Ripples: Wisdom Ndebe on how design impacts our experiences

by Celz| November 29, 2022

Design touches every part of our lives every day – the products we buy, the interfaces we interact with, and the spaces we work and live in. And it’s interesting to think about the impact designers make when they do – the power they have to influence our lives, shape the way we live, and the products we use.

When you pick up a tool, or a product, or enter a space, do you stop to think about the thought process that went into it?

The role of design in impacting lives is quite huge and designers have become the ultimate advocates of users in various scenarios. In this pilot episode of ‘RIPPLES’ our Internal Communications Manager (Celz) interviews a Senior Designer here at TeamApt, Wisdom Ndebe. Here he shares his journey and thought process:

Wisdom Ndebe

C: Tell me a bit about your journey into Design.

W: Okay. I studied Biochemistry and was working at a mundane job and always felt like nothing intriguing was happening. One day, I was on Twitter, and people were discussing brands. I was captivated by the conversations, especially those about identity, design, etc. So, I started reading a lot about design. I remember reading about a Logo case study, and I was just blown away.

At about the same time, I got my hands on a book titled ‘design for non-designers, and I read it from back to back. I think that was the first book I finished reading. I  was literally obsessed with understanding design. Of course, over time, my interest in design kept growing. I still wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do, but after a while, I quit my job and went to learn design, and now I’ve been a designer for four years. 

C: Hold up! You weren’t sure what you wanted to do, but you quit your job. Who does that?

W: I know, right?!😅 Yeah, I was working with Guinness, and some opportunity came up to learn how to design & print things. I was like, you know what? I’ll take it. It’s better than anything. So I was a printer boy at Shomolu for about a year, and then I met somebody at TeamApt. Very funny story. You know that thing when someone says, “I’ll talk to somebody else for you and just call me back tomorrow?”. Well, I called him, and I got an interview date. Lucky me, yeah?

At that time, though, I didn’t know what TeamApt did, but I was supposed to come in as a Brand/Marketing intern. I joined TeamApt, and one day, Leslie asks me, “do you know what Figma is?” I didn’t know it.

So, I downloaded Figma and as soon as I saw it, I was enthralled. You know what they say about “love at first sight”? For me, it was love at first click. That was a moment for me that I’ll never forget. That was how I started learning Product Design in TeamApt.

C: It’s been four years since you started your design journey. Got any thrilling moments on this journey?

W:  I think the first one was Monnify. Monnify was the first thing I worked on, basically the first product I ever made, and it got shipped! And I’ll never forget the day they rang the bell in the office for our first transaction. Then we’d go out for these exhibitions and I’d get to talk about it. Here I was, some newbie talking about something I’ve done that was being used out there. It was mind-blowing.

But I think the one that gets me every day is Moniepoint. Actually, I still thought about it this morning. You know how you have milestones that you want to reach? For me, one of them is maybe designing Google OS. And the second one for me was designing an ATM. I was really fascinated by the ATM user interface and it just hit me a couple of months ago: “Yo, Wisdom, you might not have designed an ATM, but you have helped design a POS that has far more reach now.”

So when I go outside and I see people using the POS, it lights me up, or when my mum calls me because she’s just seen a Moniepoint POS – even when my family members used to send me pictures of the POS.

Almost every day, I see a business owner using Moniepoint; it is just mind-blowing. The more I see people use it, the higher the goals and expectations I set for myself. 

Wisdom’s early days at TeamApt

C: The other day, I was thinking of the design process that goes into products and the kind of responsibility it takes to be a designer – crafting the products that shape people’s lives. So, I’m curious about how being a designer makes you approach things. How has it affected your thought process? 

W: I think I was lucky that I came into TeamApt when Monitor was a thing we used to do for Banks, for Sterling, GT Bank, and Fidelity – building banking applications for them. And it helped me understand what financial application and education meant for the first time. You didn’t want to see people use banking applications and struggle.

I remember seeing my grandfather a lot back then, and I had to teach him how to use his first banking app. And I would just think to myself, “this is not very nice and how would you change this, Wisdom?”

So when I had the opportunity to build something from scratch, it was with a lot of empathy. So the way I see it is that we should be more conscious. I’m more conscious of what I do, and how I design because of the way things are. And Adrian was telling us the other day about how the app we’re currently building has a huge chunk of the market share and how we have to be very very intentional about what we’re building and how we choose to go about it.

It’s a lot of responsibility. If you’re building something, especially when you are designing something that has to do with finance and people’s money, you don’t want to mess around. Money is very important and it’s a whole lot of responsibility because you have to be really careful. You have to know what you are saying. You have to think about things from different perspectives. You get to wear many hats, and you get to learn many things so that you can be… what’s the word? So that you can be for everybody. Right?

