Illustrating Hope and Opportunity with Chrysalis

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Susannah Ramshaw, Associate Director, Designmatters February 21, 2017

Designmatters’ 6-week project with Chrysalis – a nonprofit organization in Downtown Los Angeles that provides members of the transient community the resources and support they need to find and retain employment – was a dynamic partnership that enabled students in the Smart Image: Social Impact studio to explore storytelling through a variety of illustration media.

We first connected with Chrysalis’ Marketing and Development department, who invited the studio to visit the Chrysalis headquarters, located adjacent to Skid Row, to learn more about the inner-workings of the institution and its offerings to their clients. The studio faculty, Esther Pearl Watson, challenged students to embrace the field trip to Downtown LA from start to finish: as soon as we stepped onto Metro’s Gold Line train station platform, the illustrators became visual documentarians, sketching morning commuters and urban landscapes in freehand form.

Chrysalis immediately proved itself to be an inspirational place. The waiting room is filled with hopeful clients waiting to meet with employment specialists, searching for opportunities in the computer lab, and perusing new outfits for their upcoming interviews. Caroline Klasey, a staffer of a few years, gave us a tour of the offices, highlighting the Success Bell as the shining beacon of the organization.


The Success Bell is rung by clients when they match with an employer, and their shining moments are documented by Chrysalis through their website and social media success stories.

On the trip home, the studio brainstormed ways to illustrate the clients’ journeys through their incredible transitions. The Success Bell resonated with everyone, and our students developed insightful, empathic visualizations of the clients and the pursuit of their goals.

Students spent a few weeks developing and iterating their concepts, ultimately presenting them to two special guests from Chrysalis and LAMP Community in Skid Row.

From coffee cup sleeves with inspirational messages, to Snapchat filters, to a large-scale mural project, the Success Bell storytelling project was diverse, creative and empowering overall.

Many thanks to Caroline Klasey of Chrysalis and Hayk Makmuryan of LAMP Community for their research and feedback throughout the studio.