me, impact means how much my work genuinely adds to a person's life. And designing another fucking corporate intranet is not going to give me that.

So, after reflecting on this for quite a while, I've come to realize that I want to work on projects that genuinely improves peoples' lives, or at least gives them something that helps them to be happy or solves a real problem in their life. I want to design an app or website that helps people get access to clean water or education in Africa, or helps to solve the migrant crisis in some small way. I don't know, just spitballing here.

My questions for you, DN:

  1. Is there such a thing like this, where I can still be a designer and be paid for my work, but doing good in the world at the same time?

  2. How do I find jobs like this?

  3. Do you know of nonprofits or startups that fit this description who are looking for (UX) designers?

(Side note: I am in France on a working visa, so ideally I'd like to stay here if possible because I'd like to apply for citizenship in a few years, but if not then I'm willing to look elsewhere in Europe.)

TL;DR : Becoming disillusioned with my work, tired of working on projects that don't help real people and only give big corporations even more money, wanting to work on projects that genuinely help people but still be paid.

34 comments

  • Antonio Carusone, 15 days ago
    1. Get the hell out of the agency world.
    2. Find a company that fits those ideals/principles and see if they have an opening and apply.
    7 points
    • , 14 days ago

      Believe me, I know the agency world is toxic. I actually found a decent one with good people, but the projects are just drab.

      I'll definitely be looking for jobs like that, it's just really difficult to filter Indeed by "does good in the world". :)

      1 point
  • Matt WillettMatt Willett, 14 days ago

    Sounds like you might be interested in looking at B Corporation companies. I work for an agency that is a B Corp, most of our work deals with state and government work that focuses exclusively on improving peoples lives wherever our clients can.

    Some famous B Corp companies include Ben & Jerry's, Klean Kanteen, Patagonia, and Hootsuite. It definitely helps to read up on the companies impact statements too.

    I'd say a good place to start is Design Gigs for Good and also doing general search work to see if there is a B Corp business that is of interest to you, then apply.

    7 points
    • , 14 days ago

      Thanks for the information! I had heard the term B Corporation before but I didn't know what it meant. I'll definitely look into something like that!

      0 points
  • Eric BlattbergEric Blattberg, 14 days ago
    1. Yes, absolutely
    2. https://www.designgigsforgood.org/ and similar job boards: http://www.designaffects.com/6-job-boards-social-impact-design-jobs/
    5 points
  • jj moijj moi, 15 days ago

    work for the government

    3 points
  • John Bdd, 14 days ago

    Hey Kyle,

    I guess you could find another company with a mission statement that aligns with yours, venture out on your own to freelance for companies you believe in for short term projects, or pivot your perspective for the time being.

    I used to freelance and found companies that aimed to help parents homeschool their kids to start up founders who wanted to just break away from the corporate world to be their own boss. Right now, I work for a web design company (https://www.baunfire.com) and my perspective is this company provides jobs for all my colleagues in UX, graphic, video, and SEO! The bigger I make the company, the more people we will need. I may not change the world but I can help create a position for that new grad yearning for experience; and that could be the world for that person.

    But, to answer your questions:

    1. Look at edtech companies. They are a booming industry and aim to provide access to education in unconventional ways. I believe UX plays a major role in the education industry because everyone learns differently and having someone who can design something that caters to the users' learning style will be beneficial for both the company and the customer.

    2. Angel.co or any job search site. Search "edtech"

    3. No, sorry.

    Wishing you the best!

    • John
    2 points
    • , 14 days ago

      Thanks for your reply, John! Edtech is something I've been wanting to get into, as education reform is something I am passionate about. I'll try to find some companies in that sector here in France, but French education is so institutionalized that I very much doubt it's a big market here (right now).

      I will nonetheless keep looking!

      2 points
      • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, 14 days ago

        +1 for angel, you'll find a lot of cool startups in many fields that would fit your criteria (such as edtech, politics, healthcare, etc.). You could do some research into what fields you think you'd be interested in and seeing which are most interesting. Here in the UK I know healthcare startups are pretty big because the NHS is leaving a lot of holes to be filled and some companies (like babylon, offering an on demand doctor via FaceTime) even signed contracts with the NHS so now you can use their tech to get an NHS doctor any time.

        1 point
        • Kyle Greely, 14 days ago

          Damn, I'd kill to come and work on improving the NHS/healthcare in the UK.

          1 point
          • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, 13 days ago

            Well there are a lot of companies here that try to do that (dr.link and lantum come to mind but have a look on google and angel).

            0 points
  • Robert Felizardo, 14 days ago

    I work at a B Corp creative agency located in San Diego called Rescue Agency. We specialize in creating campaigns that promote behavior change whether that be living tobacco-free, understanding the harmful effects of opioids or spreading awareness of binge drinking.

    Check out our openings here: https://rescueagency.com/careers/

    2 points
    • , 14 days ago

      Looks great! Unfortunately San Diego is a bit far for me, I'm really looking to stay in Europe :)

      0 points
      • Todd CantleyTodd Cantley, 13 days ago

        Theres lots and lots of health/medical based startups in Berlin, and it's an awesome city to live in with a huge expat community. You could check that out.

        0 points
        • , 13 days ago

          Berlin has been a target city for me for years (I nearly moved there a few years ago, actually), I'll look into the health tech startups there.

          0 points
    • Ellie Brackett, 7 days ago

      Hi Robert,

      I'm in the same boat as Kyle, and I've been interested in moving back to San Diego if the work is there. Would you be interested in filling me in a bit more about the company from your experience?

      email: ellie.designs.it@gmail.com

      Best, Ellie

      0 points
  • Sebastian B, 14 days ago

    Hey Kyle,

    I too felt like this and made a leap into the medical field and now I'm designing tools for cancer researchers and oncology nurses to help create new treatments and help patients directly. I'm happy to talk more about my transition into the field and any other questions you may have. Tried to add you on linkedin but couldn't.

    1 point
    • , 14 days ago

      Hey Sebastian,

      That sounds like something I'd love to be a part of. Can you shoot me a message on LinkedIn, or link me to your profile? Maybe I can try to add you.

      0 points
    • Andrew Schultz, 7 days ago

      This is literally the industry and focus in medical I would love to be designing for. Currently designing for government healthcare. Which company are you working with?

      0 points
  • Jackie NgoJackie Ngo, 10 days ago

    I quit my job 2 years ago to freelance to explore exactly this. It was very encouraging. There are a lot of companies in the US who are focused on positive social impact – I'm sure you'll find the same in France/EU. I found healthcare, education, housing, and tech access popular areas of focus. You could try looking at company's .org arms too.

    0 points
  • James Young, 14 days ago

    Can't help with the actual OP question / issue but just wanted to drop into this thread and say how nice it is to see a good number of positive responses and potential avenues to explore.

    :thumbsup:

    0 points
    • , 14 days ago

      Agreed, I was blown away by the response. I gave up refreshing the page yesterday after a few hours, then came into work this morning to find all these replies. Incredible!

      0 points
  • Bronislava MolnarovaBronislava Molnarova, 14 days ago

    Really good question and replies!

    0 points
  • Klark Dollson, 8 days ago

    I started to find design jobs but don't find anything and decide change job. When I shared thoughts with my friends they advise me to start trading and search something on the Internet, because it's a good work and I can work at home. And I started to look for information on the Internet: read the article on the topic of trading, watch the video and then came across a site https://www.sharptrader.com/ with information for beginner traders. This site helps me to begin trading and earn money online. Now I have a lot of free time and have a positive, social impact.

    0 points
  • Ohsik Park, 14 days ago

    I feel you. I always work on side projects to keep myself up to date with the latest technology and make myself feel more productive.

    Maybe look for sites like Angellist, hacker news, or here to find the company that you want to work for first and try to get a job there?

    0 points
    • , 14 days ago

      I read HN every day, but it's mostly engineering-related stuff. I'll take a look at Angellist and see what's on there.

      0 points
  • Lucas CobbLucas Cobb, 14 days ago

    Work for a company that focuses on doing good in the world.

    I feel the same way you do so I work at Blackbaud - https://www.blackbaud.com

    They only work with non-profits. I only work on sites whose goal is to help others every day. That is the only way I can really stomach being a designer this day in age.

    Find a company like this in France and you will be set.

    0 points
    • , 14 days ago

      Man, I'd love to find a company like that here in France. Haha. You're very lucky to be working there!

      1 point
  • Shayna Hodkin, 7 days ago

    Hey folks! Want to tag onto this and say that I'd love to host this topic as a question for the InVision blog advice column. If you have 1000-ish words to say about it, hit me up at shaynahodkin@invisionapp.com

    0 points
  • Colin Willox, 1 day ago

    Kyle, I'm inspired by your question! I finally made an account just so I could comment :) I'm a product designer and user researcher in Berlin.

    I've been / am in the same position as you: have worked with good people at decent startups, agencies and larger companies but didn't find the work intrinsically motivating. I want to help people and think design can be a powerful force for change.

    To that end I've done quite a bit of research on the topic of "design for good" or whatever you might want to call it. Here's what I've come up with so far:

    • Work for an agency that focuses on these kinds of projects, like Radish Lab.
    • Work for any company that has a mission you believe in. For example, if you're into health, one of Berlin's solid startups, Clue, has an opening right now. Another Berlin startup in this area is Ada. A more known example would be Headspace.
    • Work at a hospital. There are some, especially in developed countries, hiring designers to work with them. For example, the Toronto General Hospital has an in-house 'agency' of sorts: Healthcare Human Factors.
    • Consider working on a product that may not be directly "for good" itself, but would ease the pain of many people with better design. Some examples: financial tools (banking, taxes), transportation (ride sharing, public transit), or anything that many people use frequently.

    Some others mentioned these already:

    • Work for a B Corp.
    • Work for the government (some others mentioned NHS in the UK).
    • Work for a non-profit, like Acumen.
    • Work for the non-profit branch of a for-profit, like IDEO.org and OpenIDEO.

    I've also subscribed to a couple newsletters I find helpful:

    If you're particularly interested in the healthcare topic, then you can check out a post I wrote about this recently. I dive further into it, including Masters programs in Europe and books to read.

    Hope it helps!

    0 points
    • , 23 minutes ago

      Hi Colin,

      Thanks for your awesome reply. I'm going to check out a few of those links, especially the newsletters! :)

      Honestly, the more I research into this stuff, the more I am realizing how much of it is happening in Berlin or London. So it's looking extremely likely that I'll have to leave France and move to Berlin. I plan on applying to some positions there as well as in the UK. Maybe I'll see you around eventually, haha.

      I love the post you wrote on Medium! Lots of helpful information in there. I'm glad there's another human out there who felt the same way I do about all this! Working in an agency right now, I feel like I'm surrounded by people who are just lying to themselves about how "cool" and "impactful" their work is. I don't understand it!

      Cheers, Kyle

      0 points