Zoom call with coffee

Our key take-outs from UX South Africa 2020


During July 2020, UX South Africa hosted their very first online conference, which is becoming the new norm for hosting events or meetups, amid the COVID 19 pandemic globally.

Although the current pandemic has restricted us to our own homes, it has, however, given technology an opportunity to flourish by bringing people across the world together through technology. The UX South Africa conference brought together a diverse group of local and international speakers, each of them experts in their practices addressing different topics and disciplines within the UX spectrum.

At Sand Dollar Design we regularly attend conferences and training events, to ensure we are kept up to date with the latest trends in the industry, and network with our peers locally and internationally.


UX design Across cultural boundaries 

To start of the first day, we had Nancy Douyan, a design ethicist and product philosopher whose key address was on UX design Across cultural boundaries. She has well-articulated a concept she came up with called ‘The mobility complex’ as “When people in positions of privilege unintentionally create solutions without accounting for their own explicit and implicit personal biases consequently leading to self-serving bias”.  This stood out for me, as a new and growing designer, that empathy should not be ignored within the design process, over and above delivering valuable products. As she has stated, “Empathy is understanding the perspective from other points of views” and that within our privilege, we should be able to leverage it with awareness. This allows UX teams to be informed about what and who we are designing for and being inclusive with our designs and products.  Furthermore, Nancy suggested organisations and design teams should scale their products in the right way by forging connections, ideas and opportunities that improve equity & inclusion in UX.

Picture source: Nancy Douyan

The keynote also touched on how the African continent is evolving and how will we be able to create opportunities for designers to innovate products that are uniquely designed for Africa, leading into the next set of speakers.

UX for Africa

Helga Stegmann spoke about designing for the next billion and designing for diversity within the African continent. Helga shared why Africa is the next billion, and that “there is a unique opportunity for our multilingual, digital native, mobile-only, online-educated, digital-monied, socially-conscious youth who are ready to change Africa”. This indicates that there is a need for African solutions for Africa. 

“Our multilingual, digital-native, mobile only, online-educated, digital-monied, socially-conscious youth are ready to change Africa”.

For designers to be able to design in an industry that is evolving in a fast pace, Gordon Angus, who spoke about Objective Design Frameworks, touched on something insightful and relevant to the theme I picked up from the conference: to avoid a systematic approach to design, we could use our instincts to support the products we build. He further emphasises that “design instinct is far more than just your innate creative ability or cultural gifts. It is your wealth of experience, your familiarity with industry standards and best practises. You develop that instinct for many years from trial and error and learning from a lot of hard mistakes. Instinct is recognising pitfalls before they become problems, it is recognising winning solutions without having to explore in case endless options. It’s about seeing balance, observing inconsistencies and honing your desired design eye, but having great aesthetic tastes and being able to adapt your style on a whim”. 

“Use our instincts to support the products we build.”

Picture source: Gordon Angus. UX principles

AI understanding natural language.

While there may be some merit to this, I believe that the UX process is there for a reason, so relying on instincts alone is probably not a good idea – and it might be a bit dangerous to promote this approach to most practitioners.

A very interesting insight was learning about how voice UX and voice UI will be used to solve problems in the future. This talk by Sanisha Naidoo and Chiselle Beukes who shared how having Alexa and voice AI assistants could be integrated with our devices and robotics in the future, thus, giving more assistance with online shopping, home school, the visually impaired etc. 

They also added that in future, voice AI assistants will evolve in terms of capabilities, suggestions and language to be more “natural and tailored”, as it currently struggles with different accents of non-native English speakers. Sanisha also mentioned that “voice AI can be trained by the users themselves” and that having more diversified users helps voice AI evolve and understand better what users are saying. They recommended that UX designers should design “with their eyes closed” for voice-based interaction, because there is no graphical UI with voice UX. 

“The only way to make smart assistants really smart is to give it eyes and let it explore the world.”

Picture source: Sanisha Naidoo and Chiselle Beukes. Future of Alexa & Implications for Voice UX

A great aspect of the online conference was the breakaway discussions where attendees could engage each other and the speakers in more detail about the talks. 

Day 2

Design shaping innovation

The second day started with Maureen Macharia’s keynote presentation on The role of design in shaping the future of innovation in AfricaThis talk built on the theme of day 1, and Maureen emphasised having strategies in place that encapsulate behavioural and mindset paradigms to ensure that they are embedded and sustained by individuals in their communities, in their organisations and government. Moving forward post COVID-19 is a challenge our country is facing, and we need to come up with sustainable solutions to ensure we progress. 

Maureen stated that design is gradually moving away from artefacts to focus more on people. The success of design will be measured by how designers ease the human experience from the crisis.  To achieve this requires UX professionals to collaborate as “Design is and will always be a team sport”. 

“The success of design will be measured by how designers ease the human experience from the crisis.”

Building on Maureen’s talk, Lynelle Cameron, CEO of Autodesk Foundation stated that “If we are going to tackle the world’s toughest challenges, we need new ways of working together & unprecedented levels of collaboration”. She encouraged UX professionals “not to waste this crisis, and not to waste your skills, as it is an opportunity to tap into a number of the challenges that we see and change something we don’t understand so that we create solutions for sectors that we have not yet engaged with.”


UX South Africa was a well-planned online conference and was well received by the attendees. The platform used allowed and encouraged the audience to engage with each other and the speakers through comments, polls and Q&A sessions after each talk. It seems that the future is bright for Africa as a continent, with our unique contribution to make to the world, and that there are plenty of opportunities ahead to solve complex problems in new domains that have not yet benefitted from UX Design – something I look forward to as someone starting out my career as a UX Designer!

Check out the conference recording on UXSA’s YouTube channel : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmqeciquTteTnzuLwk_wbAg

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