How To Grow & Empower Local Design Talent


How To Grow & Empower Local Design Talent

Continuous Design
UXDX Community: Africa 2022

With the competitive global jobs market, many local talents are lost to international organisations. But with a growing design community, how can you harness homegrown talent and retain them for local organizations?

In this talk, Dumebi will discuss different strategies to empower homegrown design talent. Focusing on the importance of bootcamps and mentoring, he will touch on:

  • The strength of the local talent on the technical aspects of design (using tools);
  • The lack of understanding of methodologies and design thinking and how you can improve this in your organization through trainings and mentoring; and
  • The future of young designers in Africa

Hi everyone my name is Dumebi Iwuchukwu. I'm currently head of design at Big Cabal Media. Today I'll be talking about how to grow and empower local design talent. To start, about me, fun fact, I love both cats and dogs. I've seen a lot of my friends either love one of the two but I do love both. I've been designing for 10 years now. Currently, I'm the head of design at Big Cabal Media. At Big Cabal Media we publish some tech publications and Zikoko which is a social commentary publication. And in my spare time, I mentor designers on which is about twice a week. And I'm a member of Asa Coterie which is an interdisciplinary community of designers. We have motion designers, 3d designers, all kinds of designers; and we support each other, mentor each other, and you know recommend rules to each other.

So today I want to answer the question or I'd like us to approach this talk in a classic way. We start design projects by asking questions, alright. So the question I want to ask is how might we grow and empower local design talent? Or to put it in another way, how might we grow and empower African design talent? Or we could say how might we improve design education in Africa? Why did I go to design education? Because we are all a function of things we know right, every knowledge we have is cumulative. We are some total of ideas absorbed over the years. The kinds of designers we are is a function of design courses, design influences we've had, mentorship, support we've received as designers. So I'd like to focus on how we might improve on design education in Africa.

So why is this important? First is that in the unemployment Olympics, Africa takes the grand prize. Currently, South Africa leads to the gold medal at 34.4 percent, followed by Namibia at 33.4 percent, and Nigeria and these are the rates of unemployment according to Bloomberg. And these are not beautiful statistics, I'm noticing also the fact that in Africa, a high percentage of the population are young people below the ages of 25 years. Another factor is literacy rates, Africa has the lowest literacy rate of 64% among the continents of the world. And the other point is Africa has a high population about 1.37 billion people in the world are Africans, for context 1 in 6 people in the world are Africans. And an important side note to this is that 40% of this number are under 15 years. Which means that in the next 10 to 15 years, a higher percentage of the adult population of the world are going to be Africans. And with the unemployment rates we're looking at something has to be done about it.

Okay here, so an approach I want to look at is the apprenticeship model right. And, why this is interesting is I'm Ibo/Igbo by tribe in Nigeria. I'm from the eastern part of Nigeria, and I'm Ibo by tribe. Most Ibo people are businessmen, they engage in trade, and one of the hallmarks of Ibo trade and that Ibo people are very successful and they trade all around the world, is the apprenticeship model. So I'm going to tell a story from the context of my tribe and the culture of my tribe. So what happened is, for every young man or every young person growing up in Ibo, there are two pathways. One is getting formal education and the second pathway is business. So what they often do is once a child finishes their secondary school or high school as a case may be, in some cases it's at primary school, they are sent to serve an established businessman as an apprentice. And this apprenticeship usually occurs over the course of seven years. During the course of this time, they work with the master in this context, they work with the master, learn from the master, assist the master during sales, during stock-picking inventory, stocking, and all of that. And the interesting part about this is that after the course of that seven years, the master sets up the protege, gives the protege capital to start their own business and that's the interesting part of this. Now in this case I don't expect a design mentor to give capital to the design protege. But the interesting part about this, is that this system has ensured the continuation of the culture of success within the tribe over the years and over the generations.

