Founder of graphic and website design studio Illusio Design, Chuck Spidell has been slaying pixels for over 13 years. And slinging pen and paper for even longer. We were fortunate to talk to him and ask how in the heck he went from traditional agency guy to running a studio that specializes in nonprofits and companies with a cause.
“One of the first non-profit projects I ever worked on was for the Sierra Club’s Ventana Chapter back in 2000. It’s great because they’re still using my design from more than 10 years ago! That project was a lot of fun for me, and I’d have to say that’s what really got me into the whole environmental scene. I’d always been a big hiker and doing work for them fit into my own personal beliefs about wanting to do things for the environment.”
It was during that project that I learned that design can save the world.
Ten years later he had a bigger epiphany. Illusio Design was working with the humanitarian organization CARE to create a website to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake. He remembers, “Working on that project was very intense. We were designing during the Haiti disaster, and I was being sent photographs from CARE in real time. I’m at my computer looking at the these high-quality, professional images of despair: these women, children and their families. When you see pictures like that you can’t help but feel helpless, that there’s nothing you can do.”
It was then that it came to him, “I can help these people. If I design something that’s really strategic and compels people to want to help, then I’m successful. The money is going to get back to and help the people of Haiti. It was during that project that I learned that design can save the world.”
Obviously, it had a huge impact on his life. Chuck remarked, “After that I was hooked. I thought, ‘I want to do more projects like this, I want to do more work for non-profits. There’s thousands, hundreds of thousands of non-profits out there that need help with branding, and it’s just a matter of finding them. Or them finding us.'”
It didn’t take long. With some work on their part, of course. While attending a networking event for sustainable businesses called EcoTuesday, he discovered CivicActions, a company that specializes in creating Drupal websites for clients with a social mission. How he found them is a story that most designers will appreciate. He loved the design of the EcoTuesday site so much that he wanted to find out who created it. It was CivicActions. After checking out their site and finding out that their clients include Amnesty International, Smithsonian Institute, and Democracy Now!, he inquired about a potential collaboration.
A month later he received an email back from the CivicActions team and not long after he was working with them on a site redesign for a Columbia University’s Global Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) program. A full nonprofit funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the MDP program has students setting up irrigation in Rwanda, combating food insecurity in Ethiopia, and improving literacy in Bolivia. Since that first project, CivicActions and Illusio have formed an ongoing relationship, working together on projects for BikeNYC, Privacy International, and Lambent Foundation.