22 July 2022
18 Mins Read
Documenting The Legend of Big Cabal Media: A Chunk of Tech Insights With A Mixture of Fun
We’d like to meet all of you.
Osaz: I’m Osaz and I work as a product designer at Big Cabal Media.
Kevwe: My name is Ogini Oghenekevwe but you can just call me Kevwe. At BCM, I’m a graphic designer and illustrator
Debo: My name is Adebowale Adegoke, I work as a graphic designer at BCM
Celeste: I’m Celeste Ojatula, a brand designer here.
Tunta: Hi, I’m Tunta and I’m a junior product designer.
Barbara: My name is Barbara Stephenson and I am a product designer at BCM.
Dayo: My name is Dayo and I’m a brand Designer at BCM.
It’s nice to meet all of you. First, I’d like to understand Big Cabal Media as a whole. What is Big Cabal Media?
We are an African media-tech company and we create content, brands, and products for the new generation of African digital-first content consumers. Simply put, we are focused on telling African stories: stories of what happens in tech and culture.
We achieve this with our publications — TechCabal and Zikoko. Also, we have a tech ecosystem consulting arm, TC Insights, which informs our published data and reports and also serves in partnership with several clients. We also have a production and creative studio, Cabal Creative.
The design team sits at an intersection of the different arms of businesses under Big Cabal Media. This also sometimes extends to a few clients’ work.
Nice! Let’s talk about Cabal Creative. What’s it about and what kinds of clients do you work with?
Dumebi: Cabal Creative is composed of the video production team and the design team. However, functionally speaking, it’s more of the video production team. This is because we actively seek and do a lot of clients’ work with the production team. For example, last year, we did a TV commercial production for a company and several other works for other brands through Cabal Creative. Cabal Creative also produces all of our video content and our shows across TechCabal, Zikoko and TC Insights..
Last year, we had a hybrid event which was the Future of Commerce, and Cabal Creative produced all the content; we recorded and live-streamed the event as well. So that explains why I said that functionally, Cabal Creative is mostly the production team. For the design team, we’ve got our hands full with internal BCM projects, so we don’t take a lot of external projects.
Dumebi mentioned that the design team sits at the intersection of different business areas of Big Cabal Media, how does that function in reality?
Celeste: One major part of our culture is ensuring that, if a team member isn’t around, everyone can still function properly. There are requests from different departments within the team, and usually, how we work is we interchange tasks. While one person handles a task this time, another person handles it the next time. The essence is to
ensure everyone has a bit of knowledge of each task when it comes in.
So technically, we work cross-functionally. It can be exhausting sometimes but also fun because you get to work on a lot of projects across different teams. And you also get to collaborate with different designers.
Osaz: In addition, we try to ensure that people from other teams break down their tasks. You give us a breakdown of what you’re trying to achieve and what is required from the design team. When it reaches our desk, the tasks are assigned based on who’s free or who can handle it more efficiently, and it just cascades down like that till it’s done.
Okay. So that means no one is tied permanently to an aspect of the business?
Dumebi: Not at all. Although, for example, some designers do a lot more TechCabal-related designs, and others do a lot of Zikoko-related designs. But across the team, we all get involved in different kinds of designs, as Celeste said.
But there’s a clear demarcation between our product designers and brand designers. Our product designers work on our websites (TechCabal and Zikoko), our newsletters, and products which I can’t mention because we are just about to launch some of them. But then they get support from the brand design team when they need graphic assets for the products they are working on.
This looks flexible and interesting. You’ve mentioned a lot of pros, but are there any challenges this structure causes? And how has the team solved them?
Dayo: Sometimes, you can get overwhelmed because you’re working on so many projects at once. But that’s where the collaborative part comes in as you can seek help from other team members. Although there are some situations where everybody is swamped, so you’re stuck with managing the project you’re working on and trying to find ways to elevate the work you have to do.
Another challenge you can face is having to switch your brain from one aspect of design to the other. For instance, I can be working on something about products and at the same time, I have to work on a Zikoko animation.
Debo: To personalize it, I think trying to manage those tasks effectively is one of the challenges I’m facing—deciding what’s a priority and what I can suspend till some other time. Then, being a generalist comes with some cons as you’re not able to go deep on a specific task because you have to do so many other things.
Kevwe: As an illustrator, it can get overwhelming on days where there are a lot of requests, as I will have to do multiple illustrations every day. Although I enjoy the work, it still makes me feel burnt out sometimes. Yet, you have to deliver appropriately as the team would notice when you deliver below your usual standard.
