My Journey with She Code Africa

On 24th February 2021, I received an email congratulating me on becoming a mentee for She Code Africa’s (SCA) Mentorship program. I enrolled for the beginner track of the UI/UX program. I recall that on that day, I was about to make a trip from Abuja to Ilorin. I was shocked because a week ago, I mentally beat myself up for flunking the interview. The acceptance mail made the trip wholesome.

My journey into User Experience (UX) design began in May 2020 during the ten-month ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) strike. I began to dive into other career possibilities. As a history student who initially wanted to pursue a degree in Psychology, UX felt good to me. My interest in this field oozes from my interest in Psychology and understanding people. Most especially the research aspect of it.

SCA Mentorship Program

The first time mentees in the UI/UX track met on Google meet, there was this fondness, this eagerness that permeated all over the conversation.

The program began on Friday 26th February with an onboarding call for all mentees. Ada Nduka Oyom, founder of SCA and Catherine Kiiru, Program manager of SCA hosted the call. We got to learn of the requirements needed to graduate. This, although exciting, was the start of a three-month intensive program of learning, unlearning, and re-learning. The next day, I contacted my mentor, Ademorin Ajepe, whom I had already known from SCA’s slack channel. The mentorship officially started in March.

The first time mentees in the UI/UX track met on Google meet, there was this fondness, this eagerness that permeated all over the conversation. We called each other “boss”; we still do. On the first day, Ademorin told us to select an accountability partner for ourselves. That was when I reached out to Bridget Fayomi, an adorable, no-nonsense woman, and our journey began from here.

The first week focused on the foundation of UI/UX. We had an introductory class and two assignments. One of the assignments involved presenting slides to other mentees and Ademorin during the weekly call. The second week still lingered on the foundations of UI/UX.

What is UX design
Principles of UX design

In the third week, the real work began. Ademorin tasked us to look for a problem we wanted to solve and research for a solution: a hypothetical app of our choice. I decided to work on a journaling app tailored for students in universities. The application would help students relieve school stress and improve productivity. For SCA’s program, I worked on this project from the third week of March to the second week of April.

Overview of Reflect app, my student journaling app
Storyboard for Reflect app

From the second week of April, we began our final project. This time it involved teamwork with our accountability partners.

I and Bridget were assigned to work on an app that solves a problem in the health sector. We deliberated on some possibilities ranging from mental health counselling to an app that enables students to purchase drugs and check symptoms via the internet. We eventually settled on a mobile health app that helps students book appointments with doctors and buy medicine online. We made some insightful and shocking discoveries; you can read the case study here.

While working on this project with Bridget, the most important skill I picked up was time management. Each week we made two presentations on whatever deliverable we had created. It also made me understand how planning made things easier. I picked this up when we worked on the Information Architecture and User flow of our application. I also noticed that we could generate numerous ideas simply by empathising with users.

Although we faced some hitches like the lack of electricity (we live in Nigeria), the project came out fine. I particularly enjoyed the program calls that took place at the end of each month. During these calls, SCA invited a speaker to tutor us on soft skills. Chelsen Madsen gave useful pointers on how to navigate the job market. Ruth Ikegah taught us about having a growth mindset. To me, the talks of both women spelt one thing out: “Aim high!”.

I am happy to say that I could not have asked for a better Accountability Partner and Mentor.

What did I Learn?

It would be unfair if I ended this article without writing extensively about what I learnt: The impact of UX on businesses.

UX boils down to human engagement, understanding the users’ emotions, solving their problems, and providing their needs. Between UX and business, humanity and sales intersect. A combination of both leads to advantages we must never underestimate.

When I use a product, one of three things happen. First, the product provides a suitable enough experience that triggers me to stay. Second, the product chases me away. Third, in as much as the product remains usable for the most part, it chases me away, forces me to stay and keeps me in a loop: an abusive one. I have experienced all these feelings but, I must tell you as a UX designer that the products that achieved the first point have a better chance of survival than the others.

When we say User Experience (UX), the first things that come to our minds are ease, simplicity, freedom, etc. When we say business, the first thing that pops into our heads is money. What I have learnt, amongst others, is that we must begin to ask ourselves how UX and business correlate.