Now according to Wikipedia, apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and this often accompanies study. I do love this definition so much because of these two parts; on-the-job training and accompanying study. I do love this definition so much because of these two parts; on-the-job training and accompanying study and I'm going to explain why in a few slides. Now, why did I use this picture here? This is an image of the queen Idia, Queen mother Idia ivory mask. It was made in the 1800s and it's really incredible that a work of this complexity and intricate beauty was made in the 1800s right. And at that time the only way for these kinds of crafts, the Benin kingdom was opened up for ivory carving and bronze works. And according to research over the years, scholars have mentioned time over time that even the best practices in Europe could not beat the practices used in Benin in the 1800s and 1700 right. And how the system was propagated in the community is that they had a community of craftsmen. We have the masters and apprentices, and so the trade continues, the craft continues. So this shows that as Africans we already have a culture of crafts. We have two different countries of Africa we have pottery, we have paintings, and various kinds of artworks alright.

So we're going to look at what is the status quo, or rather what is the way that many people get into design in Africa at the moment. Right now most African designers learn from YouTube tutorials and free online courses, that's their entryway into design. I remember when I got into design 10 years ago, all I had access to was the downloaded YouTube process because at the time I couldn't afford internet. So I had a good friend who downloaded some YouTube tutorials and shared it with me on a hard drive, and for many other people. Now because of this, there are some things that happen which I'm going to talk about here.

The Pros of this process is that it's cheap and it's accessible. It's cheap, it's not very expensive. If you can afford data or a group of people can put data together, download the tutorials and all share and watch together, it's accessible to anyone you don't need to get an admission, you don't need to travel to another city to learn, you can, you know learn it in your own home.

But then it has a couple of cons which is sort of starting the world of design culture or design economy so to speak in Africa. And because the tutorials are usually taught around tools; for example, there are youtube tutorials, there are premiere pro tutorials, there are illustrator tutorials. So most designers focus on learning tools relevant to doing the kind of design they want to do. So there is the focus on tools instead of processes. Like okay, to put it in context imagine going to a dentist and finding out that the dentist only knows how to operate the drill but doesn't really understand your teeth. Or you know, the health implications of the procedure they want to accomplish. So it's very important as designers that we will focus from just thinking of tools but also about the entire design process alright.

The second point is, there's a focus on project versus building a portfolio. So you see many, like in Nigeria on Twitter there are a couple of designers that will say oh I can do a logo for maybe two dollars, three dollars, five dollars, right. And the more senior designers will be very angry and they'll be like your underpricing design and more often many times the quality of designs they put out are actually low. But the truth is I can't really blame people, because design has become a way to make money, a means of livelihood. But then there's a better way to go about it. Thinking beyond just doing projects to get a quick buck, to building a portfolio of projects or solving a problem for a client. For example, launching a brand or you know marketing a product, designing the process to market the product, or the process to launch a brand is more fulfilling. I will get more remuneration or more money than just like a single project alright.

The second is to focus on aesthetics. There are, it's like some people complain about it, about the 'dribbblisation of design' right. The fact that a lot of people like, it's easier to, one of the ways to learn even in arts over the years is by copying. You know you go online, you see beautiful things you like and you copy it. But the truth is that copying should only stay in the realm of working, not in the realm of actual projects because of copyrights and other things. But then you see a couple of designers, because they didn't have maybe some formal guidance or support, they go on and copy another brand's logo and change the copy and send it as a final file for a client and that is wrong, right? But rather it should be a focus on solutions. Like how do I solve the problem for those clients? Or how do I know how to improve this client's brand alright.

And then this third point which is important is, many designers started or focused on gigs or one-off projects freelancing, instead of thinking in terms of building a design career. Because if you want to be in the career you see someone who wants to be a doctor they start thinking how do I get to go medical school. But many people who want to be designers start thinking of which YouTube tutorial do I need to watch. But that thought has to change. You need to think what kind of knowledge do I need to gain in order to build a career in design? So what if we have a different kind of design training in Africa? What if we have a different kind of training that is focused on mentorship? That is focused on learning and educating design thinking and learning by doing now. I'll go through them one after the other.

