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When faced with the complex, systemic problems in the world, many of us struggle with how to make a difference. When I started this Bay Area design firm, I knew I wanted the work done here to be a force for good. Toward that end, we’ve focused on serving mission-driven, socially-impactful organizations.

I define “mission-driven” as having a purpose that is rooted in ethics that are larger than an organization’s bottom line. This does not exclude corporations and other for-profit organizations, but it does mean we are driven to work with organizations we feel are in alignment with our firm’s own values.

Identafire’s mission is to amplify and extend the reach of our clients’ messages with exceptional design. This may be a non-profit dedicated to eradicating homelessness, or it might be a law firm that prioritizes underserved and underrepresented communities. It might be an independent publication that wants long-term financial sustainability for itself and its reporters. It could be an IT firm that truly invests in its employees, hires towards equity, and ensures that it is paying its staff a truly livable wage. 

Working with such organizations is a privilege. And it’s essential to the work we do because we pour ourselves into that work, and when we’ve put it out into the world, we have to live the impact it creates. 

I wasn’t always clear on this vision. I got here through first working on a design project that I couldn’t live with. I had just left a full-time, salaried job with benefits and a 401k because, while I absolutely adored the design team I worked with, the work environment became unhealthy as a new leadership team began to squeeze more and more out of us in the name of “saving the company.” I had been freelancing over the years and decided to strike out on my own as a full-time freelancer. One of my first gigs was with a realtor in San Francisco. The contract was to create postcards for the agents to send out to their existing and potential clients. Most of the postcards were simply advertising a property for sale. Some extolled the virtues of a particular REALTOR© (always in caps, and I still don’t know why. Ok, I googled it.) or team of REALTORS©. They were mostly harmless, but two cards definitely stood out from the others … and not in a good way. One of them offered a simple question and then went on to answer itself: 

“Who just beat the record for most expensive single-family home sold in The Mission? Mary-Jane REALTOR©, that’s who!” 

There was no additional information such as, “we also have these exciting properties coming up soon,” or even, “live on the wild side in #edgy, #gritty, #hip Oakland!” The postcards simply  boasted about driving up housing costs in the Bay Area — a process which has led to the destruction of decades of culture and community, forcing long-time residents to leave the area or face homelessness. 

I didn’t enjoy making these cards, and I didn’t feel good about making money from their production. This work was definitely not going to do good in the world. I decided this was not the kind of work I ever wanted to do again. I’ve kept this story close as I’ve built Identafire, and as I continue to decide where to focus our attention and efforts.

The truth is it’s tough for mission-driven organizations right now. Most of the organizations we work with don’t have a designer on staff, and that often means that a marketing professional is doing double duty between tasks that are actually in their job description and things that aren’t, like executing visual design. Identafire can help give marketing directors, managers and copywriters time to focus on their specialty: crafting the perfect message and planning effective campaigns. We take care of the visual design needs attached to those projects. 

Another challenge we see is clients needing changes made to, or content updated, on their websites. They don’t have the internal capacity, due to staffing, training, or skillset limitations. They might be able to get new content on their site but it may not be quite in keeping with the site’s existing look and feel, or presented in the most effective way, or doesn’t come out the way that they had envisioned. This can make for less effective communication for really important organizations. So, when we work on a website, whether that’s a new build or redesign, or whether we’re adding a new feature, we try to strike the right balance between ease of use for updating, and maintaining a strong brand identity for the website. 

Most organizations are time-challenged, not having the time to think through a project end-to-end. We design for the audiences our client needs to reach, which means we spend the time needed to make sure we understand who that is. We design for accessibility, particularly for web projects, so the message can reach as many people as possible. 

We also encourage our clients to engage the real stakeholders of their work — their constituents, the “end users” or beneficiaries of the organization’s work in the design process. Empathy is important in design, but believing our users’ lived experiences, hopes, dreams, and motivations when they share them with us may be even more important. 

Having a passion for our work can’t help but improve the quality of that work. We’re not just enthusiastic about our clients’ missions, we are inspired by our clients, and we absolutely want to see them succeed. We take extra pride in the work we create for them. We don’t have reservations like the kind I had with the Gentrification Postcards. If we work with someone, it’s because we truly believe in what they’re doing in the world. We are on the same path. And we strive to become part of the client’s trusted team. This way, we’re 100% invested in the results of the work we do together. 

Identafire is a Black and Queer-Owned mission-driven design, and development firm based in Oakland, CA.

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