Ever wondered why organizations doing the most good are tied down to mediocre design and branding? So did Gopika Prabhu, who believes powerful and effective design should be accessible for these do gooders to continue to better the world. We sat down with Gopika, who shared with us the story behind San Francisco design studio Elefint Designs, the power of meditation and the importance of putting others first.
Working as a visual designer for The Art of Living in 2010, Gopika and her colleagues decided to complete an important volunteer project by finishing the remainder of their work in Hawaii. What unraveled during their time in the 50th state was a collective realization that there wasn’t much in the world of design for companies who were doing good.
In fact, the projects and companies who were doing the most good often suffered from the worst design and branding.
“There was a lack of beautiful design for good causes and I knew that there had to be a way to get talented designers to believe in these causes.”
Gopika, who had non-profit and ad agency experience, saw a good opportunity to make things right. With the help of co-founder Matt Scharpnick, she founded a design studio called Elefint Designs, an agency designed to bring beautiful and strategic design to non-profits and worthy causes.
The motivation behind Elefint
Gopika’s background in advertising and working with non-profits fuelled her mission to build an agency that focused on doing good and to find the right designers willing to work with causes that were making a difference in the world.
“Working within The Art of Living, I would see people’s lives totally change and nobody knew that that was happening. The motivation for Elefint is that I know it’s possible to tell those stories and I know the resources are there. You just have to be creative and flexible, and things just happen,” she said.
Her efforts have certainly paid off. After four years of helping good causes spread their message and drive action, Elefint continues to grow closer with the community, having built a large roster of impressive clients, such as Clinton Global Initiative, Full Circle Fund, and Architecture for Humanity.
A weekend of good design
Elefint hosts an annual program called Desgn.It, which partners talented designers and good causes for all-out design strategy sessions and workshops.
“We thought that we could tap into the community by bringing really passionate, talented designers and pairing them with good causes with limited resources for one day of design,” Gopika said.
This year, Elefint Designs brought together two awesome non-profits and twenty designers at Lake Tahoe where they worked together to create professional design that could encourage people to get on board with what they’re doing. The event was a huge success, with plans for the expansion of Design.It already underway.
Inspiration through meditation
With so much good going on, we wondered just how Elefint Designs is able to make a huge impact for good causes all around. It turns out that there is a bigger force driving this elephant forward: meditation.
Gopika recalls her summer trip to Belize as a shy student at George Washington University, and how she pushed herself to take that first step to doing good.
“In college I had one thought, and that was that I just wanted to go and do some service…but even the thought of doing service in a different country was scary to me,” she says.
After staying for a few months, she learned how to teach the art of meditation, which laid the groundwork for who she is today.
“That summer changed how I saw myself and my capabilities. It gave me the confidence to do more things that were adventurous. That experience was a source of inspiration and continues to be a source of inspiration for me.”
Meditation continues to play a large role in both Gopika’s daily life. She recently gave a talk at South by Southwest titled “Inspired Design: Meditation and Creativity,” which is all about the important role that meditation can play in the creative process.
In fact, meditation has extended even to her work as co-founder and Chief Creative Director at Elefint. It’s become a tool for creativity and positivity, thus embedded deeply within the agency.
“There’s a lot of stress that we hold onto whether we realize it or not, and if you’re in a creative field it’s important that you’re able to let go and let yourself unwind. Meditation is a practical tool to let yourself be comfortable with who you are and also be completely open to feedback, criticism and change.”
What’s next for Elefint?
Aside from the expansion of Desgn.It, Elefint is currently working on the redesign of Population Services International’s Daly Calculator, a tool that helps non-profits, NGO’s, and other companies to assess the success of their products.
“Not only are we doing a complete redesign of the tool, but we’ve been working with our developers to create a system where non-profits or NGO’s can really understand what these different interventions need and how the calculations occur,” Gopika explains. “One thing I love about this project is that not only is the organization doing incredible work but they’re giving people a tool to assess how ‘good’ a service is.”
Elefint continues to be involved both in the San Francisco community and encourages other creatives to get off their butts and do good.
“A lot of designers feel like their role is to make things beautiful, but I’ve realized that as a designer we’re telling people stories, so the more we know about what’s happening around us, the more we’re able to influence the world. That’s the power of creativity.”
If you’re looking for a great book to jolt your creative spirits, Gopika suggests The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. “You’ll learn really cool things like how the ordering of the numbers and letters on a telephone were originally designed, and other random and fascinating facts about everyday objects.” Head on over to our Good Books section for a copy.
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