In the early 20th century, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis argued that “able lawyers have allowed themselves to become adjuncts of great corporations and have neglected their obligation to use their powers for the protection of the people.” This sentiment, amplified by civil rights activism in the United States in the 1950s and 60s,  evolved into Public Interest Law – a subset of legal scholarship that directs the practice and tools of law to benefit the marginalized, the vulnerable, and the underrepresented.

In the past few years, we’ve seen product and service design practice moving along a similar vector – with organizations like the US Digital Service and Code for America building inroads for design in the public sector, groups like IDEO.org and AdaptivePath.org supporting nonprofits with design capabilities, and design-driven Public Benefit Corporations like Nava supporting better public services. There are already incredible teams like this working on building software and technology in the public interest, but we need a more sustainable path for designers, engineers, and product people to build careers in the public interest.

I’ll talk about what we’ve been doing here at New America and what is happening elsewhere in the Public Interest Technology ecosystem, how social good software enterprises play a key role in building this ecosystem, and how designers can build their own opportunities to do good.