I actually had an epiphany about this topic while I was having my bath, you might as well not take me seriously. And yeah, I used to be certain that AI will put designers out of the market.
AI (artificial intelligence) has become an over-hyped buzzword across many industries, and the design world is no exception. Wikipedia defined Artificial intelligence (AI) as intelligence exhibited by machines, like literally. Think about it! It has many applications in today’s society with its most common usage in medical diagnosis, electronic trading platforms, robot control, and remote sensing. More importantly, AI has shown us a path to how information can be aggregated, to a point where machines can mimic almost any intuitive decision that comes naturally to humans ( or mammals). On the other hand, we also have Internet-of-Things (IoT)—electronic devices communicating seamlessly with each other in a similar manner as in human communication.
How does any of these help designers build better identities?
Designers empathize with user-goals and objectives to solve their problems. Often times, designers are caught in the tussle of figuring out how to match them with business or social impact goals. This makes designers fall back to user research and analysis to find patterns that provide insight into what users might want or need. Sometimes, I read design case studies on Medium and other platforms and I am shocked at the user research pool. For a product that is going to be used, or at least you hope it will be used by millions of people, your user test sample is just 10 people? All of whom are your friends or people you know?
Seeing that the enormous amount of interconnected devices allow for huge chunks of data to be shared amongst users (IoT enabled), we can implement AI algorithms to help aggregate them into user data models that can help inform us on user needs and wants. So the question worth asking is ‘How can designers leverage AI to help them make better human-centered design decisions backed with data (big data maybe)?’
New brands spring up every day and old ones rebrand themselves, putting designers in the loop of getting brand identities that are ever-evolving with people, trends, and technologies. With AI, designers have a pool of available data to help build intuitive solutions for new brands and also use the same to rebrand legacy brands with better identities. Designers working with AI can create designs faster and cheaply due to the increased speed and efficiency it offers. The power of AI will lie in the speed in which it can analyze vast amounts of data and suggest design adjustments.
Before now, the issue was over the inability of designers across fields to collaborate effectively, today designers are faced with an even more daunting task; collaborating with machines to co-create solutions. Designers need not worry. AI and robots will not replace us—at least not in the short term. Instead of being a threat, augmented intelligence will present a series of exciting opportunities.
Leveraging those design opportunities is not going to happen by magic, but with designers co-creating with AI as our job sits in the cross hairs of art, science, engineering, and design. Technology in the past made us stronger and faster. AI will make us smarter. We just need to wait a little longer…
PS: I am no AI expert, I pretty much know nothing about AI & Design but this is just my two cents!
By Yemi Fetch, Creative Director, Freak Creative Limited.
It starts with baby steps.
I’m usually fascinated by kids who try to act all grown up while mimicking every step of their parents. They dress, talk and walk like them and after all the charades, kids remain kids. Nothing changes. At the end, this mimicry only reminds us of their parents.
More often than not, children learn by keenly observing grown-ups and imitating every move they make. The practice is as old as human existence. This very approach is also noticeable amongst adults, especially young adults looking to navigate a new field. We tend to understudy those who have gone before us and mimic them. We take on their style, processes and even present ideas like them.
The approach in itself is not bad. As a matter of fact, it is helpful. When properly observed, you not only avoid making the same mistakes as your mentors, but also get exposed to intricate details of their workings.
In my opinion, if experience is truly the best teacher, benefiting from other people’s experiences should be a compulsory course. The reason is simple; we may not live long enough to gather all these experiences ourselves, therefore, it’s only natural for beginners to copy experts as they aspire to achieve the same level of greatness.
So, It’s no surprise to see young designers who learn by replicating the works of some advanced designers. As starters, venturing into a new discipline is hard; sometimes as hard as Olumo rock. To alleviate the pain and avoid wandering, we learn by duplicating existing ideas or projects – find what looks great, download and recreate. It makes the burden a lot easier to bear. And not just that, beginners tend to learn faster by recreating existing works of an expert.
However, depending on the signature works of experts robs you of your voice. As you acquire different voices of your favourites, you are likely to start producing noise. And the implication can be devastating; everytime you recreate a favourite designer’s work and share with your audience, you lose a piece of yourself in the process.
The question, however, is: when should a designer stop recreating the works of an expert?
Once you have gone past beginners level, take a break from replicating other designers’ works and focus on creating something unique for yourself. Start a journey towards self discovery/awareness. Look inward to find what makes you stand out. At intermediate level, you should learn to work without references.
