In an interview with DesignWhine, Yann describes himself as a French guy who is a material engineer but has never worked in France. After working in the U.K., Belgium, and the U.S.A. for quite a few years, he came to Senegal to work in a startup incubator. Five years ago Yann started YUX.
Yann is the co-founder and General Manager of YUX, a research & design company based in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. Started in 2016, YUX mixes sociology and technology to co-create digital products and services tailored to African communities and their diversity. YUX is today a multicultural team of over thirty people that partners with large companies and startups for human centered design or UX-UI projects all over the continent.
In 2019, YUX also launched its Design Academy to train the new generation of African digital designers.
How did you start YUX, did you face any challenges?
Well, I guess I wanted to discover a little bit more about the continent. I started my first company when I was in the U.S.A. that failed. We tried to bridge the gap between technology universities in the U.S.A. and the emerging markets and I was responsible for covering the African continent. I didn’t know anyone, it was really hard to find reliable startups and I told my company that I need a bit more time there. Eventually, I found this great job in a startup providing me opportunity to learn from contacts, so it was a lot of fun.
Although there are so many brilliant engineers in Senegal and African countries But nobody talked about design, nobody talked about the values of having a localized experience. We were all frustrated to see that It was more of a copy paste from the western type of digital products that didn’t really relate to the culture, need and vision of the people.
So, for the next six months or so we formed a group who talked about design and began training everyone in design informally but then clients came and offered us to pay and we said well, maybe yes! So we structured little by little like that and started working with startups in the country and eventually all over the continent.
How do you think design has evolved in Africa in the six years since you founded YUX?
The major difficulty that we faced was that nobody knew about UX, especially in Francophone Africa. It was really hard because everytime we came with the UX jargon, which isn’t a jargon anymore if you look at companies in Europe and other continents, it was hard to get around. Initially, there was no testing involved which was super frustrating because we were practically designing out of assmptions. Then gradually we were pushed by the big organizations for UX research UCD. This paradigm pushed them more to invest in research and today a lot of companies are doing the same. For example, we worked with Google for adaption of payment product for different parts of continent. They have extensive experience in India, Asia but in African continent they knew nothing. This pushed us to study the market and understand how the best experience can be provided. So, I guess, this is how we are maturing as Anglophone companies are now expanding to Francophone countries as well which wasn’t the case before.
For us this is a valuable addon to the future of the continent. Now, when we go and talk in a meeting everybody knows what UX is. However, there is a need of a bit of sensitization around the research part of UX design. Like what are the right approaches, not only qualitative but people are super excited about data. And this is why we actually launched a formal training center called YUX Academy where we specifically focus on research.
Could you please elaborate on YUX’s ambition of “Democratizing design in Africa into training the Next generation of african Designers”?
To be honest we want to be a high level agency but at the same time we want to democratize design, you must have seen agencies that are untouchable and only they know how to do things. There is no way we can impact the continent if we don’t have more people practicing research and design. Even if it helps our competitors in the future we are okay as this will also push us to keep staying at the very top. This is why we are creating an academy as it’s more about democratizing. The YUX Academy trains at a very cheap price, almost free. We want to build a research platform where people don’t have to rely on a service agency or a market research firm. So, we have started a platform called Looka and it is basically for researchers who want to do quantitative research. You can plug in to the platform and have a network of researchers all across the continent. We have around four hundred trained researchers that speak different languages from the continent which makes it a bit easy for a researcher to do quantitative research. It is very important for us that people take ownership of research and make it much more accessible.
Tell us about YUX’s work on the ecological aspects of second hand clothing in Ghana.
This study on second hand clothing was led by our researcher Sasha. She did her own research pulling different resources and colleagues. It’s an internal study and it’s totally free so i guess it’s great for the employees, great for the company,
However, this is just one type of content that we share. Other type of content that we love sharing is on the state of the industry. We have so many difficulties in doing research from recruiting the right people to paying them it’s a total mess but doing these kind of research is a resource for the entire community to be used to pitch more budget or more resources to their bosses in their company.
The third type of content is actually when the clients agree we share these studies, for eg. we worked with a company called dimagi around vaccination program and were able to share our findings with the community.
What do you think is YUX’s best project so far?
Right now we are working with Google as design partners on many of their products ranging from Youtube, Google Search to GPay and that’s quite exciting because they have a big push on the continent and it also creates a balance. We’re also working with companies like Wikipedia who have strong values and ethics and realise that there isn’t enough content created by the people in Africa. So they take a product perspective on that. Like what a product can do to enable people to create more content. So this is exciting!
What is the African context that YUX talks about and how is it different from the global context?
We don’t understand the context, actually we understand how to conduct research in this context which is a bit different because we can never claim to understand something that is changing so fast.
Another aspect of the African context is literacy. And I find that amazing. Everybody knows how to write in their local language but if you go to Senegal people can speak local language but can’t write it. So the question arises, are people literate in all these local languages and can they use that in an interface? For examples there can be people who are very literate in Swahili but will never wish to have a interface in Swahili as they are used to interfaces in English. So you always have to study peculiarities.
People who aren’t digitally literate kind of fear it. Different people have, you know, different take on using technology.
This article was last updated on December 11, 2023; Originally published on August 3, 2022