Sara began by telling us about her journey before starting Greater Good Studio. She studied Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern, thinking of possibly embarking on a career in toy design, but her first job involved working on Happy Meal toys which wasn’t exactly satisfying. She went on to work with Steelcase; Continuum–where she researched how LL Bean keeps customers; in retail design where she learned she could be an advocate for people. Through an internship with Fiskars she worked on a the design of a quilt table that opened her up to the world of user-centered research.
Sara went on to work at IA Collaborative, where she further explored design research. Clients would come to them with business problems to solve, related to products or services. Later, working on the Nike Innovation Lab project “Save Youth Sports”, she talked to a lot of non-profits about how to get kids to stay in sports programs. She connected with many organizations and saw how they had to “pound the pavement” to “serve people in need”, and with “more passion than money”. These sentiments really resonated with her.
While she was on maternity leave and her husband George was teaching, the couple more bandwidth to start their own studio. They co-taught a class that addressed cafeteria design that would help reduce food waste. Sara and George met a woman who was teaching a class at Kellogg about the design process to business students. She eventually invited them to teach a class about designing for social impact through different design research methods. Through teaching they came to realize the needs are there, and to address them, it’s a matter of looking for assets and engaging positive deviance. They realized that for every social problem, someone has already solved it, it’s just a matter of translating behavior into that which can make a useful impact to a greater population.
Greater Good Studio sought out projects with Chicago Public Schools, The Department of Public Health and explored companies considered Social Enterprises where the business value and social value are inextricably linked. Through Impact Engine at 1871 they worked with social enterprises such as Zero Percent who creates data systems that track savings towards 0% food waste.
Currently Greater Good Studio works in the following categories: Transportation, Teaching, Health, Social Startups, Education, Research and Design, and also conducts workshops centered around social impact projects. They get clients through word of mouth, conferences, and find that it generally takes about a year after initial conversation to officially engage in a project.
We also got a tour of the co-working space they manage and operate in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. They started by renting out desks themselves, to taking over half the space, then eventually the whole space. They currently have several long term tenants including an architecture firm, a marketing firm, a videographer, a product/ packaging designer, a graphic designer and a medical writer. They pride themselves on being “Chicago’s most distraction-free co-working space.”
At a recent studio retreat to layout strategic 5 year goals, they came up with the following list of key guidelines for the studio to check in with periodically:
- Measuring impact
- Leader in our field
- Fidelity of deliverables
- Business development
Their most recent project, which they are rightfully very proud of is a portable HTML page, stored on a jump drive, that serves as a digital directory of services and people for youth leaving jail. It allows them to keep up with positive initiatives they began while incarcerated, and fuels them to seek resources to further their interests and positive connections.