The voice of an expert is already established and known to his target audience. Continuous replications of such style therefore means taking up his voice while losing yours. It’s the price you pay to be like him. Imitation makes us lose ourselves in an attempt to be like someone else. And if it doesn’t stop, you risk becoming a lesser version of your mentor, which eternally denies you the joy of creating projects that are reflections of your true self.
To be fair, designers often need to experiment with the works of industry experts in order to learn the ropes. However, once that is achieved, you should place a stop order on replicating the works of a mentor before it becomes a style you are known for. Remember, that style is owned by someone else – the expert. Adopting the same style will only remind your audience of the owner. That’s a terrible place to be.
Design is a creative endeavour; and as such, must be original. As much as there’s nothing new under the sun, design should be new and refreshing to the creator and his audience. This only becomes a reality when design takes up a unique voice – a personal signature. A voice, in design, is the signature style of the creator. This ingredient makes everything delectable even when the idea is as old as Methuselah.
As a Creative, you have to find your voice. This is possible by owning a style. Thus, you avoid assuming the posturing of your mentor. The style has to be consistent and known to your audience.
Some are of the opinion that designers are likely to find their unique voice by narrowing down on skillset. Wrong. Being a specialist can only get you closer to finding your voice. As matter of fact, there are niches within a niche. How far do you really want to go? The point is, you can be a specialist without any traceable or recognizable voice. I know designers who have mastered a niche area but still have no signature style.
A signature style is attainable by consistently doing what you love and sharing with the world. You are free to express your ideas as you deem fit with no restriction whatsoever.
Start by doing it for you. Ignore what works and do what you love. Clients only work with what works, therefore it might be too much risk to experiment with such projects. So I’ll suggest you create a personal project folder where you dump all your personal works. There you can figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. You can rely on intuition to be your guide instead of copying an existing art.
As you continue to create, over time, a similar pattern will emerge and become apparent in all your works. This discovery should lead towards owning a style borne out of your ingenuity. Reinforce this pattern further in your visual communication.
Share your art constantly with your audience until they absorb every part of it. This is very important. You only stop being a lesser version of your mentor when your audience starts taking note of what sets you apart. At this point, they recognise your voice as much as you do.
Clip of Derin and her new team at the office laughing at some joke someone made.
Freeze frame on Derin laughing.
Yup! That’s me. You are probably wondering how I got here. Well, it’s a long story. I warned you ahead. Get comfortable ‘cos this might take a while.
I’m going to divide this into sections so it’s easy to track where you are and know what you’re reading on.
INTRODUCTION—HOW I GOT INTO DESIGN
My name is Aderinsola Oluwafemi, also known as, Atarah. Earlier this month, I got a job as a Product Designer after being in UI/UX Design for about 4-5 months.
Before I officially got into design, I was, and still am, a photographer. I got into photography when I was 13, in 2012, and for a while, all I loved taking pictures of were flowers and other aspects of nature.
After graduating from high school in 2015, I got into event photography. This required me to learn how to design photo books for my clients. From this, I learnt how to do basic designs using Adobe software – Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
Over time, I began to do a few things like flyer/poster designs for my church and friends, social media posts and quotes for my online ministry, t-shirt designs for my Christian cloth-line and other designs requested by the family. I had never actually considered myself a designer. To me, I was just someone who knew how to use Photoshop for things other than photo editing.
I didn’t have a laptop of my own. My old one had developed issues in 2016/2017 so I used my mom’s laptop for all my design and photography work. 2018, I moved out of Lagos, and while transporting our stuff from the old house to the new one, the screen of my mom’s laptop got bad. It was impossible to see anything on it, let alone, design anything using it. We couldn’t get a new one so whenever I wanted to design, I would have to connect the laptop to the TV via the HDMI cable and use the TV as a monitor.
Fast-forward to early 2019, I officially decided I wanted to be a designer after befriending someone who was passionate about design and a great designer. He helped me improve on my skills and constantly motivated me to be better.
GETTING INTO UI/UX DESIGN
I got into UI Design in October 2019. How and why, I truly don’t know. The funny thing for me is, I had originally decided that I wasn’t going to be a UI/UX Designer for some reason. I had actually made up my mind that it wasn’t for me. It seemed like a difficult and impossible field to get into. I considered sticking with graphic design or becoming a logo designer, but one day—I still don’t know what possessed me—I found myself signing up for the Daily UI challenge and downloaded Adobe XD on my mom’s laptop.
