Design for Black Lives is fostering a new community and conversation, beginning with pro-bono work

A resource of over 3000 creatives offering their services, Design for Black Lives is shaping a new conversation in our industry. Here’s how to get involved.

16 June 2020

Over the past few weeks, amidst protests and initiatives, the design community has had a lot of reassessing to do. Within this, programmes, Google Docs and fundraisers utilising design skills for a greater cause, particularly Black Lives Matter, have popped up globally, as those looking to support highlight opportunities to show solidarity.

One such example is Design for Black Lives. On paper, it’s a Google Sheet pairing up creatives offering pro-bono work with a business or initiative that may need it. In reality, the pair who started it, Mazzy Bell and Natalie Hawkins, are fostering a new community.

Both Mazzy and Natalie know each other from studying at Maryland Institute College of Art, although now live in different parts of the States post-graduating. Mazzy stayed in Maryland and is a first grade teacher at a Baltimore City public school, while retaining a design studio practice on the side. Over in Brooklyn, New York City, is Natalie, whose work at MICA discussed her identity as a bi-racial woman, and she now works full-time as a junior designer and animator at And/Or. Living these separate lives until two weeks ago, the pair began working together again when Mazzy posted an Instagram story, “offering pro-bono design work to any local organisers, to help disseminate information about funding and upcoming protests,” she tells It’s Nice That. Natalie dropped her a message “offering to share the workload if I received too many projects,” she explains.

During the days that followed, several other creatives followed suit, offering design assistance, and “not only to organisers but to the Black community at large,” says Mazzy. “I texted Nat and asked if she would like to co-organise a Google Sheet of designers offering pro-bono work that could be passed around for people to reach out to,” she continues. Pulling together a quick form which populated a public spreadsheet, the pair sent it to their friends hoping “we could round up about 30 designers offering pro-bono work as a resource.” The sheet now has 3000 contributors.

In turn, Design for Black Lives is an embodiment of Natalie and Mazzy’s belief that creativity at its heart is about communication. “We do not think that graphic design can single-handedly change the world, however, we do believe it is a tool that can be used to facilitate change,” they point out. “Having information presented in accessible and communicative ways, especially in the age of social media, can play a huge role in the way information is spread.”


Design for Black Lives

To facilitate this change, Design for Black Lives offers the opportunity for any creative to get involved, beginning with a Google Form to check off potential skills, “from web design to illustration, to back end development, but we encourage anyone in a creative field to offer their help,” says the pair. This variety of skills is also necessary, considering the other requests the pair are receiving are from businesses or organisations, in need of varying possible design assistance. “Different projects come in every day and the skills we need are constantly changing,” they continue, highlighting that recent pieces have included “a quick logo for a local BLM chapter,” through to “creating an online library of informative Instagram posts.” Natalie and Mazzy’s main goal for those who get in contact for design assistance “is to help them start a project they feel they otherwise would be unable to, or aid someone in propelling a project forward.”

As the project only began two weeks ago, the way in which Design for Black Lives has grown is a reaction the pair didn’t expect at all. Away from the original Google Sheet, a new “unexpected bonus to this project growing so large,” is the beginning of a community of creatives on Slack, each interested “in breaking down the barriers of euro-centric design.” From this week (16 June), Design for Black Lives will also introduce weekly design projects, all including “a call to action or useful information,” says the pair. “We have a small team of skilled researchers who will dive into different topics each week; safety at protests during Covid-19, upcoming local elections and budget meetings – bits of information that we haven’t seen too much on Instagram and Twitter.” This information, after being further fact-checked, will then be passed to its design community in Slack to work with, “and have the creative freedom to design whatever they want.”

After having to pause the sign-up form last week to develop a plan of action, Design for Black Lives is now back, “and will remain so indefinitely,” says Natalie and Mazzy. “We are beyond thankful to have so many creatives offering to help. While it wasn’t something we fully expected, we know a project like this is so important and overdue, and we are more than willing to put in the work.”

To sign-up and offer design services head here. If you’re a business or organisation in need of design assistance you can find out more here. And if you’re not currently able to offer pro-bono work, creatives “are more than welcome” to join Design For Black Lives’ Slack channel to engage within “conversation about POC in the design world, decolonising design, as well as sharing and discussing design and anti-racism resources”. Although still in development, Natalie and Mazzy have also begun a website for Design for Black Lives too, for further information and links.

GalleryDesign for Black Lives

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy (she/her) is the senior editor at Insights, a research-driven department with It's Nice That. Get in contact with her for potential Insights collaborations or to discuss Insights' fortnightly column, POV. Lucy has been a part of the team at It's Nice That since 2016, first joining as a staff writer after graduating from Chelsea College of Art with a degree in Graphic Design Communication.

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