I just try to reach out to other people to help out and give them the right direction as well, so the work can remain consistent.
Osaz: I think working with templates has also been helpful due to the volume of work. We also teach other teams to edit the template themselves when needed. This reduces the volume of average-impact work that crosses our table.
So, what’s the design process whenever a new task comes to the team?
Dumebi: To paint a picture, we use two important tools for team management. One is Slack, where we communicate and the other is Airtable, which is for project management. On Slack, we have a public design channel that consists of everyone in Big Cabal Media. There, we have public conversations and general reviews of design assets that we have shared with the owners. We also have a private design channel where we (the design team) have conversations, check-ins, and first review, before the public review.
Canva templates have also been helpful. Canva is a lifesaver for us because it’s easy for us to create a lot of templates with it. We can easily design backgrounds on Photoshop or Illustrator, and then create templates on Canva with it. All the editor has to do is switch things up, change images or change the text.
Summarily, if anyone in the Big Cabal team needs a design, they brief it in the design request form which gets to our Airtable. We then assess it to know the level of urgency it has. Also, we try to figure out the priority of the assets requested to be able to rightly judge what comes first and what goes out last.
Once a project has been approved, we assign the tasks within the team. And if there are multiple projects at hand, we can have conversations to choose who is best to work on them, or sometimes team members volunteer to work on particular tasks.
When the designer is done with the design, they share it on the private design channel. There, we all review, give feedback and rework the design before sharing it on the general channel for further reviews, if there are.
Kevwe, for illustrations, how would you describe your process from getting the brief to the final submission?
Kevwe: Most of the time, the briefs I’m given are usually a mixture of illustration and design like they probably want an illustration on a design. So, first, I go through the brief to see if there’s anything I don’t understand, or if there’s anything important that’s missing. If that’s the case, I ask the person who briefed me for more clarifications on the purpose of the design or what the illustration is for. That gives me a clearer understanding of what to do.
When I’m done with the design or the illustration, I send it to the design team channel so everyone can pitch in their reviews and critics. After working on the suggestions, I send them off to whoever briefed it and whoever made the request.
Is there any opportunity for the task owner to chime in?
Kevwe: Sure. The person can chime in at the beginning to ensure there’s no back and forth while in the middle of the design process. I get all the information I need at the beginning so that I know you are getting exactly what we discussed. In case of misunderstandings, we try to fix them—but still, let them know the best way to address it going forward.
Dumebi: In addition to what Kevwe said, we also have to educate the wider team on proper terminologies to use when briefing a request, because we’ve had a case of using “animation” instead of “illustration” and that caused some confusion in the past.
We also encourage people to attach visual references when briefing requests. This could be references about something that has either been done in the past or something related to your request.
It’s clear what the illustrators and motion designers do. But what do brand designers do on the team asides from working on assets?
Celeste: In summary, the brand designers ensure that the brand perception is well maintained. For instance, we have the Naira Life template. We create templates for a lot of categories. So, if one of the people that handle the Canva version of those template messes up the alignment or do something off-brand with the design, the brand designers fix this. We come up with art direction generally for the brand.
For Zikoko, we are looking at quirky designs.
“How do we improve on what Zikoko looks like in terms of brand perception?”
“How do we come up with other colors?”
“How do we spring up other ideas that can make the design more exciting?”
“How do we make people see a design and immediately know that it’s Zikoko or TechCabal?”
That’s a summary of what we do in the brand aspect.
But when it comes to clients’ work, we’ve done some work that had to do with the brand itself, such as coming up with another logo and working on all of the other assets for that brand. Right now, we are currently reworking BCM’s brand guide.
Here’s just a quick relaxing moment before we proceed. Everyone has to answer the question at the same time.
Who is the team’s clown or the funniest person at work?
Who is the team’s foodie?
Who is the best-dressed person on work calls?
Who carries work on their head?
Who is the team’s bookworm?
Who takes life seriously?
Who is the quickest to fight or get dragged on Twitter?
Who’s the baby girl or baby boy of the team?
Everyone: It’s between Kevwe, Tunta, and Barbara
What tools do you use that make collaboration at work easier? You’ve mentioned Canva, Airtable, and Slack. What other tools do you use?
Dumebi: We use Figma and Adobe suite. Debo specifically loves to use Affinity Designer. We also use everything in Google Suite.
One of our core values in BCM is documentation. We actively document how we work. We have documented OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) that guide our goals for the year. We have individual KPIs and every member knows the things they’d be assessed by during our appraisals. So we make sure we are aligned towards hitting the goals.
Is there a way to measure the impact or influence of design when making business decisions?