My first challenge was to design a sign-up screen, but ended up going further than that and designed a few screens for a travel app. I was quite pleased with myself and realized that UI Design was probably going to become the love of my life. There was a time in my life where I felt less than everyone else because I didn’t go to University. But after discovering UI/UX, I didn’t care anymore. I had found something I loved to do and I didn’t need to go to school to do it. As much as I love photography, it never really gave me the amount of joy and peace UI does. There’s just something about creating something beautiful that makes me happy and fulfilled.
I decided that for my second attempt at UI, I was going to redesign the interface of one of my favourite apps – AnyBooks. It wasn’t really easy to do because of the whole laptop situation. Plus, where I lived, power supply wasn’t constant so it was difficult to design regularly. We also had guests staying over and whenever there was light (mostly at night), the TV was in use. The only way I would get to design was by waiting for everyone to go to bed (which was usually around 11pm/12am) and then I’d have the TV all to myself. This was basically my design routine until I was given a laptop in December as a Christmas present.
I finally completed and posted my AnyBooks redesign online. It was then that I officially joined the Design Twitter community and made a number of amazing friends who have contributed a lot to my growth.
A few days after my AnyBooks redesign, one of these new friends – Abayomi Semudara – called me “The UI Queen”. I didn’t believe I was because I was literally just a few weeks into UI, but I went ahead to make it my name on all possible platforms as per taking after my Father and calling the things that aren’t as though they were (Romans 4:17) 😅. On that day, the identity “Atarah, the UI Queen” was born.
THE IMPACT OF GREAT FRIENDS AND A DESIGN COMMUNITY + GROWING AS A UI/UX DESIGNER
All this while, I was only really involved in UI Design, but as my network of designers grew (most of them being UI/UX Designers), I began to understand what exactly UX is and how important it is. In my quest to know more and not really knowing where exactly to start, I began to ‘famz’ people 😂. I hopped into the Twitter DMs of every UI/UX Designer I admired and made every single one of them my design parents (a friend of mine recently called me a Reverse Abraham – the daughter of many nations 😂😂).
I can’t stress how important it is to have a network and community of designers – especially ones in the same field as you. While there are so many of them who have helped and are still helping me a lot on this journey, I have to give a special shout out to Daniel Abayomi, Mudia Imasuen, Aanu Sebiomo and Wiz. These guys contributed and continue to contribute a lot to my growth as a UX Designer. They want the absolute best for me and never fail to create time to answer questions I have, review work I’ve done, call me and basically give me premium UX masterclass sessions. They’ve had my back from the start and I’m so grateful for them. If you’re reading this, which I’m sure you are, I love you guys ❤️.
I was invited to join the Àşà Coterie community in November and was made a community manager soon after. It’s been an amazing experience and has exposed me to a lot of great designers. The community has contributed a whole lot to my growth, especially in terms of knowledge. There’s this thing we do – started by Dumss – where we have to read at least one design article a day and post what we’ve read in the Whatsapp group. I especially love the group for the discussions. I don’t think it’s possible to be a member of Àșà and not grow as a designer. Even my mom acknowledges the impact of being a member there has had on me.
Every designer – especially if you’re new/upcoming – needs a network and community of designers. There’s so much you can learn by having random discussions on various aspects of design.
It’s also easy to get overwhelmed and feel like an imposter. I struggled (and still struggle actually) a lot with this. I sometimes feel like I’m not as good as everyone thinks I am—like there are high expectations everyone has of me and I have to live up to them or I’ve failed. Comparing myself to my friends and role models and feeling like I’m not making any progress. Hearing all these design terms—lmao, the first time I heard of Affinity Mapping I had a ‘hedek’ cos what?—and not knowing what they are, I’ve had to constantly remind myself that learning and growing is a process. I can’t expect to know and understand everything from the onset. I need to take it one step at a time and improve daily instead of trying to go from 0-100 real quick. I’m saying this because there are a lot of people who compare themselves to people who’ve been in the field longer. The fact that you don’t know certain things YET doesn’t mean you aren’t growing or making any progress.
Asides from my friends and community, I learnt a lot by reading. I’m not really one to sit still and watch videos so YouTube wasn’t an option for me. Whenever I come across a subject I don’t particularly understand, I search for articles related to that subject and read up on it. This is the reason I have so many tabs open in Google Chrome.💀
GETTING A JOB
For a while, I wasn’t interested in applying for jobs. I wanted to be a freelancer but then I soon realized that I would rather get a 9-5 design job than stay at home and work. I’d already learnt a lot on my own, with the help of friends online and various resources but I wanted to be in a team with other designers I could actively learn from. I wanted to be accountable to someone.
