How we create great ideas for charities

Where do good ideas come from? We explain a little more about the process of creating great ideas for charities and not-for-profits.
Tags: Blog, Branding

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I recently took part in a careers morning at a local primary school. I had great fun sharing stories of what it’s like to be a designer and how we create great ideas for charities. During the sessions I got asked some great questions, they included:

  • “Can you paint the Mona Lisa?” (Maybe, but I’d have to dedicate years to perfecting it and to be honest, I got a lot of other things to do), 
  • “What is your favourite football team” (I’m fickle if a striker is in my Fantasy Football team I want them to score).
  • How much money do you make (I don’t drive a Lambo)
  • What’s your favourite animal and can you draw it? (Pangolin and yeah, but not right now)

I also got asked, “do you get your ideas from Google?”. Straight away that snarky Imposter Syndrome leapt into action as I thought, “oh no, do they think I’ve copied stuff?!”. But then I remembered they are 10 years old and probably not out to destroy me. (Not about that anyway, but one kid was fuming I didn’t support Liverpool FC!). And to be honest, yeah I do get my ideas from Google, kinda. 

Finding great ideas for our charity design work

Every week the Northern Bear Studio is full of a variety of different projects, and as Chief Creative Bear it’s my job to make sure the creativity flows and we send our clients effective and powerful design concepts. A snapshot of projects in the last few weeks includes:

  • A education charity brand 
  • An animal charity logo design
  • A school wellbeing campaign design
  • A dog and cat charity advertising campaign
  • An end of life charity impact report design
  • A youth mentoring charity website UI design project

So how do we constantly come up with ideas…. and could we ever just run out?!?

Years ago, when I first graduated, I used to have a wave of fear every time I started a new project (I’ll level with you, I still get that feeling a little bit now, it keeps me on my toes, but back then it was HUGE!). The pressure of the blank page was real and the looming deadlines even more so! 

One day, the Creative Director took me to one side and explained how I need to remember that I’m not meant to know the answer until the end. The creative process is a journey that will lead me to the right answer. That blew my mind, it was so bloody obvious yet, until that moment, I had thought that everything should be in my head, ready to go. Like I was some kind of Chat GPT design bot?!  

I realised that my brain is a muscle and like all muscles it needs flexing, and fuelling (and rest, I do love a power nap!) to ensure it keeps working well and is able to produce creative ideas.

The design journey

I think every designer has their own way to approach conceptualising. I have stages to go through, but they change depending on the project and requirements of the charity or not-for-profit we are working with. 

Before I jump onto my Mac and actually start designing tangible ‘stuff’, this is usually the journey I’ve undertaken to work out what ‘stuff’ I should create:

  • Read the brief, re-read the brief, and scribble over the brief to draw out the key points.
  • Research: into the organisation, product/service, market, competitors. If possible meet with the client/visit the place/use the product/experience the service. Knowledge is power!
  • Brainstorm and mind-map everything and anything you can relate to the key points I’ve identified in the brief.
  • Start doodling and writing, firming up thoughts, making connections between things and finding chunks that are worth perusing as ‘routes’, whilst constantly checking in with the brief.
  • Then I want to be able to write out three routes and try to answer 3 questions. What is it saying, how does it feel and how could it convey it visually?
  • At this point I will start looking for inspo, Pinterest and Google Images are always in mix. I’m not searching for the thing I might be designing “Logo for…” “Advert for”…, instead I want to find visual fuel for my imagination.
  • Start actually designing great ideas for charities.

So what is visual fuel in design, and how can it inspire great ideas for charities?

For any journey, you’re going to need fuel to get you there. So visual fuel can be anything (and everything), that’s the magic of creativity. What works for me and fires off ideas for our charity clients will be different to other creatives. But to give you an idea it could be:

  • A folk album cover from the early 70s that has an awesome photo on the front which inspires you to think ‘Oooo I could use a textured background”
  • A knitted jumper that as an awesome colour combo
  • A magazine cover that has really beautiful typography and gets you thinking about using handwritten lettering
  • An article on Dali that gets you thinking about being playful with our concept of reality
  • A Spotify thumbnail for a playlist that inspired you to look at geometric patterns

What it isn’t:

  • A logo for a children’s hospice charity, which you take and slightly tweak to make a logo for a children’s cancer charity.
  • An advert for a dog shelter which you use as a template for the advert you’re creating for a dog charity. 

You get my point. It’s not the answer, it’s feeding your imagination and helping you CREATE your own unique answer to the brief from a client. In our case, it’s usually a charity that needs to increase donations or connect with supporters.

How the creative fuel helps us create great ideas for charities

The problem with looking for an answer at the start, rather than taking a journey and discovering it along the way, is that you’ll likely end up with something that is generic. Whereas when we take the journey we end up with a design (whether that be a logo, a leaflet a website) that is bespoke to the charity and helps answer the specific problem they need solving.

By having a brand or campaign that really tells a charity’s story, it will undoubtedly connect better with the audience and be more effective.

Northern Bear can help

We’re a friendly creative agency brimming with great ideas for charities and not-for-profit organisations (and we’re brimming with great ideas to help your organisation!).

We work with small and medium-sized organisations on branding, strategy, design, websites and campaigns to help raise awareness and funding so together we can DO MORE GOOD.

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