What does a UI/UX Designer do? And how does that differ in Non-For-Profit Tech?

Creative Design in NFP Tech - Part 1

By Kaira Wong

4 Things I Learned In My First Year As a Designer In The NFP Industry

G’day everyone!

My name is Kaira and I am the User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX) Designer for Orange Sky’s Volunteer Management Platform, Campfire.

As the UI/UX Designer for Campfire, I spend my days doing a lot of problem solving from a design and product perspective and that involves creating mockups, conducting user research, scoping out new features and evaluating existing ones to see where we can improve on.

It’s been just over a year since I started in the Not-For-Profit industry and I’ve learned some incredibly valuable lessons that have definitely helped me grow.

I thought I’d kick off my first ever blog by sharing 4 very memorable lessons which I picked up when I started, and hope that it provides some perspective on what being a designer in the NFP is like!

1. Get comfortable with not always having the answer.

One of the first lessons I learned as a UI/UX Designer working in the NFP space is that not having the answer ready immediately isn’t always a bad thing, even if it sometimes feels like it is. This lesson taught me to look for different ways things could be improved, to understand where and why past efforts have failed to address the challenges at hand.

It taught me that what I’ve tried so far hadn’t worked because there was more to the big picture that I may not have understood, and that there was more to explore before a better fit could be crafted.

There was much about the NFP industry that I didn’t understand when I first entered my role, and this was knowledge that could only be picked up through hands-on experience working with people and partners in the sector. Working through the assumptions, expectations and requirements that shrouded Campfire in its early days discovery phase took a lot of time, wrong turns and questions.

I’ve realised that as I learned to get over the initial discomfort of not always having the answer at the ready, I gained many valuable insights that have helped me make better design decisions as Campfire grows.

2. Treat everything as a source of inspiration

Inspiration, I find, comes from the most unexpected sources sometimes. It was a surprising but welcome discovery that a presentation by an improv group helped me realise just how important language is when coming up with labels and terminology in Campfire.

They taught me to listen to what people were saying and hear the message they were trying to convey, and to emphasise finding words and terms that resonate with our users to use in Campfire. My takeaway from this is that sometimes learning to look past the context in which knowledge is given makes it applicable in scenarios that you wouldn’t have expected it to be.

3. Different opinions matter. A lot.

Ask your Customer and Engineering teams for their thoughts, speak to your users, bounce ideas off folks who may not necessarily have anything to do with your product. I find that as good as it is to speak to users who you know will be using your product, speaking to those who fall outside that boundary opens up channels of discussion that may not have otherwise been realised as they may see it from an ‘outsiders’ perspective.

Tech4Good software doesn’t just cater to one group of users – diversity runs in the blood of the NFP sector and naturally this extends to people who we hope will one day use our platform. Making an effort to understand them goes a long way in helping to shape the vision and direction of your product.

4. Innovation is the real game-changer - always ask ‘what if’ and ‘why not’

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned working alongside Jay, our Product Lead who is a brilliant thinker who always has a solution (or many) ready to bring to the table for every challenge that is raised to him, is that ‘why not’ and ‘what if’ are more than questions. They are mindsets that help us push through limitations that we subconsciously impose on ourselves and our work, so that we may be the ones to help pave the way towards a better version of what exists now.

Without innovation, Campfire may not have arrived at many of our newer additions that have massively added value for our partners, such as the Activities system and many other smaller improvements that work quietly but surely to make our users’ experience on Campfire easier every day.

This wraps up a short post on some of the most valuable (but definitely not the only ones) lessons I learned over the course of my first year working in the tech space of the NFP industry.

It’s been an eye-opening and very exciting year, and I look forward to sharing more of what it’s like from the design and product side of Campfire in future posts!