I applied for a job at a company in January but didn’t hear back. I was presented with a number of opportunities but a lot of them were either looking for someone with a university degree – which I don’t have – or someone who had at least 2 years of experience. Seeing as that wasn’t going to work out for me, I decided to start looking out for internships but there weren’t many of those.
Just when I was about to give up, one of my design daddies – JayKay – sent me a message telling me of a friend of his who was looking for a design intern in Ikeja. I sent in my application and waited to hear back fingers crossed. They responded the next day but Airtel had been playing games all day so I didn’t see their email till I was headed to bed. I was given a task to do and I was to submit on and before 11:59pm the next day – which happened to be my birthday.
People that know me to know that I’m literally always in front of my laptop working on a design. I wake up, head for my laptop and sit there till it’s night and time for bed. I had decided that I wasn’t going to do this on my birthday. The plan was to spend the day with family, eating food and watching movies but I guess life had other plans. I ended up locking myself up in the room (to avoid distractions and conversations) and spent all day working on the task I was given. I finished in the evening but hesitated to send it in. I didn’t think it was good enough. I felt I could have done better but there was no time to start again especially since it had literally taken me all day to complete. I delayed for a while before eventually submitting about an hour to the deadline.
I didn’t hear back for a while. The anxiety was killing me. I didn’t know if I had done a good job or not. I was so stressed gosh 😂😂. But my parents and some friends reminded me to trust in God and that His will would be done. They sent me a few scriptures to meditate on and that helped me calm down.
I eventually got an email from them almost two weeks later saying they would like to interview me via Zoom. I set the interview for the next day. Guys, my boss has the best poker face man. I couldn’t even tell if the interview was going well or not. It was driving me nuts 💀. When my parents asked me how it went afterwards, all I could do was shrug cause I didn’t know.
While I waited for a verdict, I moved to Lagos so I could attend Social Media Week (I got free tickets from a friend – thank you Charles 💛). I packed like I was moving to Lagos for good because I hoped I would get the job and wouldn’t need to go back home after Social Media Week ended.
And that’s exactly what happened. I received a mail asking if I was free to come in for a brief meeting/interview. When I did, I was told I got the job and would receive my offer letter soon. That was probably the happiest day of my life. During all this, I was still under the impression that I was going to be an intern but when I got my offer letter, I realized I was being offered a position as a Product Designer. Why? How? I still don’t know. I’m currently in the process of questioning my boss 💀💀
I absolutely love my job and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with such an amazing and welcoming team. If I could go back in time, I don’t think there’s anything I would change. Everything I’ve gone through – good and bad – has led me up to this point in my life.
If you’re a beginner in this field, I hope my story inspires you. One thing I’ll advise you to do is always share your work. One of the major reasons I’m where I am now is because I shared my work online. I understand the fear of being trolled or receiving negative or rude comments but don’t let that stop you from sharing your work. Always remember that you’re growing. Be proud of where you are (but be teachable and willing to learn and improve). Don’t let anyone bring you down or make you doubt yourself. You may not be where you want to be but you’re on your way there. Don’t give up.
Also, famz all your faves guys. Hop into the dms of everyone you admire and make them love you and loyal to you. This is what I did 💀. A lot of the people you look up to and see as unreachable gods of design are actually very easy people to talk to. A number of them are cool, humble people who are willing to help others grow. Just recognize those who fall into this category and slide into their chats.
Another thing: a lot of us who are just getting into the UI/UX design space tend to start with the Daily UI challenge. I’ve seen people on Design Twitter say that this challenge is useless and doesn’t help beginners build a portfolio. I’ve seen them look down on and talk down at people who do the Daily UI challenge. But don’t let all this talk get to you. All the work I’ve put out are Daily UI challenges – except the AnyBooks redesign – and they helped me build a portfolio that landed me a job as a Product Designer.
If you want to stand out, I would advise treating these challenges like they’re actual briefs you’ve received from clients. This is what sets you apart from others who are doing the same challenges. Don’t just jump in and design. Yeah, it says daily challenge but nobody is actually chasing you to finish the challenge in a day. Take your time. Do research on what it is you plan to design. Understand how the process works. Prioritize the little details. See yourself as the user of what you’re designing. Picture people using the product you’re designing and make let your design decisions be geared towards giving them a great experience. These are the things that help set you apart from the average beginner.
Check out this short Twitter thread for more on this:
You can check out my Disha page to see some of my works.
