Posts tagged pro-bono
Time Travel Mart: Mimicking the Creative Experience through Web Design

826 LA is a nonprofit writing and tutoring organization based in Echo Park and connected to the larger 826 family, which has operations across the US. The Time Travel Mart is 826 LA’s store and e-commerce site. Aside from bringing in significant revenue to support their programs, the store carries items like Forgotten Science Project in a jar and bottled Famous Last Words, which reflect the same sense of possibility and wonder that 826 instills in its students.

 I had the pleasure of volunteering with 826 at another one of their locations in San Francisco last year. Having tutored writing in college, I expected a similar experience assisting with outlines, grammar, and generally helping students get their English homework done… but I found that the students had finished their homework. Instead, they were writing pieces for themselves. And the work was good— open, messy, and wild—not what you’d expect from pre-teen writers, who unfortunately learn to judge their own work by that age.

 This is the magic of 826. Stepping into 826 LA and its Time Travel Mart is like stepping into a world where the void of judgment opens infinite space for possibility. It’s a feeling similar to the writers’ phenomenon of “stumbling upon” an idea. When 826 LA tasked us with designing and developing a new website for Time Travel Mart, we knew that capturing its magic would be our biggest challenge. How was it possible to capture that feeling of “stumbling upon” in a website?

 Our first answer was to recreate the information architecture of the site, which previously categorized merchandise in a way that site users could not search or easily locate what they wanted— not a very magical experience. By bucketing merchandise into distinct categories and designing a clean user experience, we were able to change this. Developing the site using e-commerce platform, Shopify, we were also able to turn viewing product details and checkout into a streamlined experience for customers. Using Shopify also made the new e-commerce site sustainable for 826LA, who can easily update their merchandise and product availability.

 Once we were able to streamline Time Travel Mart’s ecommerce experience, the second part of our solution was all about embracing that “stumbled upon” feeling. One unique feature we incorporated to achieve this is called “Easter eggs,” which partially blend into the site design, but allow users to virtually stumble upon different, colorful gifs when clicked. The purpose here was to mimic the writing experience, during which creativity and inspiration can strike suddenly and take a writer down unexpected paths. All the gifs in this post are "Easter eggs" from the time travel mart website. 

 The result is the first phase in a brand new e-commerce site for Time Travel Mart that fully captures the wonder and inspiration we feel at its physical location, and that I felt while working with the student writers at 826. Because a significant percentage of their revenue comes from the Time Travel Mart, having a more robust and easy to use site is a powerful step for 826 LA. This will make the difference in scaling their overall impact by including more students in their programs and better serving their current participants. 

verynice is proud to have worked with the time travel mart on this awesome project. See more of our work at

WHY [Not] Pro Bono?

If we were to answer this question with a fundamental problem-solving technique, "ask why 5 times," then I would have to start with this: WHY do I believe in pro bono?
My most immediate response was “why NOT pro bono?” There is something uniquely beautiful in this genuine exchange of professional skills in an environment of mutual trust. The idea of ‘helping society’ is often very abstract. Pro-bono helps define one act of giving. It is simply contributing a little bit of your time and knowledge in order to benefit someone else.  “Doing good” suddenly becomes a lot more comprehendible.

Matthew Manos, founder and partner at verynice, mentioned in How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free that “There are far more of us with valuable skills than there are people with extraordinary wealth.”  As a young designer myself, it is very empowering to discover that I, too, can have the ability to give back to society by participating pro bono projects through design.

WHY Free? Don’t you have to pay rent and bills?
The short answer is yes. Rent and bills are waiting for me just like they are waiting for everyone else! However, it is really refreshing to practice pro bono in our capitalist society. It's almost rebellious to chase a dream for good.

I personally believe that a philanthropy, or seeking to promote the welfare of others through the donation of time/money/skills to good causes, is not only a belief system but an act of social activism— it challenges society to progress in a positive direction through professional practice and behavioral decisions.

Philanthropy is not only possible for older, successful, and wealthy people; in fact, it doesn't require large amount of capital donation either. By incorporating pro bono projects into  the professional world, we can all contribute and ‘donate’ a little bit of our skills everyday for a good cause. At the end of the day, money does not define someone’s happiness. That sense of fulfillment that comes from helping others, however, can really brighten someone’s personal and professional life.

WHY is it important to participate in social activism?

ACTIVIST: a person who campaigns for some kind of social change. When you participate in a march protesting the closing of a neighborhood library, you're an activist. Someone who's actively involved in a protest or a political or social cause can be called an activist.

I believe that in order to have a sustainable business model, one must make his/her decisions based on social courteousness and empathy. Or, simply, the gut feeling of trusting and connecting with others.

Maximizing profit has been the first priority  for businesses in our society. However, our culture is becoming more progressive, and we're starting to think about global issues like environmental welfare and population growth as well as more localized issues within our communities. With that, I believe every single one of us is responsible for making sustainable decisions to support our society’s progress in a positive direction.

