GA alum Advocates Importance of UX Design in Cambodia

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Since graduating from GA DC’s first UXDI course last year summer, Nina has honed her skills with freelance gigs, one of them at a big political consulting firm. When Nina wasn’t freelancing or leading a Code for America chapter, she made time for Visual Design this spring. Since her second GA graduation, she’s been exploring the nonprofit space by working with the Asia Foundation. After her work in Cambodia, Nina is considering other ways she can share the value of good UX in DC and beyond.

Keep up with Nina on Twitter @nbaliga1.

What were you doing before you came to GA?

I was a freelance UX designer and digital strategist. Prior to doing freelance UX, I was working at several digital marketing agencies as a project manager/account manager/digital strategist.

What did you choose to take a course with us?

I wanted to develop my portfolio to make myself more marketable. I also wanted to leverage the GA network to make more contacts to increase my number of freelance gigs.

You also enrolled in Visual Design earlier this year. What motivated to take another course?

I always felt like my visual design skills were the weakest part of my portfolio. I wanted to improve those skills to make me a more well-rounded UXer.

You just returned from Cambodia. Tell us about your trip.

Long story! Best to read about it on my blog, ux-in-cambodia.tumblr.com. It’s a 15 minute read from start to finish.

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Working with the team in Cambodia

How did you get your gig with The Asia Foundation?

I’m a Brigade Captain for Code for NoVA (Northern Virginia) which is part of the larger Code for America network. I heard about the opportunity through the Code for America network, and just applied from there.

You’ve also been working for Blue State Digital. What is your role there? How’d you get it?

BSD was looking for a Senior UXer for their DC office. I wasn’t quite the right fit for that role, but they had a steady stream of UX work needs in their DC office. They asked me to come on as a freelancer, which fit right in with the path I was looking for anyway. I’ve been doing work on and off for BSD since October last year. I got to work on several projects including leading the UX for the redesign of the United Way website, and smaller projects for Google, Kaiser Permanente, Council on Foreign Relations, and MIT, among others.

You’ve worked with a foundation and a consulting firm. How are the working environments different for designers?

I don’t want to make broad brush strokes about the difference between these two, since the projects themselves are so different. The work I did with the Asia Foundation had very specific parameters, because it came from one funding source that was completely outlined and guided by the proposal that was submitted and approved. Working with various agencies has meant that I’m taking on multiple clients at any one time, with each project being so specific to that client’s needs and the agency’s desires for them.

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Inspiring notes during a long brainstorming session

It can be hard to convince people and organizations about the need for good visual and UX design. How do you try to educate colleagues and clients about the value of your work?

Trainings and one-on-one conversations with key players. I think people want to learn about UX, but just don’t understand how it can fit into a process, so getting key people into a room and teaching them how UX can be integrated into the overall project can prove to be a valuable use of time.

The best way to get those players in the room? Have one-on-one conversations with organizational leaders to get their buy-in.

What’s next? What kind of projects are you looking for?

I’m continuing to look for more freelance work in the DC area and abroad. I really enjoyed working in the NGO world, especially seeing how technology is completely changing the developing world. There is a huge opportunity to educate and bring good UX into these countries.

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Leading a UX session in Cambodia

How do you keep your skills fresh?

I follow UX thought leaders on Twitter, and subscribe to several newsletters. I also keep in touch with my UXDI classmates through Slack, and they’re always sharing the latest resources that they’re coming across. When I have down time, I create other projects for myself to work on to keep up my coding and Illustrator skills. I’m trying to carve out some space to focus on Sketch now.

Who is your favorite teacher and why?

Faz. I spent the most time with him since it was an immersive class. He had a well rounded UX arsenal ready to shoot when any questions were asked. This also meant that you had about 3 perfectly legitimate and contradictory answers to any one question. But, that’s the nature of UX! And probably one of the most valuable lessons I learned in the class.

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