It is common knowledge that one’s environment at work plays a major role in how effective one is. This information is not lost on designers and their need to be creative, and has led to a spur in modern workspaces across the world. This is especially true in organisations that employ designers and other creative professionals and require them to perform at peak performance.
Creativity, in itself, has been described as a process and also an outcome (a creative solution) and as such, has steps to achieving it. These steps can be broken down into four phases; the Investigation/Research phase, the Unconscious processing phase, the Eureka moment phase and lastly, the Validation phase.
It is important to note that not all designers would admit to relying on a laid down set of rules to creating solutions (this might be because some have a more ‘unscientific’ approach to how they solve problems or express their ideas and are thus unaware of their ‘methods’) but more often than not, the above list sums up their process.
Why is it important to know this process? So, as designers, we can control the process and as business owners, you can foster the process. The latter is given credence by the saying, “What you cannot measure, you cannot manage”. How does one determine how much their work environment either bolsters or hinders productivity in general, and in relation to the creative process?
Needless to say, companies have in recent times grown to prioritise the role of the designer, employers have ‘stepped up’ their workspaces to amplify creativity. Get this wrong and you amplify the chances of receiving meagre returns from your designers, alienating them or worse, you run the risk of watching them move to your competition.
How then can an employer engineer the creative process?
Simple. By structuring the workspace to mirror each step in the creative process. Creativity is the bedrock of innovation and business owners must give room to their designers to do their best work by providing the best incentives and avenues to do so.
The average person performs one of four types of work at every stage during the day; focus work, collaborative work, reflective work and/or socialising [read: play]. These form the basis of a typical workday.
These areas are dedicated to intense focus work designed to leave very little room for distraction. An average person spends at least 50% of their workday in these areas because it facilitates research and brainstorming. It is your typical workstation setup surrounded by people with similar work setups. Some organisations prioritise this and have their people spend more than 60-80% of their workday in these spaces as they give an impression of diligence and focus (albeit sometimes exaggerated) while some offices gravitate towards another extreme providing only focus areas in their workspaces to the detriment of the designer.
These areas foster communication between employees and teams which is a key proponent for good design and creativity. The avenue to share ideas and bounce them off colleagues cannot be overstated and this directly inspires the unconscious processing phase as our minds piece and pair information together as our colleagues dispense them. They are usually defined as meeting rooms, huddle spaces or the unorthodox lounge in more contemporary organisations. Care must be taken to ensure they are evocative and are in no way similar to the focus areas because that can easily negate the essence of such areas.
Easily the most underrated aspect of the modern workspace. Spaces designated for reflection afford the designer privacy from the world. Akin to Archimedes and his popular eureka moment in his bath, reflection areas provide designers with room and avenues to ‘stumble’ on eureka moments that are a sum of all the research and conversations had on a topic. These spaces usually appear as private pods, phone booths and restrooms (no kidding). Underestimate these spaces at your peril.
Socialisation areas (Play)
Areas designated for socialisation between workers in an establishment. It is very likely that a company has more specialists beyond the designers in its ranks and these areas give the designers the opportunity to interact with them in the form of play and healthy conversations. More often than not, conversations had in these areas provide respite to the creative mind of a designer and can unconsciously become a catalyst for alternative solutions to problems the designer is currently tackling.
A summation of these different spaces forms a holistic environment that nurtures and drives creativity. Engineering your workspace to control the creative process is the closest method to building a formula that works.
However, a key factor observed here is ‘Choice’. Studies have shown that creative people are more expressive and spontaneous so affording them the ability to choose what works for them and trusting them to deliver based on that is very important.
It is not improbable that the designer stumbles on a eureka moment in an area designated for focus work but the chances of that happening are slim and the option to arrive at such amazing moments should be left to the designer.
It’s 8:45 am— I woke up after falling asleep in my Uber. “Wait a minute!!! I’m not yet at work?” I’ve been on this trip since 6:15 am.
I’m not sure what I should be worried about, my bank account or my punctuality.
I finally got to work a few minutes past 9. With an eye out for the HR look, I settle down to get a debit alert of approximately N4,000😭.. With no time to worry (and waste), my manager asks me for an update on my progress report on Lattice ( Oga calm down na!).
“Be calm”, I grumbled in my head.
Hungry and stressed from the journey, I’d still need to do what I get paid for. My brain won’t start-up for about an hour—it needs silence from all the honks and exhaust fumes on Lagos roads.
