We had a lovely ol’ chat with Josh Layton and Ryan Felix, Co-Founders of Loop: Design for Social Good. They tell us about how working at Starbucks led them to launching the business; their love for Netflix’s Abstract (who doesn’t – amiright?) and the importance of practicing empathy and humility as part of their design process.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. At Loop: Design for Social Good, we believe that enterprises and organizations that are fuelled by social good are leading local and global change. They understand that when we approach our societies, our planet and our economy with purpose – we all take a giant leap forward. Loop designs bold brands and digital experiences that help these change makers amplify their impact and their ability to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. It’s all super exciting!
‘We look for graduates who understand the importance of practicing empathy and humility’
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened? After graduating from the University of Waterloo as urban planners, the goal was to work as a city builders with an urban design studio. Graduating in the middle of an economic downturn meant that like many people in our year, had to find part-time jobs to make ends meet. So while looking for jobs, we both served coffee at little known coffee shop called Starbucks. At the time we felt a little hopeless, but life has a weird way of pointing you in the right direction. We ended up befriending a creative consultant while making his Americano twice a day, and he eventually he encouraged us to launch our idea for Loop. He has been a mentor and continued supporter in our story ever since.
We never really imagined becoming entrepreneurs, but having realized that we could combine our love for design with a social purpose, we can’t imagine doing anything else.
What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why? Book: Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley of IDEO. An inspiring read about how to flex your creative muscle every day, practice empathy and produce more powerful work regardless of what you do.
Documentary Series: Abstract on Netflix. A visually stunning journey into the minds of some of today’s top creative minds. The Paula Scher and Planton episodes are particularly fantastic!
Website/Magazine: GOOD. GOOD is a beautiful online and print publication that delves into the world of social impact. GOOD’s focus on infographic and data design are always a source of inspiration.
What qualities and skills to you look for in a graduate? When new graduates apply to Loop we, of course, look for a strong eye for design, but more than that we look for graduates who understand the importance of practicing empathy and humility. Working in the social impact sector requires us to have a comprehensive understanding of the unique social, environmental, political and/or economic challenges our clients and their audiences face, and it’s our job to translate those into compasionate design strategies that work.
Because of this, the actual design is a small component of our process at Loop. We first ask deep questions and listen carefully, finding interactive and visual ways help diverse audiences share their opinions and perspectives. The ability to practice empathy comes with time and experience, but a desire to go beyond design is core to the way we work and something we look for in those who work with Loop. We also look for graduates who have side-gig projects, and who are striving to use their creativity in unique and fun ways!
What has been your highlights since you started out? 2013 was a game changing year for the team at Loop, and one which we will never forget. During that time the notion of social enterprise, a business that serves a social good alongside profit, was quite new and Loop was primarily using design to help relatively small nonprofit organizations. Although that was fulfilling design-wise, it was putting stress on our finances — and we wondered if our business model could survive.
Luckily that year we were asked to join a team at the London School of Economics as part of the ‘HULT PRIZE,’ the world’s largest student competition for social enterprise.
They were given a challenge – design, and pitch a business idea to solve hunger in urban slums. Their solution was called Sokotex, a business which would use the power of a text message to help local food vendors team up to buy their produce in bulk, allowing them to save money and pass on the savings to slum dwellers reducing the costs of nutritious food for all. Sokotext had made it to the finals where they had the opportunity to pitch the idea to Bill Clinton in New York for the chance to win $1 million and launch the business. Our job was clear — use design to compel the judges to see enough value in Sokotext and fund it. We created a brand, an interactive presentation, a whole host of visual displays and infographics to tell compelling stories of real people living in the slums and the impact Sokotext would have on their well-being.
Sokotext didn’t win the $1 million prize that night, but design superhero and judge Yves Behar of Fuseproject (one of our major designer crushes), brought attention to the brand and presentation we had created and spoke to the power of design to spark social change.
Not only was it an honor to be mentioned by one of our design heroes, but it was also one of our first realizations that design had the power to shake things up and impact society in significant ways. It was a lesson that our job as designers is not to save the world – but to help those who are and amplify their impact.
‘It was a lesson that our job as designers is not to save the world – but to help those who are and amplify their impact.’
2017 for you in a sentence. Find comfort in the hustle; it’s worth it.