Figma Global Design Community launched in Lagos with a long-awaited roadshow on May 5th, 2018 in partnership with MEST Africa. With over 200 techies in attendance, Namnso Ukpanah, Figma Africa’s Lead Advocate and a panel of designer experts, kept the audience entranced with insights their journey towards becoming a world class designer in Africa. communities around the world.
The numbers and focus of the audience was adeptly summed up by @Femdom_Africa on Instagram “It’s so obvious that Africa’s Gen Z are hungry for knowledge.” In just a few hours, Figma may have inadvertently shined the light on a burgeoning African tech ecosystem still in its infancy. Hundreds of techies from all over Nigeria, sat steely eyed with notepads as their pens raced across the page. The Q&As were filled with insightful questions and the attendees didn’t want to miss a syllable from the panel. The Lagos roadshow was a physical manifestation of Figma’s aim to support building the local design community. Whereas, to many attendees, design represented an opportunity to develop a profitable skill set.
Instead of throwing Figma in the faces of potential users and promising greatness, Figma is choosing to educate, empower and draw those on the fringe into the design community. Attendees new to design, came with unbridled curiosity and left with a better appreciation for design and a new-found community. The panels and design sessions transcended simply introducing Figma’s capabilities and instead, dove into the mindset behind design thinking. Leslie Williams, panelist and seasoned UX designer, highlighted “I think the interesting part about design is that I get to play God. We create something from nothing. Isn’t that what God does?” While comments like these walk a fine line, it offers a peek inside the mind of a designer.
With a compelling product and plans for expansion; Figma is addressing two massive obstacles head on. First, drawing attention to a new concept anchored to a tech community that does not appear to give design thinking its due respect. The second is convincing the design community that the advantages of Figma’s simple yet responsive offering outweigh current industry behemoths like Sketch and Adobe. In the early years of Figma, CEO, Dylan Field, tackled these same obstacles by focusing on what Figma does best. In what was called “The most controversial decision made at Figma” in an interview posted on Blueprint’s Medium account Dylan said, “To have that clarity as a company was controversial, but once everyone was on the same page we were able to move much, much faster.” Considering that 80% of this US company’s users are outside of US, it’s understandable why Dylan Field has been spotted trotting the globe and waving the Figma banner.
Design is a rapidly growing sector in tech that offers new opportunities for any strategic creative with a laptop. Figma has democratized this industry by providing tools that were previously only reserved for those who could afford pricey computers or had a deep understanding of design tools within more complex applications. The global tech community might be looking at the next tech unicorn in the making. Africa could finally be a part of a huge advancement in technology instead of waiting for innovation to eventually filter down.
“Developed” nations recognize the importance of design when creating user interfaces. The industry leader IBM highlights this example. In 2002, IBM had 72 developers for every designer. In 2007, that number shrank dramatically to an 8 to 1 ratio. Figma witnessed this shift early on and in 2012 embarked upon a journey to build a better design tool. The result was a browser-based design work space focused on collaboration that allows designers to review, modify, and comment on projects in real time. Figma set out to disrupt the current, productivity sapping version control quagmire encountered with multiple contributors and ended up inventing the “Google Docs” of design! Figma’s represents a change in thinking comparable to the jump from Myspace to Facebook.
Last January, Dylan visited Lagos as part of a global Figma Design Systems tour to better understand user needs. A spike in Figma Africa usage rates led Dylan to super user and design wiz Namnso Ukpanah. Namnso had already trained thousands of designers by leveraging the power of Figma’s tool through the highly touted Hotels.ng internship program and therefore the perfect person (and “evangelist”) to introduce Figma to Africa. With support from the Ingressive team, Namnso gathered hundreds of designers for a well-coordinated meetup and the first chapter of Figma Africa.
Figma is now able to provide a case study of how a simple app can change lives in places with little to no prior knowledge or infrastructure. Figma wants to impact the way design is experienced by teaching what design looks like at its full potential. Discovering if the digital representation of a thought process can be both profitable AND socially impactful, is the most fascinating aspect of Figma’s design systems journey. Kome Sideso, the Lagos roadshow’s spirited master of ceremonies commented, “If you’re a designer, you’re not an artist; You’re a problem solver.”
With a focus on education, community engagement and strategic partnerships (with Ingressive, MEST Africa and Hotels.ng); Figma is taking a long-term approach to building a strong user base of design enthusiasts. By bridging the gap between developers and designers, Figma is creating an interesting techie hybrid that both understands code for creation AND design thinking connected to empathy for the user. The techies joining this journey with Figma stand to be formidable and competitive on the world stage. Figma will be replicating the effects of the Lagos roadshow this month in Accra, Ghana and Cape Town, South Africa, register for the Accra meetup here and Cape Town here.