At work, I’d get all sorts of personal messages:
– “Pelumi, your brother has been posted to law school and his fees are about N500,000. so…”
– “Plumexy!!!! How you dey na, abeg my house rent no complete, I fit see like 30k from your side, I promise I’ll return it next week”
– “Plum how far now, are those videos ready, remember we have 6 more to do this week for the speakers coming to minster in church”
– “Babe, you haven’t been talking to me as much as you used to. I think we need to spend more time together and…”
– “Hi Pelumi, please provide the security levy for the month of January — N7,000, plus LAWMA levy of N1,000 making a total of N8,000. Courtesy, your Landlord”
😭😭😭😭 I’m frustrated.
3:30 pm, I’m worried about how long it’ll take to get home. I check Google Maps and develop a mini-panic attack from all the red lines I see everywhere.
On my way home, I struggle not to fall asleep because I’m sitting at the edge of the bus with the door wide open—one wrong move and I’m in the ocean.
Two hours of heat, lots of honks and exhaust fumes, and I’m an hour away from home, Lol.
My bus driver decided to pick up passengers in the middle of the road which is illegal and unethical. He pumped the brakes abruptly and the recoil velocity forced-shut the doors.
Guess what? My leg is by the door and gets caught between—screams everywhere, from only me… I look around to find some sympathy, I wasn’t going to get any. No one noticed. They were either lost in thought or looking the other way.
I cried inside.
I got home after 3 hours of commute, bought food on the way home and slept off on the couch where I had dinner. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating like a bottle of cold water. “When will NEPA bring light now?”
I crawled back to bed hoping to get some sleep. 5 minutes later, my alarm went off, or so I thought. The time definitely seemed short.
My morning prayer sounded like, “Lord, if you can grant me just 2 more hours of sleep, I’ll serve you all my days”
But I had to get up. I wasn’t early yesterday, I can’t be late today.. .
While having my bath, I started to think “Should I order a ride or try to take a bus? If I keep taking cabs, I’ll be over my budget this week ooo. But it’s 6:00 am already, abeg let me order a ride joor, I’ll sleep more and I should make it to work earlier this time.”
it’s 8:45 am, I woke up after falling asleep in my Uber.
“Wait a minute!!!……arrrrggggghhhh”
”Here we go again!”
That’s a short version of what my everyday used to look like. This experience is one of the great many ordeals a lot of people in Lagos go through every day, and it’s not getting better.
I became a designer (by day) because I loved to solve problems and it was one of the platforms I could use professionally. My subconscious has tried, numerous times, to figure out the transportation problem in Lagos but it’s always been a dead end.
Feeling powerless and hopeless about solving this problem make me start to question my problem-solving skills.
I design solutions for various categories of human beings, but solving this problem seems beyond me.
As a designer, I’m well aware that “teamwork makes the dream work”, collaboration is paramount and always necessary. As I work hand in hand with engineers to build solutions, I expect the politicians I pay taxes to, to collaborate to build grand solutions that would make life easier for everyone.
I’m young, I’m energetic. I’m supposed to spend these youthful years experimenting. Finding new solutions to problems and inventing/reinventing the wheel. But I’m plagued with solving “cave-men” problems — electricity, water, food, transportation.
In conclusion, a large chunk of our processing capacity is being used on solving basic issues that shouldn’t be existent. In turn, that makes everyone give less than they can. On a larger scale, it decreases our level of innovation.
Please share your commute-stories with me in the comments and say hi on Twitter.
All great illustrators/designers have one thing in common — society. Society is a subset of habitat, where habitat is a subset of their existence. If you are confused about where I have chosen to go with this, read on.
In 2018. I came across the conversation about the ethics of being a Designer for the first time. It was a series of tweets by Seyi Olusanya, about Designers being required to get licenses to practice for ethical and accountability reasons. Not too long after, I ran into him at Lagos Meet and that conversation came up again. I knew then, it was something to be taken seriously, but I was not too bothered.
Fast-forward to 2019, the conversation found me again. I read Ruined by Design, book by Mike Monteiro, about how Designers “ruined” the world, and what we can do to fix it. Whatever impact Seyi’s tweets had on my consciousness when I saw them in 2018, reading the book, reinforced the gravity of the situation. I needed to take Ethics and Accountability more seriously in my work.
