How Design Choices Help Clients and Change the World: Insights from a SoGood Winner

Gil Martínez RGD, a SoGood Award Winner from 2012, reflects on the impact the Award had on him and his work. 


The RGD's 2022 SoGood Design Awards are open for entries until Feb 28. Submit projects that champion the causes reflected in the 2022 awards categories now!


How did winning the SoGood Design Award add value to or change your work/practice?


I have always been interested in ethical business practices and I wanted to extend this to the work I was doing. At the time I was actively pursuing freelance opportunities in the social innovation sector and the piece I entered was for one of those clients. Many players in the sector at that time felt limited by their ESG criteria. When I got the Award, I was able to prove to clients that outstanding design could be used to disseminate their message more effectively.


2012 SoGood Award Winner: Voice of the Industry by Gil Martínez RGD


Explain your winning project briefly. Given a chance, how differently would you do it today?


My client and friend, Rajeev Ruparell, hired me to design a website for a personal project of his, As a student in Boston, he had learned about the textile mill workers in 19th-century Lowell, Massachusetts and a newspaper they edited and published called Voice of Industry. In the 1840s, these workers wrote about women's suffrage, worker's rights, a shorter workday. Rajeev digitized and typed all the extant newspaper samples he could find and asked me to design a website for them.


Although the website still holds its own as a design project, it does not have many of the innovations that came later. The first thing I would change is to make the site responsive. I would also use type differently—most headlines are images because I wanted a wooden typeface look. Today I could easily do the same thing with web font licenses.


What does design for social good mean to you?


It means doing work that transcends profit and changes the world, even if only a little. It doesn't necessarily mean a project must be for a non-profit or charity. It means ensuring the work is on the right side of history. It means persuading clients to take a risk to use their platform to give a voice to those with less power. And it means opting for the least destructive design intervention when faced with multiple options.


Considering how the world has evolved in the past 2 years, what changes would you like to see in the design industry, either in Canada or internationally?


At the top of my wish list is making sure designers who practice in Canada are legally required to be certified, as we demand from lawyers, medical doctors, accountants, etc. I want to see designers meet a minimum amount of continuing education credits per year to remain in good standing. And I'd like to see the RGD's ethical standards become the level of service clients can expect of a professional in the field, regardless of Membership in the Association.


In your opinion, what is the best way for designers to communicate the value of design to non-designers?

  • Do not engage in spec work and tell the organizers why it's a bad practice.
  • Don't work for people that aren't willing to pay for quality work.
  • Always submit a proposal.
  • Submit a detailed invoice even for pro bono work—you can mark the invoice cancelled or gifted but it is important that clients know the real value of the design received.
  • Be prepared to walk away if a project compromises your ethics.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate the work of designers in the area of social good?


I think that in addition to giving designers much-deserved recognition, it allows their deserving projects more visibility. If a project is for social good, I see very few downsides in getting the word out.


Gil Martínez RGD has more than two decades of design experience and has worked for publishers throughout North America. He has been a Member of the RGD since 2004, where he has reviewed portfolios for junior designers and prospective members and participated in its Education and Ethics Committees. In addition to SoGood, he has received accolades from the HOW International Design Awards, the Canadian Business Media Awards and others. In addition to his work as Art Director for Newcom Media Inc.’s Financial Group, Gil writes about branding and design for the financial industry, has written a book about calligraphy and typography and teaches editorial design at Centennial College.