Civilla is a non-profit design studio dedicated to changing the way our public-serving institutions work. Here are the nuts & bolts. Get to know us a little better.



a new way forward

In the United States, we have billions of dollars that flow into services every year without significant changes in the quality of life for residents. At Civilla, we wake up every day asking ourselves: How do we find a new way forward so that the way things are does not become the way things will always be?



1 billion people & 1000 lives

Each week we re-dedicate ourselves to a ten year walk to poke the universe. We’ll know that we've achieved this when we have positively impacted one billion people and deeply impacted one thousand lives. It’s also why we named our podcast, One Billion. There is no way we will be able to do this alone. It will take a community of leaders and change makers to rally around a new way forward.



our philosophy


Here is some of the philosophy that grounds our work:

  • Put humans first: Enduring changework is facilitated by a community, not directed by an expert. We seek out the deeply held perspectives of community members by building real relationships on the ground, listening carefully to what people have to say, and working to lift up solutions that are grounded in community wisdom. This allows the individuals who are most directly impacted by the work to shape the design process, the final outcomes, and the stories of the work itself.

  • Commit to longevity & patience: Zero impact occurs if change is not implemented - and sustained. This takes time. We are committed to finding partners and funding models that bridge project phases and ensure changework is able to get pulled all the way through - no matter what.

  • Practice generous orthodoxy: Too much of today's changework is either bound by current constraints or completely dismissive of what has come before. We are committed to honoring the history and context of the organizations we partner with, while also pushing the boundaries of what they think is possible.

  • Arrive with humility: The very nature of changework requires us to start with “I don’t know.” We spend time understanding problems thoroughly before defining and acting on them.

  • Topple key dominoes: There are a million options for where to start when investing time, energy, and resources in changework. We orient around solutions that are tightly scoped and have an inordinate potential for impact.

  • Tell emotive stories: We use storytelling to bring our work to life and rally the hearts and minds of all who are involved. We ditch powerpoint in favor of immersive experiences so that people can not only intellectualize the work, but feel and internalize it. 

  • Forge true partnerships: We invest our energy in developing personal relationships with the individuals we work with. This ensures that we can operate from a place of mutual understanding, respect, and trust. 

  • Learn from nature: We believe strongly that the most scalable and enduring change is rooted in what nature has discovered over the past 3.7 billion years: emergence. As we tackle changework, one of our chief priorities is ensuring that solutions are based in an understanding of the way change scales in living systems.



our namesake

When we launched Civilla, we asked our friend Paul Siebert to gift us a name that represented the essence of what we are creating. He returned two weeks later and slid an envelope across the table that contained a combination of two words: civil and village. 

Civil - reflecting the role of a citizen in civil society. When you look at change initiatives around the globe, they are always rooted in citizen action. 

Village - reflecting the notion that nothing big in the world has ever been done alone. Change is always supported by a collective.

We checked to make sure the url was available (it was!) and we never looked back. Thank you, Paul.



the civilla bird

The official Civilla bird is the Cedar Waxwing, a beautiful bird that we admire for its elegant, restrained, and powerful use of color.  



the civilla family

At the heart of Civilla is a family that wakes up every day to take action. We are a small community of leaders, designers, storytellers, artists, urbanists, social workers, technologists, and troublemakers who have come together in support of Civilla's mission and purpose. Interested in following along? Find us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. That’s where we share-out daily adventures, new learnings, and upcoming fellowship and residency opportunities.



the leadership team



simple rules

Our organization is guided by a set of simple rules:

+ Be welcomed, and welcome others

+ Take one courageous action a day

+ At Civilla, there is at least one person who knows your life story

+ At Civilla, you have to show up

+ We do work that we are proud to put our name on

+ Treat the Civilla space like a national park - leave it better than you found it



A strengths-based culture


We strongly believe that everyone has the capacity to contribute in unique ways, and that change requires people to bring their full selves to the table. We work to create an environment where individuals can lean into their unique abilities and use those strengths to contribute to work that feels meaningful. As a result, the organization has been actively shaped by those who have spent time with us. Whether it was the creation of a poem and mural dedicated to Civilla on our opening day, a song recorded by a fellow before he moved on, or the careful hand-crafting of business cards - these are gifts we hold dear. They remind us of the magic that is created when a group of people bring their whole selves to bear. 




Our studio is based in Detroit, Michigan where we occupy a 10,000 square foot space in the Techtown building. Our studio is a place of meaning and purpose - where people tackle work that feels bigger than themselves and where they find the ability to do that work alongside others. If you are a creative looking for shared space, a leader looking for some oxygen, or a visitor looking for a place to land - don’t hesitate to swing by our front porch which is always open to the public.



dream projects

There are a number of change efforts that would totally rock our world. This is an ever-growing list of projects we’d love to get our hands on:

+ Redesign standardized testing for public school students & college entrance applications

+ Redesign State and Federal tax codes to be intuitive and expand prosperity

+ Design the most elite veterans services experience in the USA

+ Explore the application of emerging technologies in the social sector

+ Reimagine political campaigns to be radically honest and deeply reflective of constituent needs