Everyone needs a designer
Let me preface this with two things: First, I am not a veteran. Second, I am by no means a writer. But, I am a designer, which makes me a storyteller by association. This story is about how I bridged humanity and design together.

Prior to October 2018, I had no affiliation with veteran rights movements nor had I ever heard of the organization, Swords to Plowshares. I was a fresh grad with 3 years of non-profit experience looking for design experience. I stumbled on their website after finding a posting for a Communications and Design Coordinator.

Screenshots courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine

After doing more research on the company, I found that Swords to Plowshares was one of oldest Bay Area non-profits that served veterans. The website looked outdated—using muted earth tones, cluttered pages lacking visual hierarchy, and most importantly the photos looked depressing!

Designing for this organization with almost 50 years of history and their website dating back to the 2000's was one of the most exciting challenges I would take on.

I had the opportunity to bring awareness to the most profound issues veterans face today — the lack of housing, healthcare, legal services, & employment.

The problem
I was a one woman show. Out of the 200+ employees of the company, I was the only designer who had to learn:
  • Branding - what was our brand even? How steps did I need to take to even change a logo? Would I get buy in from important stakeholders like our C-suite and board of directors?
  • UX/UI - Who was actually our users? Veterans? Donors? Who needed priority? What assumptions were we making about them? How accessible was our information? Could a veteran in crisis reach us right away?
  • Webflow - Non-profits usually lack operating dollars and cannot hire whole design & development teams. We needed a platform that didn't use code (#nocode), was relatively cheap to use, and was multifunctional (like having CMS) & allowed for customization. Lastly, Many non-profits experience high amounts of employee turn over, we needed a platform that was easy enough for anyone to learn.
And most importantly, it all had to be done in-house. We are a non-profit, duh. What's a budget even?
The real problem
The (re)fresh

Non-profits are notoriously understaffed. Quite often we have to wear multiple hats and learn skills that might not be in the job description in order to get sh*t done. Prior to me, there was never a dedicated designer, so, I want to give proper recognition to my predecessors who knew the importance of design but could never truly prioritize it.

Out with the old, in with the new

The refresh began with changing the typeface, Calibri. We needed our font to bring us into a new era.

After much trial and error, I decided to go with DM Sans, a modern geometric sans serif font that people have access to via Google Fonts. I found this to be more friendly, inviting, and easier to read in any treatment.

Accessibility and contrast

My biggest drivers for picking the colors was usability and listening to our veterans. We were often told that our website did not give a veteran (or military) feel. In a lot of cases, we scored poorly in color contrast checkers, resulting in our graphics hard to read and understand.