Taylor Jones’ mission is to help effective altruism (EA) organisations make an impact with high-quality graphic design. He has a portfolio covering graphic design, website design, branding and video production for various EA projects and organisations.
Taylor’s first encounter with effective altruism goes back to 2018 when he discovered it by chance through a newsletter. Since then, he’s been involved in the effective altruism movement, first as a volunteer for various EA conferences and events, and later professionally, as a freelance graphic designer.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Jones
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background and experience as an EA-aligned freelancer?
I first found out about effective altruism while I was in the first year of my undergraduate degree. I was studying graphic design at Falmouth University in the UK. And since then, I’ve been looking for ways to contribute to effective altruism projects using my skills in graphic design. That’s always been quite difficult because I think there is more need for this kind of work than these organisations themselves realise or can appreciate.
I think – through effective design, marketing, and communications – organisations can make a lot of impact.
But in many cases, they choose to forego allocating resources to these things because they don’t see them as a priority, or it’s not immediately clear what the path to impact is for spending resources on them.
So I think it’s important that we educate effective altruism projects and organisations on the impact that design and marketing communications can have.
But at the same time, there is a drought of creative practitioners who are offering services to these kinds of organisations. Perhaps because there is a perception that they can’t make money through it, in order to provide for themselves, or because perhaps they’re also uncertain about whether or not they really want to pursue design or marketing as a career choice, and instead whether or not they should pivot into doing something different, which has perhaps a more direct route to impact.
So there are a couple of reasons why I think there is a gap to bridge.
Q: How would you describe effective altruism (EA) in your own words to someone who is unfamiliar with the concept?
I would say that effective altruism is an idea, or a set of ideas. It’s also a community of people who are living out these ideas as best as possible.
In this case, the idea is that we should combine our desire to do good in the world, and empathy for other people and other beings with scientific rigour, with rational thinking, to deliver as much impact as possible for the world, and to try to make the world a better place to the greatest extent that we possibly can.
Q: How did you first become aware of the effective altruism movement, and what inspired you to explore its principles and ideas?
They sent a newsletter announcing the launch of the column and said it would be about effective altruism. At the time, I didn’t know what this meant. But as soon as I read it, I thought it was exactly what I was looking for. And it did not take me long to be persuaded to get involved and find ways to contribute.
Q: In your experience, what are some common misconceptions or misunderstandings about effective altruism that people might encounter, and how do you address them?
Well, I think one point of resistance or misconception that people have if they have not heard about effective altruism before, is that they may think it comes across as being very heartless – that it’s sacrificing the heart for rational thinking.
And that, I think, is a really important clarification to make. There’s a huge mixture of people here. But most of the people I know who are active in the community are really working very hard and making some personal sacrifices because they believe it’s right and they feel a compulsion to do so.
To live in any other way wouldn’t be just, and so they are following their heart very strongly in that way.
I think it can appear that there is no heart involved when we are so focused on maximising our impact because it requires us to do lots of hard science and look at numbers and prioritise things.
Inevitably, when we prioritise some people or causes or topics must be cut – because we simply don’t have enough resources to do good for everyone.
Q: As an EA-aligned freelancer, do you face the challenges of balancing financial sustainability with pursuing projects that create a positive impact?
Not quite. The reason is that I was mostly doing freelance work only for effective altruism organisations and nonprofit clients before I even graduated from University. Ever since I graduated I’ve been working only with nonprofits.
So I’ve never been in a position to turn down a for-profit client job, for the sake of impact, or to turn down a nonprofit job because I needed the money from a for-profit job – I didn’t need to make that trade-off.
I am confident that there are plenty of opportunities for me to meet my own financial needs within the effective altruism community.
But it requires a little bit more entrepreneurial spirit than if you are working with for-profits. Because that world is so much larger and much more well-funded, so there is a much higher selection of opportunities and roles available.
Within this kind of space, you have to be a bit more entrepreneurial – and if the role doesn’t exist, then you have to make it for yourself. That can be a level of uncertainty that not everyone is comfortable with.
Q: Do you get job requests from non-EA nonprofits? How do you decide which projects to take on?
Every now and then I do get a job request from a non-EA nonprofit. Sometimes they are still working on things that are very related to issues that I think are pressing, so I will take those on.
In cases where it’s a nonprofit working on things that I feel are outside of issues that I consider most pressing, I tend not to take it on because the opportunity cost of taking on a job like this is very high.
It would just absorb my time, and it’s almost guaranteed that some other opportunity will come along in the near future – and I want to be available for the really good ones.
Q: What resources would you recommend to freelancers who wish to leverage their freelance careers for a positive impact?
The resource would depend on my feelings about what that individual person needs. For a one-stop shop or something that’s a big project like transitioning your career, I think the only resource that I could recommend is the 80,000 Hours Career Guide. But that’s really only right for people who know that they’re ready to make that shift.
There are many other resources, which might be more appropriate for people who need to discover a bit more about EA before they make any commitments.
Q: And finally, in your opinion, what is the one book everyone should read about effective altruism?
Well, for me, the book that gave me the warm introduction was Doing Good Better by Will MacAskill. Alternatively, I would say his more recent book What We Owe The Future is a more up-to-date version of effective altruism thinking and priorities.