Like a lot, if not all, of designers in Nigeria, I learned my trade on Youtube (plus some paid classes here and there), saw what my colleagues were doing on Behance/Dribbble and shared my fascination with design on Twitter with the occasional rant about clients and how they don’t take us as seriously. However, as I got deeper into understanding this thing I call my passion, realizing the potential it holds, and what it can/will become in the not too distant future, the weight of the responsibility of my job as a designer became more apparent. It’s now beyond pushing pixels, or beefing with CorelDraw users because you think Adobe Creative Cloud is the best thing to happen to design since Paul Rand.
Reading that book shifted something in my head. I began to realize that, as designers, we find ourselves at the intersection of a Venn diagram that includes our employers/clients, the products we build and the users that use them. Thus, making us ethically liable for whatever impact the products (apps, posters, etc.) we design have on users. I realized that because of our unique position as the people who build/design these things, we should be gatekeepers, looking out for the best interest of the users.
We can refuse to work on products/ideas that aim to deceive users (we have seen cases of this with Jumia/Konga Black Friday sales) or misuse their private information (e.g Facebook and Cambridge Analytica saga). We should always look out for the users. What is the point of building a product you can’t be proud of because of its negative impact on society? A product that deceives and infringes on users’ privacy.
I get it. We are all hustling and trying to get this paper. The point of this opinion piece is not to relegate that fact. We all need to eat. However, is it to the detriment of society? Think about it nah. Isn’t this the argument yahoo boys make? The country is bad, and we have to eat. So, damn the ethics?
The design space in Nigeria is “fairly” young and still needs things to be put in place to be recognized as a truly professional career choice. However, while we are working to put these structures in place, where does the ethical argument fit in? Is it too early to begin this conversation?
Nowadays, it is fairly easy to see 7 out of 10 (I have no data to back this up) “Design Twitter” bios with UI/UX Designer or Product Designer. A lot of folks are entering into those kinds of roles. It surely makes sense considering how design and technology intersect. So, for example, we have designers building products for companies like Cowrywise, Piggyvest, Kudabank—products that require users to provide sensitive personal information. There are tons of data that can be collected based on users’ interactions with these products. Who is going to keep these companies accountable when the line is about to/being crossed? Will the designers working for these companies defend the users when their bosses ask them to add features they know will infringe on the privacy of the users? Will they say no when asked to use the data collected for something unethical?
I believe this conversation is way more nuanced, and I can never touch every part of the overall conversation in this piece. My point, however, is that we need to begin talking about the ethical implications of our jobs as designers if we are not doing that already. We need to take that part as seriously as we watch Chris Do’s videos on the business of design or read Michael Beirut’s books on how to make great Brand Identities.
We need to hold ourselves, as well as the people that employ us to build these products accountable. If you think it’s not that deep, just wait till people begin going to jail for unethical practices.
Ultimately, I believe we work for the people and we should care about how our work affects them.
In design generally, psychology plays a major role, two fields in design that heavily leverages on it are User Experience and an element of brand strategy called Brand Archetypes. Knowledge of these two fields is what helps brand/project managers excel at their job and what—always—causes the rift between them and brand designers.
What are they and how do they leverage on psychology?
User Experience design is user experience design (through whatever medium). It is the steps and decisions taken to tailor the relationship between an interface and a user. The interface being anything a user can relate with, ranging from cars, doorknobs, to even showerheads.
Brand Archetypes, on the other hand, are a way to anchor your brand against something iconic—something already embedded within the conscious and subconscious of humanity. In the minds of both the brand owner and the public, aligning with a brand archetype makes a brand easier to identify.
These are some examples of brand archetypes, and some brands and their archetypes:
Brand Archetypes are what determines what your brand’s personality is, it’s the tone of voice, visual design language and a host of others, it can be likened to a spark that comes before a fire during ignition.
First, to correct some wrong notions, UX design is not only for interfaces but user experience design can also be carried out for anything humans (or even animals) interact with, from events, apps, spaces and even physical products.
A couple of examples of a situation where a brand’s archetype and experience design come into play are:
Dove’s way of incorporating their brand’s personality into their website and product design. They majorly use the Innocent brand archetype and it is very obvious in their visual design, tone of voice and general flow for their website, also in the design for their product. the entire thing is designed to make you feel that Dove cares and that Dove only wants the best for you and your skin.
Another example is Backmarket, the bold copy and design influenced by strong user experience design and obviously an even stronger dependence on the brand Archetype.
The copy and visual design are influenced by the Rebel brand archetype, their typography and colour choices follow this archetype.
A closer glance through the Backmarket website would let you have an idea who their target audience is, and how they have done proper UX design and communicate with the right Archetype to them.
