Designing for Good

designing for good with inspiration from classic films

Inspiration from Sullivan’s Travels

Years ago, my dad challenged himself to watch every great American film. Though my sister and I were but wee girls, we eagerly joined. We tried to stay awake for “Citizen Kane,” laughed through “Some like it Hot,” and relentlessly made fun of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Space Odyssey - Designing for GoodNice shorts, dork. Have fun in your sideways space hamster wheel.

We never finished the list. Honestly, I can barely remember half of those movies. One did stick with me though, and it has influenced my art and design work since childhood into my adult life: “Sullivan’s Travels.”

For those who haven’t seen it and don’t care to Google it, here’s a summary:

A rich hollywood director gets sick of making shallow comedies that don’t help the less fortunate. He decides to live as a homeless person so he can experience hardships and make movies that bring light to humanity’s darkest aspects.

Sullivans Travels - Designing for Good

     Ain’t no hobo like a ‘40s hobo.

A strange turn of events lands our dear hero imprisoned and sentenced to a labor camp. After weeks of soul crushing grunt work pass, a Disney short is played for the prisoners as a treat. They LOVE it. The tiny theater is filled with laugher. Sullivan realizes that comedies do more good for the less fortunate than a tortured drama.

The world is a complicated place with many complicated problems. When our little planet seems especially terrible, I instinctively want my art/writing/design/whatever to reflect that.

While good natured, these outputs of rage and sadness tend to create more rage and sadness, not less. Not to mention, the product is typically a useless garbled mess of incoherent angry emotion.

Sullivan taught me that laughter and focusing on positivity is important. It’s a message I’ve remembered since I was a tiny tween fighting with my sister over the last handful of popcorn.

This works well for me professionally, as one of the Nine Labs values – which also happens to be my favorite – is that we love shenanigans. Whether we’re covering someone’s desk in post it notes or teasing a four-legged friend with a certain presidential candidate painting, we know how to have a good laugh.

Brad Shenanigans - Designing for Good

You’re welcome, Brad.

While we certainly take our work seriously, I’ve learned that the ability to let loose, laugh and have a good time helps improve my work and my creativity.

We have a few clients in the non-profit space doing amazing things, tackling real issues going on in our world. But real issues can be challenging to design for, because as we’ve discussed, sometimes real life is dark and heartbreaking.

In these moments, I ask myself the question “How can I use my design talent to help this client make the world a little better?” This, in combination with remembering Sullivan’s story, remind me that I have an opportunity, and perhaps even a responsibility, to design brighter spots for our sometimes dark world, and hopefully enjoy some shenanigans along the way.