WHY is that related to you as a designer?
I received my undergraduate degree from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Graphic Design. At the early stage of my design practice, I thought design was only about problem-solving in a visual way: nitpicking color decisions, typography, and hierarchy to name a few.

As my design journey progressed, I started to engage my design skills with real-world, complex issues. The problem I try to solve is no longer solely based on “how to make this poster LOOK sexy”, but rather, “who is my audience? what kind of neighborhood/environment is this presented in? what is the potential impact my design could make on audiences/community? how do they FEEL about the issue?”

I have always found myself attracted to topics in sociology and cultural behavior. Discovering the human-centered thinking methodology was the turning point on my perspective. The sudden realization that my design skills can benefit a larger audience group and support social causes that I care about was the most liberating feeling. EVER.

I love my career as a creative; and the fact that I could bridge my design skills and my heart for social innovation by participating in pro bono projects is honestly the greatest career track I could choose for myself.

With that, I will conclude my last but not least WHY… WHY ain’t you participating in the pro-bono (yet)?

Jessicapro-bono, Giving Back
verynice Presents: Space Slam 2014

Humans in Space Art (HISA) is a NASA affiliated nonprofit organization with a passion for making discussions about space available for all.  They conduct global art competitions in high schools that prompt children to engage with the topic of human space exploration. High school aged children had been the only participants of these competitions until this point when HISA wanted to expand to a new demographic.  HISA approached verynice to usher them through this transition period. Our process consisted of three phases of research, analysis, and testing on behalf of HISA.

The first was a marketing audit of their current business model in order to find the gaps and opportunities for further development. This project also consisted of an analysis of current trends and strategies being leveraged by organizations and initiatives that follow a scope similar to HISA’s. We then conducted primary research around HISA’s business model as well as the needs and desires of the new demographic. We found that the demographic was overwhelmingly competitive, excited about space, and ready to learn more.  They were not all interested in winning a prize, but rather going on a journey and having new experiences. We synthesized all our gathered information into a series of recommendations for HISA’s growth.  


Next we wanted to test our findings, so we thought, why not just do it ourselves! The goal of the workshop was to gauge the truth behind our recommendations for HISA’s expansion into the millennial demographic. We wanted to ensure the broad applicability of our workshop, so we approached professionals from a variety of industries.  We had ten participants for the final workshop ranging from the education, nonprofit, editorial, design, fine art, retail, government, marketing/analysis and engineering sectors. 


We made sure that the participants showed up excited but not entirely sure what they were getting into in order to gauge each person’s initial reaction to the concepts dear to the HISA mission. Our eclectic group or right-brainers and left-brainers latched immediately onto the ideas we presented and became excited about using art to begin this space themed dialogue.

The workshop was broken up into three phases with varying levels of explicit connection to the HISA platform.  We began by asking each participant to create a “hangable” star using colored paper, tape, and scissors which we hung in the conference room to use as a tool for each participant to introduce him/herself.  Everybody immediately set to work using his unique take on outer-space to show the group how they imagined stars look.  This shows us the power of creativity and why creative engagement with space is so important for this demographic.


The second phase was more intensive than the first.  We paired up the participants and instructed them to “draw their partner in space.”  Again, as we expected, we were met with a deep excitement for the topics and a creative array of responses to the question we posed.


The first two phases proved to be more of an icebreaker than the third and final phase of the workshop, which was much closer to HISA’s model.  In this phase, we presented an incentive (a prize of free dinner at a local restaurant) as well as complete creative freedom in order to answer the questions.  Here, we really wanted to prod the participants to really think about the ways that space has and will affect humans. We asked these three questions and let each group member choose which question they wanted to answer through collaboration. Here are the questions:

  • Technology—Show what humans will use science and technology to do in Space!

  • Future—Show what space will teach us about making your community a better place.

  • Fiction—What we haven’t found yet: Show what new things space travel and exploration will uncover!


By the end of the workshop, it became clear that our research had not failed us, and that our recommendations held true. The participants were engaged and excited about the material throughout the course of the activities. They even made clear in our post-workshop brainstorm session that they were ready to further engage in the space related discussions and activities.  The “right-brainers” and the “left-brainers” had different conceptions of what space meant to them, and all creatively approached the topics in different ways.  Their differences were exciting, but their shared interests were the most exciting of all. They all fit the sample demographic personas we envisioned and proved to us that HISA is ready to move forward on the trajectory they hope to pursue!

Taproot's Global Pro Bono Summit

Bora and I took a brief trip to San Francisco last week thanks to a friendly invite from the Taproot Foundation to attend the Global Pro Bono Summit. The event was an incredible experience. Perhaps the most amazing part was the fact that out of the 35 companies that were invited to attend, verynice was the only small business being represented. The second smallest business had 1,000 employees... We're very proud to be the global leader in small business volunteerism!


Throughout the session, we worked in small groups and focused on the challenges of scaling pro-bono impact, how to best leverage the excitement amongst younger generations around pro-bono service, and much more.


We can't wait until next year!