Hyperakt & Social Impact

By alexvndra.ja

Hyperakt is an award-winning, social impact design agency based in Brooklyn, NYC. Their mission is to enable and empower change-makers and next-generation leaders by giving them a voice to “tell their stories.” Through intelligent design, content and brand strategy, they have successfully transformed complex information into user-friendly representations, accessible through a variety of technological and digital platforms across the globe.


As their way of involving and further giving back to the community, they host their famous monthly “Lunch Talks” where they invite “thought leaders” and creative agencies to share their insights, experiences and works to the public for free.


Pratt’s UXPA had the opportunity to visit their design studio last March 8, 2017. We were welcomed by the team, toured around the studio, and finally ushered into their meeting room. Alex Gracey, the studio and community manager, explained to us in depth about the company’s mission, vision and goals. He then showcased a few of their many successful endeavors. One of their prominent projects was with iMentor.


iMentor was one of their clients who sought their help to rebrand their image. The organization wanted to stand out from their competitors, and gain more funding for long-term sustainability. One of their core beliefs is that “education opportunity opens up a world of possibility.” Their mission is to recruit mentors to partner up with high-school students from low-income backgrounds. Through this partnership, students are given proper educational support in order for them to “graduate high-school and succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions.”


As Brenda Dervin and Michael Nilan (1986) proposed ¹, the current view of experience should take on a holistic approach-as opposed to the traditional method that confines problem solving within context. They argue that we should “look at information behaviors outside system context.” Hyperakt did just that. They not only focused on iMentor’s brand image, but they went as far as rebranding through content strategy and web design. During the process, one of the hardest questions posed was, “If iMentor was a person, how would you describe her personality?” After careful deliberation, iMentor solidified their identity, stating that “she” was “Daring, smart, inspiring, honest, and put people first.”


Hyperakt then shifted their focus to the students, closely examining how their design solutions could evoke meaning to them. Bates ² writes that information is not only derived from paper or from people. We absorb information from our physical surroundings, the spacing and dimensions of our environment, the design of our tools and our modes of communication. She emphasizes that the most important way of acquiring information is when we interact with all of these elements in our everyday real-world situations and circumstances.


The way information is presented impacts action and the way audiences respond. When Hyperakt redesigned the logo, they patterned the “i” in iMentor to look like the top of a graduation cap, symbolic to the end goal- graduating. They then created other patterns of school-related  icons related that played with their “i” design. In summary, they successfully merged iconography, symbols, the use of affective imagery and design that were meaningful representations to their target users.


After Alex discussed some of their other projects, he then handed the talk over to Hyperakt’s Principal and Creative Director, Deroy Perez.


Deroy introduced us to Hyperakt’s award-winning (and ongoing) passion project- The Refugee Project. In collaboration with Ekene Ijeoma, a designer and programmer, they created a platform that visually interprets thousands of refugee data for the public to easily understand.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was faced with the challenge of converting their raw data into representations easily communicable to the public. This was a clear example of what Dervin and Nilan referred to when they wrote that user design studies should shift to a more qualitative approach. Hyperakt’s goal was to connect and make the public aware of the past and present refugee crisis through factual and engaging visual interpretations. This was done in hopes that if awareness was created, change would then follow. They wanted to paint a picture, through an interactive map, and tell the stories behind the 35 million refugees displaced across 126 countries.


In order to do that, a “compelling narrative” was needed to justly represent the hardships and realities of the refugees. Lopatovska and Arapakis ³ write that emotions instigate actions. The interactive map illustrates a timeline of migration patterns with accounts behind each turmoil. It includes recorded testimonies, written journals, and photographs captured throughout the devastation. It opened-up a channel for untold stories to be heard, giving a voice to refugees, and promoting global awareness by sharing to the world their plight.


The website allows users to view and compare the refugee population of different countries from 1975-2015. Circular indicators, surrounding each country, represent the number of refugee nationals living overseas. The size of the circle is directly proportional to the number of refugees in a given country. The bigger the circle, the greater the number of refugees, indicating some form of unrest causing citizens to seek refuge outside their homeland. Lines connecting countries represent where refugees have sought sanctuary. Users can switch their views to see the refugee percentage of a country’s population.  A heat map is also available to represent the global migrants through the years.  The small sticky-note like icon links users to articles about the crisis/es taking place during a specific year in a country.


The Refugee Project gained international recognition and attention, receiving various awards worldwide. According to Domus and The Atlantic ⁴, this project was a clear “example of how graphic designers are turning their attention to framing data that stimulates action.” It is an ongoing and collaborative project, updated yearly. Deroy and his whole team are proud of their work, and do not receive any income from this project. It is their labor of love, and their way of giving back.


Design, like art, is emotive in nature. Whether it is crafting an experience, conveying a message, or simply channeling one’s expressions, design is a powerful tool that can truly impact its audience and instigate action. A human-centered approach is necessary to achieve this. Such is what Hyperakt has done and continues to accomplish.


1 Talja, S. & Hartel, J. (2007). “Revisiting the user-centered turn in information science research: an intellectual history perspective,” Information Research 12(4).http://InformationR.net/ir/12-4/colis/colis04.html

2 Bates, M. J. (2006). “Fundamental forms of information.” Journal of the American Society for Information and Technology 57(8): 1033–1045. http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/bates/articles/NatRep_info_11m_050514.html.

3 Lopatovska, I., & Arapakis, I. Theories, methods and current research on emotions in library and infor- mation science, information retrieval and human–computer interaction. Information Processing and Management (2010), doi:10.1016/ j.ipm.2010.09.001

4 Hyperakt Labs. Mapping 40 years of global refugee migrations. Retrieved from http://hyperakt.com/items/refugee-project


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