When design is knowledge

Kentucky-based GRIDS helps organizations use smart visuals to share critical information

Jessica Bellamy
Information is power, and lack of access to it can keep people and communities vulnerable. Breaking these barriers is where communications designer Jessica Bellamy, founder of the Louisville, Kentucky-based Grassroots Information Design Studio (GRIDS), has found her calling.

Bellamy and her staffer Daphne Walker are focusing their award-winning design skills into GRIDS’ mission to “better disseminate information, as well as create [socially] conscious perspectives of data” — in other words, help non-profits and community-led organizations communicate important information to funders, policymakers, and the people they serve with smart, accessible infographics.

 

Whether it’s an organization that needs to give a presentation for federal funding, or simply a small business owner in the community, Bellamy has found that people frequently overlook the fact that “design creates credibility and authority.”

 

Bellamy also works with organizations to adopt easy-to-use design software, empowering them to do some of this work themselves.

Whether it’s an organization that needs to give a presentation for federal funding, or simply a small business owner in the community, Bellamy has found that people frequently overlook the fact that “design creates credibility and authority.”

 

Bellamy illustrating feedback
Bellamy was the graphic facilitator of the Empower Kentucky Summit, where she illustrated feedback from summit participants on a variety of topics such as racial and environmental justice.

 

“When you give a logo to a black woman who’s started a children’s dress making shop out of her house as extra income because she’s been sewing dresses for her babies for so long,” says Bellamy, “you’re giving her more credibility by giving her a look that people will trust. It increases her ability to do work, provide services, and make capital.”

Bellamy says the idea for GRIDS came to her when a report she designed in a previous role for a statewide community-based organization empowered a member of Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood.

“The first time I ever saw someone armed with the Vision of Smoketown Report, I was in a community meeting in Smoketown and a council member said something that a neighborhood pastor did not agree with,” says Bellamy. “The pastor pulled [the report] out and was like, ‘What you just said is not true because dah dah dah dah dah’ just, you know shut it down, and I was like ‘Yes, yes!’”

For Bellamy, this was affirmation that design makes all the difference. She’d been the one who’d originally suggested the organization she was working for use the data and information they’d gathered to create an infographic that would turn boring text into easily digestible information.

That moment Bellamy witnessed someone wielding one of her infographics made her decide to leave her stable job and see how she could scale the idea.

Bellamy was selected as a 2017 Design Disruptor Fellow by the UnSchool, which describes itself as “an experimental knowledge lab for creative rebels and change agents.” And she was able to bring on Walker, who won a record-breaking five awards at this year’s Louie Awards for graphic design and advertising held by the local chapter of the American Advertising Federation.

Bellamy says she knew Walker really understood the GRIDS mission after she tasked Walker to redesign a flyer for a local group protesting a healthcare change in the state of Kentucky. Bellamy hadn’t felt like the group’s original flyer clearly communicated the negative impact these changes could have on different groups within the community. She says, “If you looked at that thing you’d be like ‘Oh, this doesn’t look too bad!’ because it’s huge blocks of text and it’s rainbow colored. It was too cheerful.”

Going forward, GRIDS’ work will be more important than ever. Government changes on the national and state level have created an influx of information that needs to be relayed to the community. It’s one of the reasons Bellamy is excited about websites and apps like Wix or Squarespace, or online photo editors like BeFunky, that make it easier for community organizers to be designers and edit their own communications instead of needing to pay someone to do it.

It’s been 10 years since Bellamy helped collect the data for the report that sparked her vision for GRIDS. And in a time when more people than ever are hitting the streets to enact societal change, Bellamy reminds us that when we go into communities outside of our own, we must put the wants and needs of the community first or risk failure.

“You’re going knock on my door and try to hand me something,” she says. “I don’t care, unless you’re going to hand me a million dollars.”

 

Minda Honey remembers the pre-Photoshop days when MS Paint was all you needed to wow your friends with your digital art skills.

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