How we created an ethical networking community using UX principles
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How we created an ethical networking community using UX principles

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Have you ever attended a networking event and felt as if your soul were being crushed? Are you sick of listening to ‘business’ people try to sell you something rather than build meaningful connections? Well, this is how our founders Ruth Hartnoll, Greg Macoy and business lead, Aaron Fontenot felt in 2020. Rather than let it beat them down they recognised this as an opportunity for positive change. They decided to redefine networking and set out to create a community which would allow purpose-driven people to work together to take action and drive positive change.

At our events, participants can;

  • Network with other ethical people – Attendees can create meaningful connections with a diverse network of contacts that can offer potential collaboration and support. 
  • Gain insights – Attendees can hear inspiring insights and real-life experiences from a diverse range of guest speakers including industry leaders, small business owners and social change advocates. 
  • Create change – Attendees are part of the change they want to see. Tackle important challenges and make your commitment to driving impact through actionable next steps and pledges. 
  • Connect with the experts – Attendees can ask the experts about some of the key challenges and opportunities around core issues.

In this article, we will explore how we used our expertise in user experience design to create an ethical networking community that is inclusive, engaging, and impactful.

Members of our ethical networking community introduce themselves.

Members of our ethical networking community introduce themselves.

Remind me, what is user experience design again?

For a more detailed summary of user experience design check out our article on the subject. To briefly summarise, user experience is everything related to a person’s interaction with a product or service. When it has been well designed, it creates a seamless experience which people will love. A product or service with a great user experience will be;

  • relevant and useful to the correct people
  • easy to understand
  • easy to use
  • something users remember
  • cost-effective
  • efficient
  • something users want to use
  • enjoyable for people to use

Three things we did to make Firestarters more inclusive, engaging and impactful

Empathised with our users

One of Matchstick Creative’s core values is to act with empathy, which hugely informed how we developed our ethical networking community. To ensure that our events are empathetic and tackle topics important to our participants, we research our audience, their backgrounds, their lived experiences, their concerns, and their expectations of a community like ours. With this information, we were able to create a variety of personas and journey maps. For more details on both personas and journey maps, refer to our article on designing ethical user experiences.

These assets, commonly employed in user experience design, provided our team with valuable insights into who our participants are and how they may engage with Firestarters. By creating a shared understanding of our audiences and how they interact with the community we were able to make more informed decisions, making our events more relevant.

Purpose-Driven Penny,' a persona representing a purpose-driven business owner.

Purpose-Driven Penny,’ a persona representing a purpose-driven business owner.

Her story

‘Penny is 40 years old and lives in Liverpool. She previously worked as a fashion designer but grew with the industry’s frustrated lack of action on sustainability and tackling modern slavery.

Due to these concerns, Penny started her ethically sourced fashion label based within the Liverpool City Region (LCR). She feels that trying to do business differently is the right thing to do but feels alienated from much of the rest of the industry.

What does she want from Firestarters?

  • To help drive social change
  • To connect with like-minded people
  • To raise the profile of her business
  • To find inspiration


  • Feels stressed
  • Wants to earn a living through ethical business
  • Wants to improve and expand her business
  • Feels like being different is holding her back
  • Needs more support on how to do business ethically
  • Believes in collaboration
  • Passionate about the city
  • Socially and politically engaged’

Ensured Firestarters events are inclusive

We fundamentally believed that traditional networking events can often feel like a closed shop, leaving many people feeling like they don’t belong.  A major contributing factor to this feeling is the lack of diversity. At our events, we emphasise inclusivity as we want Firestarters to be a place where people can have productive conversations whilst being their authentic selves. Achieving true inclusivity is complex, so we take this challenge as an ongoing creative problem to solve. While we know that it cannot be solved overnight we used our expertise in user experience design to make steps in the right direction within our community of change-makers.

Before each event, participants are invited to complete a brief survey which delves into various aspects of their identity, including ethnicity, sexuality, and which industry they work in. This approach allows us to gain valuable insights into the diversity of our audiences. To guarantee the effectiveness of the survey we developed it to be inclusive and sensitive. The survey drew inspiration from the ‘Do Ask Do Tell’ document by Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBT rights organisation, and consulting with the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) consultant, Rachel Gnagniko.

To ensure our diversity was representative of the local area, we sense-checked our participant data with census data from the region. Doing so allowed us to gauge whether our events effectively attract underrepresented groups within the community. Remaining reflective and being committed to making incremental improvements underscores our commitment to fostering a truly inclusive environment.

A Segment of our pre-event survey collecting attendee details such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc.

A Segment of our pre-event survey collecting attendee details such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc.

As part of our commitment to representing the broadest spectrum of people possible, we have created this survey which will help us understand who our participants are and who they are not reaching (yet). All questions will give us an insight into who you are however, you are under no pressure to answer any of these questions, so only be as honest as you are comfortable with.

Create actionable insights

Having spent years attending long, boring networking events but leaving empty-handed we wanted to break the mould. After each event, we create a report with actionable insights for attendees.

During events, we have a dedicated note-taker who records the panel’s discussion. We capture the thoughts of our participants in breakout rooms on sticky notes. At the end of each session, we have hundreds of sticky notes filled with ideas which we can affinity sort into a few key insights. With these insights, we create a report with valuable resources and next steps, empowering our community to start their own fires.

Finally, at the end of each session, the people at our events are invited to sign a pledge to take one actionable step related to the event topic. Signing this pledge is symbolic but helps to create a sense of momentum, helping make our events more impactful.

Key insights from our 'Start-up Culture' Firestarters event

Key insights from our ‘Start-up Culture’ Firestarters event:

‘1. Always work on culture – If companies want to create a positive company culture it should be understood that it cannot be created through strategies, it is something that must be consistently worked on by people at all levels of the organisation.

2 – It’s important that companies focus on being values-driven as there is a real appetite for it both from consumers and potential employees.

3. Difficulty finding investors – It can be difficult for businesses to be purpose-driven as business advisors do not always understand the value of being a purpose-driven business and being ethical can also scare off potential investors’


Too many words to read? Ok let’s sum up 

  • Firestarters is an ethical networking community that addresses purpose-driven issues.
  • Matchstick Creative used user experience design principles to create a community committed to putting people first.
  • To hold our own feet to the fire and ensure our events are truly inclusive we track participant details, ensuring that our audiences are as diverse as possible. 
  • To maximise the impact of our events we record discussions, create insights reports and encourage participants to sign a pledge to take a positive action based on the event topic.

Resources we think you may find useful

There are many great resources available to help you understand more about service design, here are some of our recommendations that we think are particularly helpful;

  • When it comes to all things user experience, Nielsen Norman Group is the gold standard.
  • Stonewall is a truly excellent resource for learning more about LGBTQIA+ issues and how to make improvements within your organisation
  • This article from Survey Monkey is a highly useful resource which provides advice on the best practices for creating surveys 

Ready to start your own fires? Get in touch

Interested in what you’ve read? Want to explore a purpose-driven topic and gain a unique perspective? Get in touch with us and start your own fires.
If you’re looking for insights and top tips from our Firestarters events then follow us on Instagram. To be the first to hear about all things Firestarters, sign up for our newsletter.