Public Access Design

CUP is seeking collaborators for the next Public Access Design projects. Public Access Design is a 4–6 month long collaboration between CUP staff, a designer (or design team), and an organization advocating for community change, resulting in the creation of a booklet that breaks down a complex policy issue. 

Public Access Design program is for advocates who have a pressing issue that could benefit from a visual explanation. Topics are concise in scope and scale, and focus on immediate issues that are affecting communities. 

CUP defines policy broadly. Topics can address: policies (for example, rent stabilization law), systems (for example, how juvenile justice works), or processes (for example, applying for asylum). The explanation of the policy, system, or process must meet a social justice goal and the needs of a marginalized community (including low-income, immigrant, and communities of color, among others).

While the effects of public policies can be widespread, the discussion and understanding of these policies are usually not. We aim to make information on policy truly public: accessible, meaningful, and shared. We want to create opportunities for designers to engage social issues without sacrificing experimentation, and for advocacy organizations to reach their constituencies better through design.

Past projects have covered things like: 

Project topics should not be:

  • promotional/lobbying materials for campaigns
  • marketing materials for programs
  • resource directories
  • plans or proposals (for example, a proposed policy change)
  • about laws that haven’t been passed yet

Who Should Apply?

CUP is looking for community and advocacy organizations working on complex policy issues that need visual explanation.

Organizations should:

  • Work with a community that would directly benefit from the publication and have a plan for distributing the completed project to them.
  • Have already been working on the topic and have experience informing and engaging audiences on it.
  • Have the knowledge and experience to lead a “teach-in” at the beginning of the project, where they teach CUP and the designer everything we need to know about the project topic.
  • Be engaging the primary audience of the project. Advocates are responsible for recruiting participants for two community sessions over the course of the project. Participants should be from the project's primary audience and will be compensated for their time.
  • Have a committed project lead that can work on the project and attend all meetings. Meetings happen about every 2–3 weeks over the course of 4–6 months. This person should be a paid member of the organization's staff and this project should be part of their work.
  • Be interested in engaging in a collaborative design process and in explaining an aspect of public policy.
  • Organize a launch event to formally announce the completion of the project.
  • Be based in New York City
  • Be a nonprofit 501c(3)
  • Not have collaborated on a Making Policy Public or Public Access Design project in the last three years

Note: Topics can't change over the course of the collaboration. CUP will select an alternate organization if a selected organization's topic changes or is no longer relevant.

How Does it Work?

Advocacy organizations and designers respond to CUP's open call for Public Access Design.

A jury of designers and public policy experts use specified criteria to select one to two community organizations. They then select 8–10 designers to be Public Access Design fellows. Public Access Design fellows are the only designers considered to collaborate on Public Access Design projects.

This years's jury is:

Each project team engages in a 4–6 month collaborative process. Projects will begin in January 2022 and end in June 2022. Please note these start and end dates as you consider the timeline of your project topic and whether it is the right fit for this program.

CUP manages the collaboration, oversees all aspects of production, and provides art direction, research, copywriting, and additional support as needed. Advocates receive 1,000 free copies of the foldout poster to distribute directly to their constituents and networks. Public Access Design Fellows who work on a project receive a $4,000 honorarium.

Learn more on the CUP Website

Project Formats

Organizers can choose the media format that best meets their needs from four options, each designed to be easily completed within the 4–6 month project timeline. 

The formats offered this year are:

  • Folds: A pocket-size print graphic that unfolds to 11.5" × 21"
  • Pages: A 3½" × 5½" 10-page print publication

Click here to see more examples of past projects and formats.

Application Criteria

  • Is the topic clearly articulated and addresses a social justice issue?
  • Is the issue well-defined and limited enough in scope to work within the Public Access Design format?
  • Would a visual tool help make this topic more accessible to the target audience?
  • Is there a clear target audience with a clear need for the tool?
  • Does the organization have a meaningful connection to or is a part of this audience?
  • Does this project have the potential to cause harm, particularly to people with marginalized identities?
  • Is there a clear distribution plan?
  • Does the organization have expertise in this topic?
  • Does the organization and its work address systemic inequity?

To learn more about each of these criteria, click here.

Application Timeline and Deadline

  • August 5, 2021 — Call for Public Access Design proposals opens!
  • August 12, 2021 — Optional webinar for advocate applicants
  • September 20, 2021 at 12:00pm EST — Call for proposals closes (ORIGINAL DEADLINE of 9/13 EXTENDED!)
  • Late October 2021 — Jury meets to review applications and select finalists
  • Early November 2021 — CUP interviews finalists
  • Early December 2021 — CUP notifies selected applicants 
  • January 2022 — Public Access Design projects are announced!

Note: CUP is happy to consult with organizations on project proposals. Don’t hesitate to email us at if you have questions or need help! We can't respond to requests for feedback on application content after September 7, 2021, so please plan accordingly.

We use Submittable to accept and review our submissions.