Duolingo, an awesome product that’s strong on branding and UX is another very great example of this. While aiming to make language learning easy and accessible they have chosen to use a fun and cool approach; this approach is backed up by the archetype they chose to go with (which in my opinion is majorly the explorer). Across various products and medium, the brand and experience aren’t detached and thus they are able to communicate seamlessly. The tone is also one thing to take note of.
Simply put, the User Experience of a product or service can be likened to the background work, while the Brand Archetype deals with what channels they use in this communication and what design and copywriting choices they take in meeting this goal. The situation where Brand/Project managers, Copywriters and Designers always have issues arise when information about the former or latter are muddy and not concise, where the brand manager is trying to sell a product to a specific niche and the designer and copywriter are not clear on how it should look and work or how it should speak to the audience.
Finally, Apple. I can’t stress how much I love the uniformity in this brand enough. Not much needs to be said about Apple, its show and tell.
Peep the similarity between the iOS control center and Siri Remote. Down to the iconography and button arrangement, it’s ‘One Brand’. The Apple TV button against the Apple TV app Icon. Makes one wonder if they had designers and engineers from different divisions in one room(that’s a crowd). Now have a look at the TV app icon in the third image used in iOS and tvOS from December 2016 to March 2019 against the Home/Apple TV button on the remote. Now that’s a brand that loves its users(and money🤧)
In whatever product or service an entity might decide to offer users, there should be a meeting point between these two at the core of any organization. You can’t have users feeling disconnected when interacting with product and organizations, it throws the entire brand off balance. That’s why Apple has ecosystems, they have successfully tailored similar experiences across a range of products. The simplicity you feel while holding an iPhone is the same you feel while holding an Apple TV Remote. Imagine having to interface with another Apple device and it feels different from the rest? The experience feels truncated and you do not see the brand as with the same personality as before, it feels more insincere and faked.
I write you this series because I truly understand the struggle of pivoting from good to great. When I started out in my design career, I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. Over the years, I have collected a number of experiences that I think are worth passing along.
I hope you learn a thing or two.
1. You won’t always produce Dribble-Worthy Designs.
I know this may sound strange, but the reality is even the best designers have to compromise with a lot of things in the world of work. You will create designs that you are not proud of and that is totally fine – don’t beat yourself up. You will produce designs that look good today, and tomorrow, you’re asking who made this horrible design.
However, you can still win with these not-to-great designs by ensuring the experience is optimized for conversion. Your focus should be on the right metric which is solving business challenges with your design; if you are able to do this even with compromising design quality, you’ve won—just not the way you want to.
2. Be Flexible with your ideas/process.
When you start out, you will receive some thumbs-up and a lot of thumb- down on your ideas and approach to problem-solving. Don’t let the thumbs-down weigh you down. Instead, ask yourself critical questions like “why might this design direction not work?”, “Why does the other solution work?” and “how can you apply these to related design problems?”.
Your ability to keep an open mind when it comes to your ideas and that of others will help you go far real quick. The most important questions to ask are the “why questions”. Once you know why, it would be easier to design creative solutions.
3. Be patient, it takes time.
Like with everything, it takes time. The best designers were once beginners. You will need a lot of time and patience to produce high-quality work. I see a lot of young designers make the mistake of focusing on the shiny finished designs on Dribbble rather than the process.
You see, when you understand the process, you can create amazing things—even by glancing through several designs, you can describe how a design style was achieved. Learning and mastering this takes time, however, once you get the hang of it, you are set for life.
4. You will need an eye for good design.
Forget about using excessive shadows for a minute, and take a look at some of the leading products in today’s market – AirBnB, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Now, try to analyze these products end to end and think, for example, about why the designers opted to display certain menus, first, on mobile.
Think about how everything on the product is interconnected, think about how the business makes money and how the designers ensure the designs help the company increase revenue. This exercise will sharpen your mind and give you a more “productified” mind and approach.
You can also develop your design eye by thinking you were the designer of the product. Look at everything, one by one and then as a whole. The easiest way to distinguish between a junior and senior designer is their use of typography, spacing, colour and alignment. If you can train your eyes to look out for these attributes in your design, you will almost always produce stunning work.
5. You won’t always follow industry best laid out processes.
In the real world of work, your clients will not always have the budget to accommodate your design process. Take heart, it is a universal challenge. You will still be expected to produce quality work that converts even if they have a tight budget.
While you might be able to get away without performing user testing on some projects, the experience and data you have gained from another user testing will come handy when you are making design decisions on projects where you know you might not really be able to test with a lot of users.