One Year of UX Bantu: What I learned
A year ago, I started my very first newsletter: UX Bantu.
My goal was to showcase the stories, thoughts and minds shaping the UX movement across Sub-Saharan Africa.
I will be honest: this was a completely selfish move!
I love learning. I absorb dozens of articles and podcasts on Technology, Design and Product Management. The problem is... Most of them focus on Europe and the US. Occasionally, I could find interesting case studies from India, South East Asia and China. Nevertheless, very few of these were relevant to me as a Designer building a product specifically for Africans.
UX Bantu was then a way to force myself to focus more on African material. It was (and still is) a strong motivation to do a lot of research about what UX means across our continent, and ultimately apply it to my own product.
52 issues and about 600 subscribers later, I want to share the 3 key things I learned this past year.
Design Principles are universal, Design Execution isn't.
It may sound obvious to many, but it wasn't to me when I started UX Bantu. When I joined Kerawa, I thought I would simply replicate all the tactical advice I read and listened, maybe with a few tweaks here and there. I quickly understood that the reality is very different in African countries though.
Africans consume technology in very different ways from what I learned in Europe and the US. As a result, what constitutes a relevant UX for Africans is different from common conceptions in Western contexts. Principles are surely the same, but the way we deploy them is very different from one place to another.
Here's an example. You will read excellent tactical advice on the UX of Fintech products based on iOS apps. When building that Mobile Money solution for, let's say, Mali, you will try to replicate this very advice. Only to realise that in Mali, the primary way users experience Fintech products is USSD... How do you go from there?
We all design for the same outcome: solving our users' problems delightfully. What I learned is that the way we do it is not universal, but contextual.
UX is wider than digital and/or tech.
Yes. UX is much larger than I thought. Designing experiences applies to everything: a website, a street campaign, a mobile app, a bank branch... Focusing more on African experiences has helped understand how wide the UX spectrum is. I now have a clearer sense of how much it matters and what the responsibility of a Designer is.
I could not express it better than Joe Gebbia, Co-Founder & CPO of Airbnb.
To design is to look at the world and ask “Why is it like that? How would I make it different?”— Joe Gebbia (@jgebbia) March 7, 2017
There's no such a thing as Pan-African Design Patterns. For now.
This was my biggest learning. Sub-Saharan Africa is a big multi-cultural place, with thousands of influences.
West Africa went through Portuguese, Spanish, German, French and British influences.
East Africa went through Italian and British influences. It also had significant Indian and Arabic cultural influences.
Southern Africa went through Dutch, Portuguese, British and some French influences. It also hosts an important Indian community.
I probably forgot some influences... But above all these "foreign" inputs, we at core have our own tribal and ethnical roots. We are Bantu, Fula, Oromo, Hutu, Zulu, Akan, and thousands more.
All these influences make it hard to think about truly Pan-African design patterns. At least for now, and here lies one of the greatest challenges of African Designers in my opinion.
In our race to build products that can scale across Africa, we Designers will have to identify Pan-African Design patterns. Identify them, systematise them, then enrich them.
It is a challenge of mine at Kerawa. We cover 6 countries and ambition to cover all French-Speaking Sub-Saharan Africa. I am sure that we will identify some cross-country patterns along the way.
Discovering Pan-African design patterns will be a fantastic learning journey for all African Designers. I very much look forward to sharing these discoveries in the next issues of UX Bantu.
If you're part of the movement, join me in this fascinating journey of learning UX made in Africa. Subscribe here, and get carefully curated stories of what your peers are doing across the continent. Every Friday, 9 AM WAT.
Thank you for being part of the community, and to the next 52 issues!