User Experience & DesignView profile
We spoke with Oli Gitsham, User Experience Manager at the RNLI as part of the series ‘Design For Good’. The RNLI is a charity that saves lives at sea, powered primarily by donations, the search and rescue service has been saving lives for nearly 200 years.
The purpose of our ‘Design For Good’ content series is to shine a light on how creative innovation can be a driver for positive change. We feature those that are making it happen, those with grand potential. Businesses and individuals that are shaking up their sector and finding ways to do things better, for social or environmental good.
Oli: My name is Oli Gitsham and I’m the User Experience Manager at the RNLI. I have been working in UX for the past 17 years and, for the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of working at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). During my time here I’ve had the opportunity to embed user centred design into the RNLI and to grow our UX team from just myself to a team of four talented professionals working across all of our strategic projects and smaller initiatives.
Oli: The RNLI is an amazing charity with a vital mission – to save lives at sea. We provide lifeboat search and rescue services, lifeguards on beaches and safety education across the UK and Ireland as well as international work. Our organisation is deeply committed to preventing drowning and water-related incidents, making our coastal and marine environments safer for everyone.
Our UX team is playing a critical role in enhancing the user experience across various digital platforms, including our website, mobile apps, and digital systems to serve our users, whether that is supporters, volunteers, or employees. Our approach revolves around empathy, thorough research and iterative design. We take the time to understand the challenges and needs of our volunteers and supporters to ensure that our digital solutions not only meet their expectations but also align with our mission to save lives at sea.
Oli: As a charity, we need to make sure we are spending our supporters’ money effectively which is of course essential but comes with some challenges. Proving the return on investment can often be tricky especially when we are measuring satisfaction rather than financial benefits. As a team we have developed a framework to quantifiably measure the experience of our solutions by regularly measuring the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction of our portfolio of products. This allows us to both benchmark our UX improvements over time and helps to prioritise to the leadership team which systems need further work to be more useful and usable.
Oli: Finding and attracting skilled UX people within a charity budget can be challenging. We often compete with larger, better-funded organisations. Working closely with our suppliers that specialise in UX and understand the nuances of user experience has really helped to increase our reach and attract the best people.
As the team has expanded, we have focussed on ensuring that team members communicate well, share insights, and work cohesively. Despite the team working on different projects, we meet daily to discuss our challenges and opportunities. With tight budgets and quick turnaround, it is especially important that we are all helping and supporting each other to get projects delivered quickly and efficiently. Sometimes getting the whole team together in a room to solve a UX challenge is far more efficient than a single person agonising for weeks over a problem.
Oli: Empathy is essential when designing for good. By actively listening to our volunteers’ stories, engaging in their experiences, and involving them in the design process, we’ve been able to create solutions that genuinely address their pain points and support their invaluable work. Designing intuitive and user-friendly tools can make a significant difference in our volunteers’ experience. At its core it is about practicality, accessibility, and reliability.