Dumebi: As I mentioned earlier, we work with OKRs. We start by looking at the OKRs of the business — what are the business goals and what are the objectives of the other teams? The two major areas we are very particular about across the board are revenue growth and audience growth across our platforms. So, we design our OKRs with this question, “How do we contribute to designing products and assets that support growth in these two areas?”
From the OKRs, we set individual KPIs and we simply track that. Some of these KPIs are shared across the team and some are for individuals. Every quarter, we have a review where we present how far we’ve gone with our OKRs, and the challenges and discuss how to do better as a team.
Then, we use those learnings to set goals for the next quarter.
This leads to the next question. How large is the design system or brand guideline at Big Cabal? And how do you scale it?
Dumebi: Expanding and scaling our design systems is one of our major goals this year. Right now, our design system is not exactly unified, so it’s like we have a brand identity guide for Zikoko and another for TechCabal.
TechCabal as a brand has evolved beyond what the document currently states, so we are working on updating that. So at BCM, we are working twice as hard to update our brand identities and design systems such that if everyone on the team leaves, a new set of people will come and be able to just have a look at the design system and carry on from day one. This ties back to documentation as one of our values.
We aggressively document such that if anyone is going on leave, it doesn’t handicap the team. Nobody works in a silo, we are all aware of what everyone is working on and we all have access to files across the team.
Nice. Now, let’s talk about hiring. What’s the process of hiring a new design team member?
Dumebi: If we have a hiring need, we prepare the job description for the role and communicate that to the Talent team who will prepare the brief. We’ll then design a poster to advertise on socials. We still use Airtable for sorting requests. So typically, we have an Airtable form that has a bunch of relevant and culture questions. The applicants are also required to include their portfolio and CV in their application.
Once closed, we sort internally and select a bunch of candidates who we now schedule interviews with. We have two interview stages — one is to check for competence and the other is to confirm culture fit. Most times, after the competence interview, we send a test from which we will select those who make it to the culture-fit stage.
The first stage of the interview might just be with the HR and Head of Design. But we usually involve a couple of stakeholders in the culture-fit interview. Once the best person has been selected, an offer is made to them.
Typically, we have a 2-week onboarding period and during that period, we don’t assign any tasks to the person. The onboarding program is robust, so they use that period to get familiar with the business and with how we work.
That’s quite detailed. So what team activities do you hold as design teams? Critic sessions? Stand-ups?
Barbara: Our culture is such that anyone is free to drop any design at any time and everyone can comment and give feedback anytime as well. However, officially, we have monthly review meetings where everyone presents what they’ve done for the month and how it affected them; what went well and what didn’t; what could have been done better. And we’ve been trying to hang out physically for a while, but it seems everyone is just scattered in different locations (We mostly work remotely). Hopefully, that happens soon enough.
Dumebi: In addition to what Barbara said, we have our weekly check-ins. Every Monday, we have our design check-ins which, to me, is more social interaction. Half of the meeting is spent catching up on what’s going on in each other ‘s lives. Then, we check what each person has to work on for the week and give a progress report on how the past week was.
On Wednesdays, we have product design check-ins which for the most part, we just spend on Figma, using the audio chat feature, gisting as we work. The idea is that during that time, we can catch up on new features and learn about the new things that are happening.
Finally, in one word or phrase, what is it like working on the BCM designs?
Kevwe: Challenging in a good way.
Celeste: Oops Doops (Hehehe)
Tunta: I agree with Barbara and Kevwe, but I’d also say stressful. There are so many meetings, especially with the product teams.
Dumebi: It’s hard to find one word, but I’d say stimulating and exciting. Working with this team has made me grow in more ways than one. I’m designing and managing the teams and am also involved in both brand and product designs. It’s quite fulfilling working with these awesome people.
One interesting thing about our team is that half of us are ladies, we have badass ladies that are designers. When I started designing, it was very rare to meet a lady who was a designer. The design team is composed of 4 guys and 4 ladies and the BCM management team is about 60% female.
Osaz: Really, one word cannot do justice. It’s like there are great expectations but not in a way that is wicked or unrealistic as it is in some other places. You can see everyone else like a superhero and then, I start to think “How do I keep up with these people?”. So there’s this mental pressure to just do good work. If there’s ever a way to describe how superheroes feel, this is it.
Big Cabal Media (BCM) is building a next-generation African media-tech company, creating content, brands and products for Africa’s new generation of digital-first content consumers. BCM comprises leading digital media publications, TechCabal and Zikoko; content studio Cabal Creative; and, digital economy consultancy TC Insights