African UX user research study throws light on the continuing challenges for digital transformation
15 October 2021
A recent study from a Pan-African research and design agency throws some interesting light on how companies with digital products and services investigate their users. Russell Southwood spoke to Yann Le Beux, YUX co-founder and its UX Analytics Manager Elizabeth Akpan about what the study shows.
UX (User experience) is the door through which users pass to make use of digital products and services. No matter how good the idea, badly designed interfaces and processes will lead to failure. UX in Africa has its own set of challenges including language and literacy levels; how well users understand their device’s capabilities; data use behaviors; and bandwidth reliability. As one Rwandan respondent to the survey noted: ““People’s engagement with technology varies greatly. There are inequalities in tech savviness across different income brackets.”
The report set out to discover where and how there were UX designers and how they used research to tackle these kinds of challenges. The study survey had 100 responses from across 18 countries:”We wanted to share this information with the decision-makers (in potential client-companies). There’s a movement going on and in a year’s time it will be possible to see if this is reflected in how clients do UX and the research needed for it to be successful.”
In terms of countries, the survey identified a “critical mass” of skills, talent and activity in five or six countries. These varied from places like Lagos and Nairobi where there have been community groups operating for over three years to the Kampala design community, which is “very nascent.”
This part of the research was carried out using social media, emails and Slack and WhatsApp groups: “We had a lot of connections on LinkedIn and social media.” It then carried out in-depth, qualitative conversations with 22 of the survey respondents.
They were drawn from both the designer/agency side of the line as well as start-ups and companies using UX in their business. These included UX/UI designers, researchers, product managers and product and service designers. According to Le Beux: “We wanted to understand the industry better. Research for UX seemed like a good place to start, to understand what the pain points are.”
Companies find it difficult to get buy-in at a senior level from budget-holders. According to Akpan, “UX practitioners didn’t feel they had buy-in from the CEOs.” The very newness of the idea of research in the African context makes it harder according to one respondent: “Research is new to the company and a big challenge is mapping out and defining what the research process should look like exactly.” More senior staff mistrust the methodology: “The quantity of interviews poses a problem when we do research: the internal stakeholders don't trust small numbers because they are not at ease with the qualitative approach.”
Much of the focus of interest on products and services are with ‘digital natives” but as one respondent noted: ““There are not many resources online that includes the view of older Africans and the design conventions they follow interacting with online products.” Also as another respondent noted: “There are no tools like Otter.AI for instance, that can transcribe voices with African accents into text.”
In the absence of good product and service research, the survey found that: “Often, the customers (especially from lower-income communities) are already comfortable speaking to the sales team and readily open up. This allows them to share their feedback unreservedly with the sales team member they are already familiar with. However, the challenge this poses is that there is no way to verify insights gotten from the sales team.” As always, sales staff often see what they want to see, do not always pick up on things and sometimes have their own agendas.
Recruiting research participants creates its own difficulties: ““A few participants (not more than 20% usually) give unreliable answers because their only motivation for showing up is the incentives.”
Certain companies are more likely to do UX research than others. Companies that are strong in marketing (and telcos are a good example) understand how to make good use of both UX skills and the need for research to inform the UX design process. Other companies – like banks in many African countries – have operations that are protected from the need to innovate by regulation: “Banks are non-clients. Only in Nigeria are they mature enough” In others, says Le Beux “The companies involved don’t need to invest too much in UX research for products because maybe their strength is in distribution.” However, he sees potential for more work in B2B solutions, education and agriculture.
For African users to make better use of their phones, those providing new digital products and services need to have a much better understanding of what their users want and are able to do using their device. Telcos have a self-interest in evangelizing and demonstrating to their enterprise users the value of UX research.
To download a copy of the report:
Angolan mobile operator Unitel issued a release disclosing that it has so far invested USD25 million in network modernisation to prepare for the upcoming launch of 5G technology. In partnership with Ericsson, Unitel began network improvement works in September, in Luanda, Benguela and Cuanza Sul, with similar projects to follow in other provinces. The modernisation programme will improve the quality of 3G and 4G services as well as supporting 5G rollout, with 400 cell sites covered by the deployments thus far. Completion of the initial three-province project is set for December.
On a day of African tech funding milestones, two startups founded by women announced on Oct. 7 that they had each raised at least $2 million from venture capitalists. Nigeria-based Klasha and Cameroonian Ejara join an impressive cohort of female-founded African fintech companies that have raised at least $1 million this year. But their companies remain outliers in a male-dominated funding environment, as new research by Briter Bridges, and the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab suggests.
Liquid Labs aspires to make relevant tech training programmes accessible to students and professionals to bridge the affordability and digital divide, the main deterrents to increased access. The courses will offer targeted training for lawyers and the business community to enable working people to upskill and embrace the opportunities of the digital world.
Kaspersky, a Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider has revealed that it blocked 14 071 malware attacks in Nigeria in the last six months, while Kenya (10 697), and South Africa (5 499) have malware attacks in the same period.
MTN Group has announced plans to invest over USD120 million in its South Sudanese operations over the next three years. In a statement on its social media pages, MTN said it discussed ‘issues of mutual interest, including investment in digital infrastructure and services’ with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit. The statement also added that MTN South Sudan has recently received approval to begin providing mobile money services in the country.
Cellulant’s Board of Directors has announced that Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Akshay Grover, has been appointed as Group CEO and Director of Cellulant with effect from 1 October 2021.
Group Vivendi Africa (GVA) has announced plans to deploy its ‘CanalBox’ fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services in Port-Gentil, Gabon’s second largest city, in the first half of 2022, reports Gabon Media Time. Speaking at the official opening of the company’s new head office in Libreville, GVA CEO Marco de Assis stressed the firm is keen to establish itself in the country’s telecoms sector over the long term. ‘We are putting in place a plan and by 2022 we will have a presence in Port-Gentil and then we will deploy in other provinces in the interior of the country,’ he added.
Africell, the fourth mobile operator in Angola, has selected Angola Cables to provide wholesale IP transit and connectivity solutions for its network.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has published a Draft Information Memorandum for its upcoming auction of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band, as part of its 5G Technology Deployment Plan and in line with the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (NNBP) 2020-2025. Interested stakeholders are invited to make written submissions on the subject by 27 October and participate in a Stakeholders’ Engagement Programme to be held on 3 November, with the spectrum auction currently scheduled to take place on 13 December.The regulator plans to auction off two lots of 100MHz TDD spectrum in the 3.5GHz band, ranging from 3500MHz-3600MHz and 3700MHz-3800MHz. Each lot has a reserve price of USD197.4 million, with the nationwide spectrum licences valid for ten years. To qualify to bid in the auction, applicants will not have to be an existing licensed network operator in Nigeria, although any successful bidder which does not already have a Unified Access Service Licence (UASL) will be granted one upon payment of the specified fee. Winning bidders will be required to launch commercial services within twelve months of the effective date of the licence, and coverage should reach at least one state in each of the country’s six geo-political zones within two years.