Uche Onyeka

Uche is a Nigerian designer, content creator and community advocate. He is currently a Product Design Intern at Facebook, working on Workplace in London.

Checklist Check-Ins is an ongoing series that asks designers about their best practices, and their experiences using checklists.

I discovered Uche's portfolio on Twitter and loved it instantly. It has all the right touches of today's kind of designer: he shares comprehensive case studies, there's personal fun facts to enjoy, and I quickly get a feeling of what kind of person Uche is.

Enjoy the read as Uche dives deep into his career and design journey so far.

So Uche, how have you shaped your design thinking so far in your career?

Early in my design career, I was too focused on leaning into the craft and skills we were told we needed to get the job. Skills like product thinking, interaction design, and visual design. As I spent more time practicing design, it became clearer there's more to being a product designer than just designing products.

To be successful, you also needed soft skills โ€” designing within the confines of a product system, aligning with cross-functional teams, having diplomatic conversations and collaborative decision making, design documentation, and communicating product ideas. These weren't skills taught in any online course or bootcamps; for me, it came through failing on the road to being a true multidisciplinary designer.

Wes O'Haire introduced me to Mental Models for Product Designers in 2019, which is how I shape my design thinking now. It's helped improve my problem solving, communicate & collaborate more efficiently and make better design decisions.

I'm now starting to learn more about being a Growth Designer and infuse that into building data-informed products for a better humane experience.

Your portfolio presents an active voice in the design community. Where does the drive come from, and what else is on your list of goals when it comes to contributing to the community?

Ah yes, updating my portfolio itself did take a village. I had been โ€œworking on itโ€ since September last year, and it wasnโ€™t until I joined the On Deck Fellowship that I actually became intentional about the work.ย 

My design journey started with a community in Lagos, Nigeria in 2017. I used to shadow an alumni student in high school who liked playing with Corel Draw and some day I decided to try it out myself.ย  The Nigerian design community is growing at a very rapid rate and springing up various sub-communities to create more entry points and increase access for early designers.

Growing up in Lagos, and trying to navigate my career path looked like playing whack a mole with any and all opportunities. From freelancing, to working in startups, to agency and now at Facebook โ€” all while being a full time undergraduate student. I still live in the struggles of being an African designer trying to compete in a global industry.

Iโ€™m very passionate about my mission to create a space that provides African designers with access to resources and opportunities that would enable them to compete fairly with their global peers, and enforce the value of design across the continent. Iโ€™m currently working to contribute towards this with content on my YouTube channel.

Uche's 3 best practices

People first; design later

Joining a new team can be equally challenging for you and the existing team members. Think about making the best onboarding and creating a space that would kick start an environment for trust and growth.

Create new industry patterns centered on employee experience through some easy ways to make a long-term impact that smooth out design work and recognize excellence in your teammates.

Design for humans, not just users

I've come across lots of resources that talk about designing for users or designing for humans. I think the best place to be in is to be conscious of the human nature of your users. As designers, we preach empathizing with users as a crucial step in the HCD process, but many make assumptions on what we think our target user should look like.ย 

We create this safe bubble where our product can thrive, but in reality, we should be considering how the different factors of being a person shake up that bubble. Visualize someone who needs your product. Imagine this person going through life, their troubles and worries, ups and downs; remember that every day as a human being is different. Think about what's going on with them when they aren't using your product, and how that impacts them when they are using your product.

Have multiple mental models

I talked a bit about how I use mental models to shape my design thinking earlier on, but I cannot overshare how these have changed my work life and help me save time. Iโ€™m a young designer, so I like to think I bring a fresh perspective into any problem I tackle, but like every other designer, itโ€™s not always a smooth ride.

Having multiple mental models for various situations is a great way to future-proof and unblock your creative flow.ย 

Outside of your work, whatโ€™s a personal best practice you try to employ?

Slow down, give gratitude, take responsibility; a mantra I picked up not too long ago from a friend and fellow ODD fellow โ€” Chuba Ezekwesili.

A simple reminder that I can apply in any part of my life to help me unplug, reflect, and stay proactive at any point in my journey.

Letโ€™s talk checklists. Has a project ever gone wrong because you forgot something important? Could a checklist have helped you out?

Oh yes; Itโ€™s usually the little things, you spend so much time obsessing about a problem and diving deeper into smaller chunks of the solution, that sometimes a few things slip away. I usually just assume it was a no-brainer; like designing a password reset page, or an empty state, or relying on engineering to easily build off the design system.

Working with a checklist every step of the way, would have been a life saver, and eliminated back and forth.

You're going into a new project, and you can only use one checklist from Checklist Design - which one is it, and why?

Oh that's easy โ€” Accessibility!

As designers, we should all take responsibility to make sure that everyone has access to the solutions we create, being conscious to ensure usability and inclusion. A good step to building an accessible product is to build empathy and design with an inclusive design mentality โ€” a mindset that Iโ€™m continuously working to grow in.

Where you can find more of Uche: