I was perplexed. Why are jobs in the design for social impact space so difficult to find? After all, organizations in the industry are always in need, and “design for social good” is a broad term. “Design,” meanwhile, includes but is not limited to: product design, user research, and user experience work. Although design attempts to make products more accessible for the masses, the field itself is in reality very closed.

Barrier 1: Design is often about who you know.

Organizations that are looking for designers often rely on informal social networks — “friend groups, professional groups, or listservs that are very exclusive.” She continues, “People would email me and ask, ‘Hey do you know a designer for this? I’m trying to hire for one.’”

“I was really frustrated at how that was all based on people’s immediate social capital — it didn’t feel very democratic.”
Network-based recruiting can have unintended consequences. “Relying on this word-of-mouth approach to hiring makes it even harder to build diverse companies,” as people tend to refer people similar to themselves. This is particularly a problem for social impact work. Projects in the space often serve underrepresented populations; therefore diversity and inclusion are “foundational to the success of the work.”

Barrier 2: There is (was!) not a centralized location for design for good job postings.
Barrier 3: There is peer pressure to take corporate design jobs.

Similar to the tech scene, designing for social impact represents just a tiny slice of the industry as a whole. Meanwhile, opportunities to design apps or sneakers receive much more attention. “There is such a pipeline into that space and there are a lot of role models and conversation about that.”

Barrier 4: Design is often seen as of lower priority for cash-strapped organizations.

Although private sector practices are making their way into the public sector, design continues to struggle. “Design can be seen as frivolous.” “Conversations often lead with tech and engineers and then someone realizes that they’ve come up with an idea without it being grounded in understanding of user needs.”

“There’s a lot more demand for designers in international development — still nowhere near the scale of like the hiring you see in the private sector — but it’s there.” Organizations are also beginning to shift away from traditional pilot programs towards human-centered design practices.