In 1995, Donald Norman, a cognitive scientist, was hired by Apple as a User Experience Architect. This birthed the term we now know as UX and everything within its encompassing umbrella. Before Norman, UX was very much available in the business space because even business owners understood its capabilities. There was the need to make things easier for people. UX boils down to human engagement, understanding the users’ emotions, solving their problems, and providing their needs. Between UX and business, humanity and sales intersect. A combination of both leads to advantages we must never underestimate.

Ethan from Formation media says that “User experience (UX) has become so essential in recent years that it seems the path a user takes to a product is arguably more important than the product itself!”

That is why when we want to make a product for users, we begin with research, putting ourselves in the shoes of the users, allowing ourselves to wear their lenses and see what they see. This is what I and Bridget did while working on our final project for SCA’s mentorship. Without getting into the shoes of users, we would not have been able to understand what they needed. Similarly, if businesses do not learn to empathise with their customers, if they are money-centred rather than user-centred they will, inevitably, fail.

Impacts of UX in Business

UX boosts the Return on Investments of businesses. It increases a business’s revenue and stamps a good image of their brand in customer’s mind. In most cases, good UX acts as customer support.

UX Represents a Company and its Brand

When you want to start a business, remember this simple formula: Bad UX = Bad Company, Good UX = Good Company.

Think of your favourite app and think of why they are your favourite. Think of your worst app and think of why they are your worst. Think of the products you use daily, think of their navigation, the micro-interactions, the interactions you encounter and think of how these things appeal to you. The point is UX improves the overall quality of the brand: UX design shows your users if you genuinely care about them or not. Adam Fard “Companies delivering the best user experience through solid UX design stand to achieve real customer satisfaction and loyalty in the long run.” Customer satisfaction enhances customer loyalty and retention.

Customer Service 2.0

UX is “customer service 2.0”. A product’s UX speaks for itself. This reminds me of what Adam Richardson at Harvard Business Review says, “It’s a bad sign when there are numerous forums for customers to help each other out, as is the case in home theatre [sic], since it means that the manufacturers have utterly failed in creating a comprehensive customer experience.” Having a good UX shows that you are listening to your users. You are making things easy, so easy that they do not even need support to help them navigate through your site. McKinsey & Company says it is “More than a product: It’s User Experience”. Your product or business should embody UX.

More ROI, More Savings

UX design improves ROI (Return on Investments) and helps save money. “If you ignore the UX in the initial stages or will keep it at the backburner while you perfect the product core,” Ahmad Bilal says “it would cost you time and money in the long run”. Investing in UX reduces development cost, support costs, and time. The research you gather at the initial stages of a product can save you from making costly mistakes. With proper UX, businesses can sieve out decisions that do not benefit their customers and invest in the decisions that will yield more results.

Increases Revenue

Businesses must understand that before they take a money-centric approach to building products, they must take a user-centric approach. Focusing on UX helps improve user satisfaction, conversion rates and revenue. Can you imagine how much revenue a business loses due to poor UX? Imagine how many conversion rates they unknowingly waste. Research by Topal shows that:

· 88% of online customers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience.

· 90% of users reported that they stopped using an app due to poor performance.

· Businesses lose $2bllion in sales due to slow-loading websites.

A determinant for customers using a product is if it can solve their problems fluidly and easily. If a product does not do this, in other words, if a product focuses on money rather than users, it is not worth spending on.

What Happens Next?

I have ploughed my way through this field, what remains are other fields to tackle.

The last three months have had me digesting a lot of content. It felt like the clouds letting go of rain after years of holding the water. The downpour is over. I had to juggle tasks from this mentorship with school and an internship. While I am pleased this mentorship is ending, I am glad that it was worth the stress. I am happy that it was a women-only space. There’s a lot to do when it comes to bridging the gender gap in the tech sector. I have ploughed my way through this field, what remains are other fields to tackle.

So, what happens next? My newfound knowledge has led me to understand that the benefits of UX should never be underestimated. It is like air, like water, like the things we do to survive. Christine Austine notes, “It’s clear that companies who fail to provide an optimal experience for there [sic] users will find themselves at a significant disadvantage to competitors who currently utilize it.” If a business invests in its UX problems, nothing will get in the way of its success. And I hope that as I venture into this new path, nothing will get in the way of my success.