Design studios collaborate, tackle social issues

Sheila Aurelio-Ledesma

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Design studios collaborate to help address real social issues through the visual arts

CROWDED HOUSE. The Design Co.Mission crowd gathers to listen to 3 top design studios talk about how they tackled the specific design commissions given to them. Photo by Al Alarila

MANILA, Philippines – On a rainy Saturday afternoon, August 3, hundreds gathered together sparked by their love for design and socio-civic involvement for a unique show and tell event at the Ayala Museum.

Design Co.Mission is a passion project of Plus63 Design Co., a creative studio started by friends Dan Matutina and Berns De Leon-Yumul. More than just visual artists, the people behind Plus63 believe that design can help in addressing the social problems that plague the country.

“It started with the typical frustration about the current state of affairs,” said De Leon-Yumul referring to social problems such as poverty and corruption. “We thought design can help bring about solutions.”

Plus63 wanted to challenge design studios to collaborate with each other and tackle social issues because they believe “design helps us envision the ideal: living in a happy and healthy society.”

The studio commissioned the help of fellow design studios Team Manila and InkSurge as premier design scouts on a mission to solve specific design challenges in the fields of education, health and culture.  


Team Manila was asked to find ways that design could help address the delivery of education services in the country. The team went to work brainstorming ways to address acute needs in communities such as the lack of daycare centers and opportunities for early childhood education.

LEARNING BAG. Members of Team Manila design studio present the Aba-nig, a redesigned version of the classic woven banig that incorporates numbers or letters in the design. The banig is designed as a learning aid to teach children about numbers and letters. Photo contributed by Plus 63 Design Co.

They identified possible impact areas to apply their studio’s design solutions such as improving home-based educational materials. Their redesigned learning aids cleverly used Filipino home staples like the bayong and banig to help parents expose their children to letters and numbers at an early age.

They also showed the audience the potential of getting big businesses to rethink their product packaging with educational tools called “WiKahon” and “Latalino” that incorporate both design and functionality.  


Much like education, delivering healthcare is a very complex problem. Plus63, in tackling their self-assigned challenge, decided to focus on a common health service problem – sourcing blood donations.

The studio realized that social networks play a critical role in the solution, with many turning to Facebook and Twitter to ask for blood donations from friends and relatives.

BLOOD BROTHERS. Plus63's Kindred is a platform that connects donors and blood seekers in times of need. Screengrab from

Plus63’s Dan Matutina said the studio then worked on designing an app, called Kindred, to help blood seekers and potential donors connect online. The app also provides users with a printable blood type notification card so that doctors or paramedics can easily identify the user’s blood type in case of emergencies via a smartphone.


Popular design studio InkSurge was tasked to find ways to improve the way information is presented at the National Museum. Rex Advincula and Jois Tai, the duo behind the studio, observed that the adhoc signage and lack of a unifying design theme to the Museum’s collaterals distracted the museumgoers from truly appreciating the rich cultural heritage within.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM. InkSurge's Rex Advincula talks about their experience touring the National Museum and how design can help improve the visitor's overall experience. Photo contributed by Plus 63 Design Co.

They presented simple yet effective redesigns of collaterals and way finders that applied branding principles and updated the museum’s identity. They also stressed the importance of building a community to enliven the museum’s spirit.

Design integration

For Plus63, the collaboration is just one of many more planned events they are organizing. They hope that design will one day become an integral part of the way Filipinos think and act in their environment. 

According to De Leon-Yumul, the recently passed Republic Act 10557, or the Philippine Design Competitiveness Act of 2013, already enshrines the principle of design integration in national planning and development. The law’s primary author, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, was also at the event.

De Leon-Yumul adds that neighboring countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, are way ahead when it comes to design integration into national consciousness. This helps them project a unified brand to the rest of the world. The Philippines needs to catch up.

TEAM SPIRIT. Plus63's Berns De Leon-Yumul (in orange) and Dan Matutina (in the grey shirt) are behind the Design Co.Mission collaboration project. Photo by Al Alarilla/Plus63

Right time

Design Co.Mission has opened the gates for an inspired movement of creatives to act on passion projects and playfully work past the constraints of bureaucracy. All beautifully crafted, you can see the practice of skilled designers at work for social good. But progress takes many attempts and we all know that all missions cannot be left unchallenged.

For visual artists, the time is ripe that design is viewed as not just an end product, but as a service to the communities and industries that so often neglect its value.

More than the passing on of artifacts, it is the passing on of knowledge and skill that can deepen social and economic impact. Imagine the probabilities if local communities, institutions, business corporations designing solutions together in service of the marginalized?

This is just the beginning and we’ve got a long way to go. As design scouts on a mission, it’s time to get our hands dirty and look past the 4 corners of our digital screens.

We have the opportunity to go out there and discover the knots, reframe the problems, challenge the assumptions of change and innovate to stand the test of time. – with a report by Zak Yuson

Sheila Aurelio-Ledesma is a graphic designer who also designs creative playshops for social change.

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