Our Culture

We’re more than a design firm. We combine design, social justice, and leadership practice to address pressing issues, equip communities, and inspire social change.

Our Cultural Statements


Our culture is the underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, and ways we interact that contribute to the unique social, psychological environment Design Impact. We’ve co-created these cultural statements to help make explicit the implicit, visible the invisible.

Design Impact’s Staff-led Operations System


In lieu of a strategic plan, Design Impact’s squad system allows members of the team to hold “roles” within each squad that are constantly changing and evolving as the work requires. The organization’s strategy and work is run entirely through these seven squads. This model of decentralized power allows each squad to determine its own way of working, its own strategy, and adapt to organizational and project needs as they arise. This model is inspired by other decentralized decision-making organizational structures including holacracy and matrix models.

We measure our impact by evaluating how people’s mindsets, actions, and conditions change over time. For conditions to change, we must first change our actions and mindsets. Learn more about how we measure our impact in our 10-year reflection.


The cumulative impact of DI’s work is represented through the integration of these measures. While the concepts of creativity, equity, and leadership informed the crafting of these lists of more than 100 indicators, we strongly believe all three must intersect as we work toward sustainable social change. Click this link to download the summary.

Over the last decade, we’ve changed significantly as an organization. We’ve moved our home base from India to Ohio. We’ve shifted from designing products and services to designing processes and systems. We’ve grown from a team of two to a team of twelve (and then some). And we’ve rearranged from a traditional hierarchical structure to a self-organized model based on deep trust with one another.


We have come to view this nonlinear, unplanned evolution of our model as vital to the health of the work.


Allowing our future to emerge — instead of trying to control it — has taught our team to embrace this constant change as a source of life.


As we work towards disrupting systems of oppression, we recognize that we must also disrupt our own patterns.

Self-Organization is not a startling new feature of the world. It is the way the world has created itself for billions of years. In all of human activity, self organization is how we began. It is what we do until we interfere with the process and try to control one another.”

Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way

We have learned that healthy change with our partners comes from a healthy root system within ourselves. Modeling the world we want to see within our own organization brings us closer to our own moral compass. It also helps us test new ways to work that inform our projects.

“How can we scale by growing deeper in our work and impact?

How can we invest more in this community and our staff?”

Once we decided to embrace change from this new perspective, we could focus on what was actually needed to support our staff, and in turn, the communities impacted by our projects. We rejected the commonly held belief that nonprofits should have a low overhead rate (less than 20%). Instead, we invested in our team.


We chose to pay more than living wages; we invested in our teams’ learning to strengthen the quality of our work. And we invested our time deepening our understanding of systemic challenges facing our communities.

Five Ways DI has Embraced Change

1. Complex systems change requires a holistic approach. So we assembled a multidisciplinary team of researchers, designers, educators, organizers, and strategists who work together on each project.


2. Facing inequity and complex social changes can make us tired, overstretched, traumatized, and worn down. So we moved to a four-day workweek to give ourselves time to breathe, process, and just live.


3. We recognize the harm caused by scarcity mindsets. So we make decisions based on trust and abundance with one another.


4. Strategic plans and static evaluative models limit our ability to adapt quickly in the face of complexity. So we designed a flexible work model that allows us to continually innovate on what we are doing without the need for top-down approval.


5. Our team is made up of trustworthy, intelligent humans. So we designed a decentralized model so that all members of our team hold power in the organization and play a core role envisioning our future.


Frédéric Laloux, Reinventing Organizations