COMMON is a collaborative brand and creative com-munity for accelerating social change. Founded in January 2011 by Alex and Ana Bogusky, John Bielenberg and Rob Schuham, COMMON supports, connects and celebrates those designing a new era of socially-minded enterprise. COMMON’s mission is to catalyze a global creative community with the tools, resources and opportunities to design positive social change, all done through the shared values of a collaborative brand. COMMON’s community and events are dedicated to shifting from talking about problems to actually engaging in new solutions.
In short, COMMON wants to save the world with a new approach to capitalism and have fun doing it. If I didn’t know you better, I would surely question your motives. Who put you up to this?
Ha! For the last 20 years of my career in graphic design, I have been questioning the meaning and significance of my work with corporate clients. I’ve made some money and won some awards, but I never found enough personal satisfaction running a design business to warrant my investment of time and energy. So, in 2003 I started a program called Project M to try and inspire young designers to invest their careers in work that matters…whatever that means to them. What I’ve noticed during the last nine years is that some of the most successful Project M projects are actually social enterprises like PieLab, HERObike and Alabamboo.
In 2010 a friend introduced me to Alex Bogusky and Rob Schuham, and it triggered a harmonic convergence. They had very successful careers in advertising and marketing and were looking to change their approach. Together we came up with the idea of COMMON and started trying stuff out during 2011. From the beginning we believed that COMMON should have an element of fun. Because, well…why not!?
How does COMMON complement your design practice?
It is in the service of solving bigger, gnarlier issues. Recently, we ran a session in Detroit funded by the Legacy Foundation, which was created in a billion dollar settlement against big Tobacco to promote anti-smoking. A session we called the Menth Lab was a weeklong workshop in Detroit to discuss the negative impacts of tobacco marketing on African American and Hispanic communities. Out of workshops like these come ideas, and ideas become design projects. We don’t start with design, but I do think design is an important part of making ideas come to life in the world. All of my work now is focused on driving positive change through enterprise. The graphic design is in support of that effort.
Global brands are more powerful than ever. the idea that brand value can be harnessed for a collective social benefit is a great objective. What does the COMMON brand stand for?
We’ve loosely based COMMON on some of the concepts presented in a book called The New Capitalist Manifesto by Umair Haque. We’re trying to embed some basic core values like transparency, sustainability, collaboration and community into for-profit ventures. Capitalism and corporations are the most powerful forces shaping our world, but the status quo of business now is totally unsustainable. All enterprise must become social enterprise if we are to have any hope of a positive future. It’s just “common” sense.
How does the COMMON community fit into this new world order?
COMMON is a platform for people who want to channel their dissatisfaction and anger into action. These people can be both young activists (bottom up) and enlightened leaders within large organizations, institutions and corporations (top down).
It’s been a year since COMMON launched. Last August, COMMON held its first “pitch” event. Now in 2012 you have events in NYC and Cape Town, South Africa. What has the response been?
I think the response has been strong and positive! We had about 800 people pay to attend the first COMMON Pitch event in Boulder, Colorado. We’ve also had quite a bit of press coverage, so I think that the time is right for something like this. The fundamental idea of COMMON is that enterprise and business is one of, if not the most, power forces shaping the world right now. Inventing core values for enterprise that allow it to operate in a responsible manner does not preclude profit. Generally, we are finding there is an appetite for this kind of solution to business. We are out there speaking at events, such as TED talks, and meeting with all kinds of business and community groups.
COMMON seeks the creativity of passionate individuals who want to work together and make our planet a better place. Who are these social entrepreneurs?
Well, the winners of COMMON Pitch Boulder were two designers from Norway producing a versatile solar-powered light to replace expensive and dangerous kerosene lamps in third world homes; two advertising guys in Europe that are launching a company called Beta Shower to enhance hygiene; and a 19-year-old woman who quit Princeton to develop a simple, cheap device called the Sun Saluter that makes solar panels more efficient by tracking the sun.
How will COMMON help guide these entrepreneurs?
The winners of these pitch events get a whole suite of things, one of which is cash, but they also get connected with mentors in design and business. The ideas that get funded will be provided with services such as the design of their websites, legal services and marketing teams to help communicate a COMMON code of values.
Why is design a good tool for social enterprise?
We think of design in the big “D” sense—smart and creative solutions to problems using design thinking for idea generation, prototyping and execution. Plus, design is cool, and cool is relevant! We want to make COMMON interesting in the same way that popular culture is interesting; rather than boring, it is relevant and what is desired.
Is COMMON an evolution or a revolution?
I would say evolution. It is just taking pieces that are already there and putting them together in a slightly different way. Business and corporations have amassed great power and are dominating the course of the world. This can be devastatingly bad or this power can actually be focused on things that are sustainable for the planet by acknowledging the interconnectedness of it all.
How can we join the cause?
Anybody can join the COMMON community. People can attend the pitch events; students can come to a COMMON project. Corporations can hire COMMON Lab to come discuss a project or brainstorm a topic. There is a bunch of ways to engage, and we continue to come up with more every day.