Name: Alex N. Jones
Title: Senior Graphic Designer
Website: Alex’s website
How long have you worked at To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA)?
I came on board with TWLOHA in early 2016. So I’m about to celebrate my 7th anniversary.
What role does design play in TWLOHA’s history and present-day work?
TWLOHA originally started out by accident by the founder writing a blog post and selling t-shirts to help a friend pay for rehab, and the MySpace page he started really grew from there into what TWLOHA is today. And that’s been our business model since then.
Design has always been a crucial aspect to how we operate and communicate with our audience, whether that’s an encouraging message on apparel and merchandise or a well-crafted social media post.
These designs go out into the world and truly do make an impact on people’s lives. Obviously the funds from the sales of these shirts will go toward connecting people to mental health resources in their own communities, but also the shirts themselves remind people that they’re loved and that their lives are important. I can clearly remember a woman stopping me in a Target parking lot thanking me for the shirt I was wearing and that it was a message she needed to hear that day. The shirt boldly stated “You Are Enough” on the front.
How does your role tie into that? What are you responsible for as it relates to the organization’s mission?
I definitely feel a great sense of honor and responsibility to be a designer on this team. I often tell people that our communication team is responsible for anything you read and that my department is responsible for anything you see. So that involves helping to visualize content for social media, make a newsletter more engaging and easier to read, or taking a phrase from a blog post and turning it into a shirt or hoodie that encourages and inspires the wearer.
Who is the nonprofit’s audience AKA who are you designing for? How does that inform your work?
Mostly our audience is young adults in their 20s and 30s. I just entered my 30s, and I still consider myself a young adult.
We also encounter people at music festivals so sometimes we will cater our designs to fit those music genres. That could include darker shirts that feel more in tune with heavy metal artists. But we also will be at EDM festivals — for those we often want designs that are more colorful and bright. Some festivals need tie-dye options for shirts, and some festivals will need more simple and subdued designs.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve worked on? What are you excited about working on in the future?
My favorite thing is always whatever I’m currently working on. I always need to have a little bit of a reckless obsession with a design. And then we’ll send it off to our vendors to be printed, and I’ll start the process over again.
We’re adding some new categories of products to our current lineup and expanding our non-apparel options that I’m looking forward to designing. I enjoy working on shirts and hoodies, but it’s always fun to stretch those creative muscles and figure out ways to carry our message and voice into other kinds of products.
What does a typical day look like for you? How do you work?
My days look very different depending on the season. Some months are heavy on product design, others will be about major donor campaigns, and some months like November and December have a lot of sales-driven content.
But mostly my days consist of working with other departments to help visualize solutions to their projects. So that changes daily, but there are always consistent needs like blog quote images each week or monthly newsletter updates.
What do donors and/or supporters expect from TWLOHA in terms of design? What about nonprofits in general?
I don’t think partners/donors/supporters have specific expectations when it comes to design itself. But those relationships are very important. It’s the designer’s job to help strengthen those relationships, whether it’s by helping the finance department create thank you gifts for donors or helping create merch for a partnership with a band or business. My job is in service to my coworkers and their departments and to help provide support for them as best as I can. They’re then able to pass that along to our supporters.
A lot of nonprofits can’t hire a full-time designer to work on their team or they don’t have anyone on their team with that skill set. Do you have any advice for them?
Design is about communication. What’s most important is your message. Never underestimate the power and accessibility that simple design can have.
Skills can always be learned. As with most things, design is made better with practice and consistency. Now I’m most comfortable using Adobe programs, but there are several user-friendly resources like Google Suite or Canva that people can use.
Depending on what your needs and budget may be, there are other options like reaching out to a freelance designer for long-term or short-term projects.
If a nonprofit was going to invest a small amount of money on one thing as it relates to design, how do you recommend they spend it?
People will always be the number one resource. Especially in the nonprofit world, people are the best investment. In terms of design, this just depends on what your needs are, whether you’re investing in a freelancer or investing long term in a full-time designer.
For the organizations that do have a budget to hire someone, what should they look for in a designer?
Technical skills are always important of course, but character traits are what will set apart good design candidates. It’s important that you still have a healthy work environment for yourself and the rest of the staff as well the designer themself. Having a sense of humility and a good work ethic are key. Skills can be developed, but a personality is what you’ll actually be working with.
Is there anything you want designers to know about working for a nonprofit?
In all honesty, working at a nonprofit isn’t all that different than working anywhere else. Busyness ebbs and flows. There will be mundane tasks, there will be rewarding projects, there will be quick designs, and there will be challenging opportunities.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Design and creativity require a lot of discipline and determination. Learning how to create a game plan even when you’re not inspired is important.