Social Impact Through Design

7 Design Projects Making Serious Social Impact

Design is often defined as the process or methodology put into place to solve a problem or construct something to fulfill a specific function. So naturally, when a community (whether that be an entire country or a group of local people) have a problem, designers are inevitably called in to lend a helping hand. In the design world, collaboration is a daily occurrence, and designers often partner with people from a range of disciplines in order to successfully reach their goals. But what happens when the design industry collaborates with organizations and volunteers whose goal is to make the world a better place? Remarkable ImpactHere are some of our favorite projects where designers pitch in to build a stronger community.

The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford University

The Stanford University Ronald McDonald house opened its doors in 1979. Its mission was to provide a comfortable haven where families of critically ill children being treated at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital could gain proper support and shelter. Originally providing 13 rooms has now expanded to 123 rooms, making it the largest Ronald McDonald House in the world. With the help of the San Francisco Design Center, 48 Bay Area design firms have formed together and started “Where Hope has a Home”. There, they were given the challenge to decorate and furnish guest rooms and common areas, adding their own personal design touch. The plush bedding, soothing colors, and vibrant communal areas were created to make the families and patients feel at home, providing a sense of community during trying times.

Ronald McDonald House at Stanford

Photo by Joseph Schell

Andreas Gjertsen and Yashar Hanstad, the Duo Behind TYIN Tegnestue

After living on a boat named the “TYIN” for 1 year, Andreas Gjertsen and Yashar Hanstad became consumed with the idea of creating “architecture of necessity” and working directly with communities in need abroad. After raising $100k, Gjertsen and Hanstad created the architecture firm TYIN Tegnestue (tegnestue means “drawing studio” in Danish) and moved to Thailand to spend a year designing and building a library, playground, and bathhouse for children at Safe Haven Orphanage along the Thailand-Burma border. Using existing structures and local supplies allowed for the buildings to blend in with the landscape as well as keep costs of construction to a minimum. “Showing the local community the potential in local resources is a big part of the long-term benefits of projects like this” says Hanstad. Additionally, Gjertsen and Hanstad introduced new construction methods to the local architects in order to improve the local infrastructure and continue growth throughout the community.

TYIN Tegnestue Bath House

Photo by Dwell

Dwell with Dignity

DwD was awarded the ASID Design for Humanity Award in 2016 for their efforts in helping families escape poverty throughout Atlanta and Dallas. DwD partners with local social services agencies that have programs in place to provide the necessary tools in order to begin the path to becoming financially self-sufficient. DwD explains that “often times, after a family has received all of the counseling, training, and support from our partner agencies, they find themselves struggling to provide a home in which they can thrive.” Eliminating the financial burdens of creating a home allows the families to focus on fulfilling other aspirations and focus on improving and maintaining a high standard of living. Since 2009, DwD has completed 97 projects inspiring families to live their best lives and thrive in a safe and beautiful environment they can be proud of.


Photos by DwD


Hok, a global design, architecture, and engineering firm, partners up with organizations around the world to enrich the communities they are apart of. The London Hok office donated over 380 hours of services to renovate Youthscape, a non-profit organization that provides group counseling, rehabilitation, and a wide range of programming to help struggling youth overcome issues such as homelessness and severe aggression. The new building and state of the art design allows Youthscape to expand their capacity and develop new programs for young people to feel excited to take the next steps in enriching their lives. Hok explains that “underneath the original wood beams on the top floor, staff can work with young people on training and educational initiatives in a large, open space that facilitates collaboration.”


Photo by HOK

Project H Design

Emily Pilloton, a furniture designer and architect, began to feel burdened by the idea that her work was not making a significant impact on the community. Because of this, Emily founded Project H Design in 2008, a project to facilitate the development of various design and building programs for young children in K-12th grade. Studio H was the first program created by Project H Design, an in-school design and building class for 6th-12th grade students. Here, they have constructed small houses for homeless, farm stands, public furniture, and even a chicken coup for their local community. From Studio H, Girls Garage was formed, which attempts to tackle gender stereotypes, and provide girls ages 9-13 with the necessary skills and confidence to build. Overall, Project H Design has taught hundreds of children how good design work can improve not only one’s self confidence, but also their community.

Project H Tiny Homes For Homeless

Photo by Project H Design


MASS seeks to provide sustainable structures, community centers, and cultural preservation sights in areas that have been devastated by poverty, natural disaster, and disease. MASS describes that “throughout the construction process, we collaborate with the communities our buildings will serve, approaching every project as a chance to invest in their future.” Founded in 2008, MASS has completed projects in over a dozen countries in Africa as well as the Americas, spanning across many disciplines, such as building design, research, policy, education, and strategic planning. MASS believes that “architecture cannot be neutral, it either heals or hurts”, therefore every project they choose to be apart of must significantly benefit the local community. Through this ideology, MASS has engaged in projects such as the building of a maternity village in Malawi, staff and volunteer housing at a Hospital in Rwanda, community library and technology center in Haiti, and many other remarkable community centers.  

MASS Design Group Maternity Waiting Village

Photo by Iwan Baan

Philanthropy By Design

PBD is a design agency that works to enhance nonprofit organizations’ environments through interior and architectural design. Some of the more recent projects PBD is known for are the SOMArts Center, which aims to promote art at the community level, the Mexican Museum, which voices the richness of Latino art throughout the Americas, and the Navigation Center, which aims to reconnect homeless people with their loved ones. Additionally, PBD has embarked on a program known as the “Wells Fargo Storefront”. Here, they have renovated “mom and pop” businesses in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin County in hope of improving the aesthetic and functional layout all while staying within their $3,000 budget donated by Wells Fargo. Overall, PBD understands the importance of a well-designed environment and hopes to enhance local communities by supporting the businesses and organizations in their area.

Mission St. Navigation Center

Photo by Philanthropy by Design