May 21, 2021

The Future of UX Design in Nigeria: Rooted in History and Culture

Seun Badejo, CEO and Design Lead at Eximia Design Studio, a digital design studio based in Lagos, Nigeria.
Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, InDesign (Typography)

With new trends emerging daily in tech, keeping up to date can be challenging, even for seasoned professionals. Yet, staying on top of the latest technologies shaping the industry is essential to staying competitive in the global marketplace.

With the constant burden to stay informed, and the need to be exceptional to gain access to opportunity, the idea of spending time learning Africa’s history of design is often overlooked and seen as invaluable for many African designers. 

Saki Mafundikwa said it best, “Designers in Africa struggle with all forms of design because they are more opt to look outwards for influence and inspiration. The creative tradition is as potent as it has always been if only designers could look within.” 

As tech markets like Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa become more established as places of talent and designers transition from seeking recognition on the global stage to finding their voice; history and culture become that much more important.

Over the next decade, it will be exciting to see how African designers bring their cultures into the digital era. Eximia Design Studio is one of the companies that will likely play a role in creating a style of design unique to the continent. 

Eximia is a digital design studio based in Lagos, Nigeria, solving problems with data-driven design and strategy. Eximia consists of multidisciplinary design experts with proficiencies in branding, strategy, UI/UX design & development.

I spoke with Seun Badejo, CEO & Design Lead at Eximia, about reintroducing Nigerians to the true design aesthetic, what it takes to be a successful designer in Africa, and his thoughts on tech in Nigeria. 

Creating Eximia Design Studio?

I started Eximia Design Studio to improve the lives of the average Nigerian and change the face of design. 

I realized there was a gap between our current identity as Africans and what we are meant to be. With the aid of proper design, I hope to introduce to Africans, starting with Nigerians, what we are meant to be and look like. 

If you want to know the soul of a country, you have to look at the art of the middle class and the upper class. Those are the people that truly embody a country’s identity and how they see the world.

I studied Nigeria’s history through pictures and I realized that we had a strong identity when we started as a country. At that time, we had a larger middle class compared to now.

As a result, now it’s just a tiny number of people exposed to the true aesthetic of being a Nigerian. Yes, people generally know what it is to be Nigerian. However, not many people are exposed to the aesthetic because their economics don’t give them the freedom of choice to express themselves fully.

My goal is to introduce our aesthetic to as many Nigerians as possible. This guides the kind of projects I work on and the creative direction I bring. 

Some of the attributes of the Nigerian aesthetic that stand out to us are loud colors, big typography with heavyweight, and floral patterns.

As a design studio, we’re currently working on a couple of internal projects that speak to this, including a typeface. Da Design studio did something similar some years ago, but instead of focusing on Lagos, we’ll be looking at the entire country. Finding similarities across all our cultures and then embedding that in a new typeface.

Share a project that Eximia Design Studio has recently worked on? 

We recently designed a visual identity for Shawarma King. Our goal with Shawarma King’s identity was testing the boundaries of what we can do without going outside our mission. 

With creating any digital asset, we try to be as culturally relevant as possible and portray the brand in the way that customers already see it. 

We tapped into the customer’s subconscious thoughts about shawarma and the images they associate with eating it for Shawarma King.

How important is empathy in the UI/ UX Design process?  

I think empathy plays a huge role. We pride ourselves on data-driven design. We don’t just design for aesthetics or make decisions independent of the brand or the end-user/customer. We always design based on data and research. 

Personally, I also think empathy should be at the core of every design project. It provides direction and clarity of purpose when you’re designing a product.

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What were some of the challenges you face as a designer?

When I started, one of the biggest challenges I had was access to resources and community.

More recently, pivoting from being a designer to being a design manager is my biggest challenge. Managing people and trying to get them to do their best work is difficult. It’s not something you can learn all at once, it takes time, and sometimes the only way to learn is through trial and error.

People are different, and you have to learn how to help each person you’re managing work at their optimal performance. Some of the rules I try to live up to as a leader are the following:

Rule #1: Prioritize your time.

Rule #2: Always delegate tasks. I’m capable of doing things alone. That’s why I am a multidisciplinary designer, but I had to learn that to be most effective I have to prioritize my time and delegate.

Rule #3: One of the most important things about working with people is to realize that they are not just there to help you. I think that’s how people see it, and that is how I used to. It’s not just about them helping you get work done. It’s also about helping them improve at what they do. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned, and a best practice of being a manager, is to delegate and monitor your team members’ growth. 

What does it take to be a successful UI/UX designer in Africa? 

Honestly, I can’t say I have an answer because, personally, I don’t even think I’m a successful designer yet, not in Nigeria, not in Africa. 

But if I had to list things I think are necessary to becoming a successful designer, I would say you have to influence a significant culture change. This requires a highly tuned sense that allows you to see and create a culturally relevant design that speaks to people.

Second, you must be able to network like crazy because, in Africa, you have to network your way to the top. You don’t just have to be good. You have to let people know you are good and put yourself in a position to connect with others.  

Thoughts on tech in Lagos

The tech ecosystem is still very young. We have a couple of trailblazers and people doing great work, but I think there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth, so the future is bright.

In the next four or five years, as Nigerian designers, we’ll have clearly defined and showcased what the Nigerian aesthetic is, and we’ll have designers that speak to that.

Today, we’re exporting our design talent around the world, but in the future, design tech talent from around the world will look up to Nigerian designers and want to learn from us. We’ll be a place that people believe in what we do and trust us. 

Nonetheless, if we can meet our goal of getting Nigerians and Africans to acknowledge and understand our identity, we’ll have succeeded as a company.

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