Helping a nonprofit scale, to serve at-risk communities more effectively, by design.

As the end of the year approaches, we often take this time to participate in our company's volunteering program. This year was no exception! Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing a 5-part series documenting our first-ever team effort.

If you have any ideas for a catchy program name, please do let us know!

Some ideas we've been throwing around:

  • Design for Life(ray)
  • Liferay Design for Good
  • Design Center for Kids Who Want To Read Good
  • Liferay Designs it Forward

...your suggestions are most welcome.

Liferay EVP

As a company, our mission is to:

make technology useful, helping people to reach their full potential to serve others

The primary way we do that is by making software — but, like many trendy companies, we also have an employee volunteering program (Liferay EVP — yes, we are great at naming).

In the past, many designers have participated in things like disaster relief, homeless shelters, and other community initiatives.

This year, we put our heads together and thought it would be great if there was a nonprofit organization that could use some help with things that we have some level of professional expertise in.

About the Organization

Underground Writing serves at-risk communities in Skagit County, Washington by providing a creative workshops exposing people to the power that reading and writing can have to improve their lives and communities.

We are a literature-based creative writing program serving migrant, incarcerated, recovery, and other at-risk communities in northern Washington through literacy and personal transformation.


Their founder, Matt Malyon (rhymes with 'Stallion') was working with an organization that one of our designers had previously volunteered with. At the time, he had been working on UW as a side project, but was considering moving to work on it full time — which he did at the beginning of 2019.

An exciting aspect about working with Underground Writing, aside from an ability to directly impact underserved people, is that it was our first all-remote volunteering project!

About the Work

After an initial discovery call, we learned that there were 4 areas that we could focus on:

Drake says "Dropbox is so 2017"
Drake says "Dropbox is so 2017"

Tech Stack

UW is currently using a few different SaaS products (Zoho, Dropbox, probably others) — they were on free or small pricing tiers, but after our brief analysis we discovered that they had yet to leverage their official status as a nonprofit for various discounts.

A few of us have experience setting up Google's various offerings for nonprofits, which was somethign that the UW team was very excited for.

Additionally, we uncovered a few other areas where operations could be streamlined by adding or subtracting technology.

The Underground Writing logo
The Underground Writing logo


They have a logo they really love, but that was really the extend of their documented brand. We aimed to provide more documentation around their brand to start opportunities included providing additional brand guidelines around messaging, color palettes, iconography, and other sub-brands.

There are still more opportunities which we'll touch on in later posts, but we definitely had to prioritize and deliver a MVB (Minimum Viable Brand — its a thing, trust us, don't google it).

Website was originally a Squarespace site that Matt put together. It was quite limited and he wasn't able to prioritize a custom site, so we built him one in Webflow. before we began the project. before we began the project.

It was a tall task, there were a number of integrations and features we had to account for — Donorbox, Mailchimp, a storefront, a podcast, and probably others. We definitely had our work cut out for us there, but our team rose to the challenge.

Service Design

We saw a huge opportunity to connect their workshops, students, teachers, and administrators via a unified technology stack.

For example, it would be hugely beneficial if they could obviate the need for filling out spreadsheets and uploading them to Dropbox by leveraging a Google Forms to Sheets and Docs app.

Meet the Team

Ryan Connolly

In addition to dentistry, branding is one of Ryan’s passions. He has been prevented from practicing the former by numerous medical boards, thankfully he has diverted his energy to the latter. His agency background really shines when he gets his hands on a raw, new brand.

Abel Hancock’s designer extraordinaire, Abel brings a wealth of web design experience. He’s also done his fair share of Webflow sites.

Chris Jeong

Our resident researcher, Chris loves breaking down complex workflows into manageable chunks and knocking them out.

David Kim

Despite being in the middle of moving from West LA to the Inland Empire, David helped out with the scheduling process.

Yotam Levy

He calls himself a “blacksmith, but for words”. We’re still trying to figure out if there’s a more marketable way to say this, but he’s been too busy helping polish the brand messaging and website copy.

James Lyons

James is one of our resident tool guys, he also likes to sit for hours watching Gmail migrations move at a snail’s pace.

Patrick Pentz

PJ is our persona whisperer, he’s learned from the best, and worked with Chris to design human-centric, automated processes.

Jon Wood

In addition to bringing his technical skills to the website design and development, Jon and his wife hosted the team at their home for a few days and provided some very fancy espresso drinks.

Coming Up...

In Part 2, James will share how we revitalized Underground Writing's IT infrastructure. It's gonna be great!

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