A Quest for Meaning

The entrance to the offices of charity: water

Mean·ing·ful – Adjective: Having a serious, important, or useful quality.

In 2005, I was working at CBS designing prime time show websites. The job paid well, the people were great, and the work was highly visible. Then one day I had a thought that marked the beginning of the end of my time there. The thought was this: the better I do my job, the more people watch television. Once made explicit, this fact gnawed at me every day, slowly eating away at my will to stay. As a designer, as someone who wanted to affect people in a positive way, getting people to watch TV was not going to cut it. A few months later, I was gone.

Since then I’ve endeavored to find work that is more meaningful, work that touches people’s lives in a bigger way. The best part? I am not alone. I’m lucky enough to interact with many designers through the Designer Fund, to interview designers and design educators for the Designer Founders Book, and to work with an amazing design team at Facebook. Across this broad spectrum of designers and educators I see the mindset is spreading. Designers are relentlessly looking for more meaning and impact in their work and are increasingly unsatisfied when it’s not there.

We are no longer content with work that never ships, with work that has a marginal affect on people’s lives, and with a company’s inability to put mission above all else. With access to better tools and growing resources, today’s designers see a world with problems that are within our power to solve. Failing to address these global issues is, quite simply, not meeting expectations.

Over the next few months we’ll be diving deeper into what constitutes meaningful impact. We’ll also be highlighting stories from the Designer Founders Book of people we believe are part of this movement. If you have stories of startups who are creating positive social impact you think we should highlight, let us know. We’d love to collect 50 examples the design and tech community can learn from over the next couple months. If you believe you’re ready to start something that takes on these challenges, be part of our next class of investments. The past twenty years have raised the expectations of what designers can do. As a community, it’s time we hold ourselves accountable.


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