Designing with empathy is not just a buzzword. You have to really feel. You have to understand and feel, but not enough to not be biased and not enough to now be stuck up, to be level-headed. So, yes, it’s a lot of responsibility to navigate.

C: Does empathy imply thinking about one persona as the audience/user or when you’re building with a particular image in your head like you’re building for one person?

W: Here, we don’t design for one. Because If anything is drummed into your mind from the very beginning, it’s that we are designing for a multitude.

We have to design for, say, think of your grandpa at home. I lived with my grandfather for years, and you don’t want to explain how to use a banking app to him. I used to want to pull my hair out, just trying to show him what buttons to press. 

Like I inferred earlier, in my own head, I design for my grandfather. I’m just like, “Grandpa has to be able to use this thing, the woman who owns a large shop beside my house has to be able to use this easily”. 

Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I get stuck up in my head and design for myself. But it’s definitely not one person. It’s drummed into my head from the get-go – you are designing for a plethora of people. You are designing from the baseline that all of these people can use this and not be lost. So basically, you have to carry everybody along in the most basic and elegant fashion. Yeah.

Open photo

Wisdom’s design workspace

C: So, this means that your design solves for inclusion, in a way. 

W: Yes, definitely. It does. I have to be so inclusive in my thought process, even to the point of UX copy. Although, I sorta broke this unsaid rule recently. I was designing something in bookkeeping that has to do with variants, and I was geeking out with Loki references until my teammate pointed out hilariously that I was being in my own head. We had to look for simpler ways to explain how variants worked and how we could easily represent what we meant.

So yeah, inclusion is an important aspect of designing for me.

C: Beautiful. Talking about inclusion and the impact of your designs on people. What customer story stands out for you that you would attribute to the design you were part of?

There’s this guy a couple of streets from mine who runs a really large supermarket and uses Moniepoint POS, and the day he realized that I work at TeamApt, he gleefully told me about how easy it was for him to use. That was one good story I will never forget. Every time he sees me, he just vibes with me and chats – it’s such a good feeling.

Another important one for me is perhaps the fact that a couple of my family members use Moniepoint POS, and they reach out to me about how easy it’s made their lives. Or when I go out and bring out my Moniepoint card, it automatically starts a conversation, and the feedback just makes me happy!

Something happened to me a while back, I went to the Market wearing a Moniepoint T-shirt, and a couple of young women in the market were talking to each and staring at the T-shirt. When I gave them my card, they immediately opened up and said they needed another POS, talking to me about how much they liked using the POS.

There are many of these stories. I see them on Workplace, LinkedIn, etc. But there was this particular one. It was the story of a guy that we featured, the one that said he has made so much profit since being a business owner with us, so much so that he could send his family abroad.

I read that story and it struck a chord because it was very important in measuring the work that I do. Because it’s not just about providing business solutions for people to survive. It’s like you’re helping actual families put food on their tables. Right? It’s not just helping the next person withdraw money. But someone is making some money off it, right?

This work that I’m doing is helping families, and that’s very, very important. Someone somewhere has a way of taking care of his family, and I am part of that? That amazes me.

C: Awesome. I love how you can see your work cascading across narratives and lives. So, what’s your favourite part about being a designer at TeamApt? 

W: First of all, the guys I get to work with are like badasses. You know how you see your teammates and friends and are super-excited. Everybody’s working, and you can just feel the synergy behind it. I don’t know how to describe that in detail. 

Maybe for writers, it’s like you notice when you get ten people to write, and they can all have the same point without you having to give them a direction. Everybody is on the same wavelength. I love the energy! 

C: How did you feel when you saw that we hit $10b?

W: I was like 10 billion what? 

It felt really special, to be very honest. In fact, I have this group of friends whom we meet every Saturday to just talk. We’ve worked together in Product for a very long time, and we just catch up every Saturday. I remember the weekend after I saw the milestone update. I was the focus of all the jokes that weekend because everyone told me, “you are making like 10 billion”. Just felt good to be associated with that level of success. To be very involved in the process that does this, and I can talk about it. 

C: Got any final words?

W: Trust the process. If you’re trying to figure out a design, and it doesn’t seem to be working, just keep trying. I would say that process is everything. You may suck at first. Think of yourself as a working skill. You can learn everything that you need to learn. Today is a very good tomorrow where you’ve done a goooood job. But my baseline is as far as you can walk, you can keep going. You’re better tomorrow. Just make sure you don’t stop improving. You’re good to go. Okay.

C: Thank you. This was such an insightful conversation. 

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