So for mentorship, like I said in the earliest nights I mentor designers on ADP list. At the end of the year, a lot of mentors shared testimonials. I actually saw someone who shared how he curated different mentors who specialize in different areas. And in quotes he said that ADP list is his university because he has someone who discusses user research, you have someone who discusses portfolio building and how to interview with, you have someone else who discusses visual design with, and these people guide and mentor him you know. So mentorship provides an opportunity to have a structured way to learn. Even if someone wants to learn from YouTube, you can have okay this playlist, this is the order to learn.

Secondly the design thinking. And I'm not saying there's just in context of the buzzword we throw around, but the process of design thinking, the process that goes from empathy and research, to ideation and brainstorming, to prototyping, testing and you know reiterating and going through the process all over you know. Learning how to design, feel within. Because one of the things I noticed, I was in the group and someone shared how the client gave a revert on the design and he blocked the client on social media and that was very funny to me. Because feedback is not something to get angry about, but feedback is something to welcome because that's how your design improves. If you have the goal that I'm going to solve the problem of this person, every feedback means that the problem hasn't been solved. So I'm listening for feedback, I'm open to feedbacks, and I'm you know, taking note of those and inputting it into the process to solve the client's problem.

And lastly is learning by doing. See in this process learning by doing comes last it doesn't come first. It doesn't start from watching a YouTube tutorial and practicing what the person does without understanding why, you know. Mentorship gives you why you have your why's and you have your how's, design thinking. You learn this is the process to design and then learning by doing is when you start practicisng if you want to be a UX designer, you start practicing with drawing wireframes, with interviewing** users, you learn how to ideate,** you learn how to sort the data, and find ideas for how do I solve this person's problem, you learn user journey mapping and different things you learn by doing.

Here are my recommendations for new designers, you've got this, right. There's this impostor syndrome it happens to everyone where you know you go on dribble, you go on YouTube, you go on Behance and you see portfolios of designers I get overwhelmed, I feel like oh no I can't play this game. The flip side of impostor syndrome is a hunger to learn, because what impostor syndrome does is that it exposes areas that you need to learn in, alright. It's just like it's scary to learn how to ride a bicycle, but once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you become confident; and you might even try a few tricks, right?

So, solution is** seek out mentors,** mentors to guide you, mentors to teach you reach design blogs and articles, master design thinking. So in reading blogs and articles and in seeking out tutorials to watch; more important than tools is design thinking and further mental design principles like color, typography, layout, spacing, visual hierarchy and all of that. So it's important. Now I did mention courses to take because those are available alright. But these are important things you need to do whether you have access to courses or not. And one of the benefits of mentors is some mentors actually are part of organizations that give scholarships or support people to get into bootcamps. So that's necessary or does it have an additional benefit to come from that.

Companies there's a thing you could do is to sponsor design training in host communities. There's a saying that "give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime." Most companies, you have a corporate social responsibility programs and they go out in communities and give gifts, or tokens, or aids to communities. More important than that, education is a very critical part of lifting people up from poverty or creating opportunities for people. So sponsoring design trainings, as companies you can partner with organizations like QXDX, organizations like general assembly, organizations like interaction design foundation and there are a lot of organizations in different countries in Africa and universities who offer design trainings. You can actually sponsor trainings for people to get into design.

Another thing companies can do is encourage team members who have had extensive experience in the industry to mentor upcoming designers. It becomes a guidance and provides a pathway for them to start their design on careers.
Final thoughts, I say wake up. Important things, an approach to look at design education is to start first from mentorship. Having someone to guide the mentee or the protege. And like I said, one of the reasons it's important, it helps the person define their why, it helps them define their pathway in design.

The second is to learn design thinking, design process, design methodology.

And lastly is to learn by doing, learn by practicing.

So, to conclude, I'll end by this quote by Dieter Rams, he said that "indifference toward people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design". So in design one of the most important values of designers is empathy, is the ability to step into people's shoes, their ability to relate not just as an observer, but as a participant and think of ways to solve the problems in our communities, thank you.