David Airey is an independent graphic designer working with companies of all sizes since 2005.

When pro bono design pays off

I’ve talked about pro bono design before. It helps inexperienced designers build a portfolio, and is one way for experienced designers to do great work for causes they love.

Javier Mateos of Mexico-based studio Xplaye is one designer helping both himself and others with a successful pro bono effort. Two years ago, Xplaye started a series of tribute exhibitions that involved taking a famous music band and translating some of their songs into illustrations.

Last year, the studio created a tribute to Grammy Award winning Café Tacuba, one of the most popular bands in Mexico. The project wasn’t intended to make a profit. The aim was to raise funds to help children with spina bifida.

“Through social media the Café Tacuba musicians heard about what we were doing,” said Javier Mateos. “They were so happy that they decided to autograph all the illustrations to auction them and increase the donations for the association that helped the kids.”

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba

Café Tacuba

The project was covered on CNN Mexico, in Rolling Stone Mexico, on MTV.la, and in all the most important TV and print media in the country.

Approximately $10,000 USD was raised, and five companies approached the spina bifida association to offer materials and supplies.

“This project grew our design bureau in a wonderful way. As a result we are now invited to many conferences, we’re asked to give interviews, and we gained respect from our colleagues in Mexico. It was an amazing and successful experience!”
— JAVIER MATEOS, XPLAYE

This is just one example of how you can grow your business at the same time as helping those in need.

In my next book I’ll share case studies where pro bono design has led directly to paying clients.

Pro bono resources:
Five myths about pro bono design, on Co.Design
Pro bono project listings, on the AIGA website
How to improve your portfolio with pro bono design, in the archives

For the music lovers, here’s a video of Café Tacuba performing unplugged with Gustavo Santaolalla.

My second book on Amazon

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5 appreciated comments about “When pro bono design pays off”

  1. Brilliant post David, I’m constantly reminding myself and designers I know about the benefits of pro bono work. I’ve done plenty of it when I first started designing, and it helped me to not only build up my skills but I also learned a lot about the client-designer relationship.

    As a matter of fact, I still take work pro bono, and I think I always will, but I’m way more picky about the projects I choose to donate my work to nowadays, much more than in my early times.

    I think that helping those who need and can’t pay for it serves as a reminder that there’s more in this life than just working for money. But looking at the big picture, pro bono work has always led me to land commercial work. Odd, uh? Great post btw!

  2. This reminds me of when I designed a logo for a clothing company. I started off doing it for free, then after it neared completion they offered to pay me for it.

    It truly is amazing how much coverage Xplaye got from creating those illustrations.

  3. Great article! I’m a firm believer in pro bono work. It helps businesses and the community.

    Thank you for giving!

    Tonya

  4. I love Cafe Tacuba, one of my favorite bands. Great idea by Xplaye in developing this poster series. They promote themeselves and at the same time it helps a noble cause.

  5. Great article David! Cafe Tacvba is my favorite band of all time!

    I made an anthology package design for class and Ruben signed one of the covers. One of my most precious possessions… I would never sell it though.

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