Nigerian designer Namnso Ukpanah caught our attention when we asked the Figma community where we should hold our design system meetups. He sent us an ambitious seven-page proposal on why Lagos, Nigeria should be our first stop. The city had piqued our interest months prior, in part because travel review site Hotels.ng started using Figma for its 1,000-person online internship program. But it was Namnso’s compelling research on the tech scene that convinced us to go visit.
We’re glad we did. Lagos, Nigeria garnered the biggest turnout of all the design systems meetups we planned — we had to change locations twice to accommodate the 400+ people who RSVPed. Attendees told us that the meetup marked Lagos’ first ever design conference.
Curious to hear his perspective on the burgeoning design scene, we interviewed Namnso about the role design systems play at Lagos companies. These are his words edited for clarity and length.
Hi Namnso! Can you introduce yourself? What do you do and how did you get started?
Hi! Currently I’m the Lead Designer at Hotels.ng where I oversee a team of three and support an engineering team of 13.
In University I studied Physiology. My first job was analyzing electrical activities of the heart and brain as a Measurements Specialist, but I’ve always been interested in design. I began teaching myself design only three years ago and last year I got my big break when I joined the Hotels.ng internship program.
Can you explain how the internship program works?
The program is very competitive. It starts out virtual — anyone can join — and when I did it hundreds of people competed. Each week you’re assigned different tasks and anyone who completes the task moves on to the next week. The year I participated only twenty-five people completed the program. Nine of us were offered a full-time internship. After the internship I was hired on full-time as a designer at Hotels.ng. A few months after that I began building out the design team.
Sounds like it’s been quite a year! Since you’re new to Hotels.ng, and new to UI design, what prompted you to create a design system?
The first few months after joining Hotels.ng I was the only product designer. Being one-person in an entirely new department meant that without processes in place, I became a bottleneck for people’s workflow. To help smooth things out, I created Brand Guidelines so I could make sure my work was consistent.
Later our team grew from one to three, so the next plausible step was creating a design system to help us work more efficiently together. We didn’t want anyone to have to needlessly recreate work.
What did that system look like for you?
We built a team library containing all of our patterns and components in one Figma file along with the documentation to guide us. This helped with the Hotels.ng website redesign in consistency and reuse of UI elements.
We are still working out the design system’s code documentation so the engineers can also use it. But for now, Figma developer handoff gets us pretty far.
What is the biggest challenge in creating a design system?
In any area like Lagos where there isn’t a precedent for design systems, it can be a challenge convincing management to invest time and energy. Design systems can take a lot of work and most CEOs don’t have a design background. This means they don’t understand how the investment of time in a design system can benefit a business in the long-term.
For us, explaining how the design system would directly help the business was what got us approval to spend time on it. Design systems are only effective if everyone is using it, so it was also important to get engineers on board. I find that if you can explain how a design system will make someone else’s life easier, they’re in.
I read a stat that 85% of designers in Lagos have less than 3 years experience. Is that because the tech scene is growing quickly?
Two trends are happening at the same time: tech is booming and companies are valuing design more. So, while I don’t know that stat specifically, it wouldn’t surprise me given the growing demand for designers. I do know that eight out of ten designers are self-taught, like I was.
There isn’t a clear path or structure to becoming a UI designer. Just like a developer might begin by learning HTML or CSS then move to more advanced languages, designers may start with print design or iconography and learn from there. It doesn’t really matter where you start.
What inspired you to throw the first Design Systems Conference in Lagos?
Many people are interested in design, but there is also a gap between the few experienced designers and people who are just starting. We need to find ways to build communities so everyone can level up, no matter their experience level. The conference was just the start of that. Since there are no formal ways to learn design we have to learn from each other. It truly is an exciting time to be a designer in Lagos.
Do you have stories to share about creating a design system? Maybe you’re interested in being interviewed or writing for our next issue? Email a two-sentence pitch to email@example.com — we’d love to hear from you.