Insights In AI and Data Science (Episode 1): Q and A with Richard Tamunotonye, Creative Director NIRA Labs

Practical Machine Learning Course Promotion poster for Richard Tamunotonye, UX Design Mentor at Udacity.

Hello, community!

We had an interview with this week’s guest facilitator for the Practical Machine Learning course. This interview is intended to give an insight into the expert mind of Richard Tamunotonye who is the creative director at Nira Labs and as well as a UX Design mentor at Udacity. We try to make sure the participants of the course get inside the mind of their guest facilitator through these interviews and the same as the general community. Enjoy!

This week’s interview session was conducted by Stephen Oladele who is the lead volunteer for the Port Harcourt School of AI community.

There are 3 categories of questions. If you want to jump through to a category quickly, you can click on any one of the categories below.

Personal Questions

Questions on Design thinking

Advice to the Reader/Listener

Personal Questions

Stephen: Hi Richard! Thanks for doing this Q ’n’ A session with us — we are honoured. Please can you introduce yourself?

Richard: I am Richard Tamunotonye, a UX designer currently based in Port Harcourt. I am passionate about creating solutions that do not only meet the exact needs of people but also bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and beauty to people’s lives.

Stephen: Awesome! How did you get into your current field?

Richard: I got into my current field in 2015 as a freelance graphic designer. I saw a gig for a User Interface design project, I immediately did a quick search about user interface design on google and I discovered it was something I can work on. I applied for the gig and fortunately got the contract. I designed my first UI design with Corel draw, the client was really impressed with the project on completion and even gave me a 5-star review after the contract and since then I have continued to learn and improve my career path in the field of UX design.

Stephen: Hahaha, this is perhaps one of the most common ways people get to learn skills these days.

Stephen: Do your family and friends understand what you do for a living? Do you even bother to explain?

Richard: My family knows that I am doing something related to tech, I explained to my mum about my specialization last year while conducting a research interview with her.

Stephen: It turns out it’s a blessing when parents actually understand what you do.

Stephen: What did you want to be when you went to university? What did you end up studying? And how did what you studied impact how you currently work in your present field?

Richard: I have been a tech enthusiast since when I was a kid, I had a passion for solving problems, funny enough my plans before entering the University was opening a very big business centre not until I joined Google Developers Group and I discovered there were other fields in tech I can contribute to. I graduated in 2016 and I decided to major in UX design because it aligns with my values and strengths.

Stephen: Oh, wow. Great story. It’s breathtaking how much technology communities have helped people shape their career.

Stephen: What are you currently working on that you will love to share with the audience?

Richard: As a UX designer, one major challenge I have had is getting the right visual content (illustrations, photographs and videos) that can pass the intended message to the target audience I am designing for. NIRA Stock was born out of the need to get royalty-free African Visual contents, I was able to train a group of designers and we have created over a thousand African visual content and we are currently onboarding creatives across Africa on our platform.

Stephen: So good! Of course, you earlier stated your passion is problem-solving so it is really of little surprise you took this problem head-on. Nice! Thanks for answering those under the “personal questions” session. I will now move to ask you some couple of questions on your design thinking expertise.


Questions on Design Thinking

Stephen: Pretend I’m not a tech person. Can you explain design thinking in simple terms and how it aids problem-solving?

Richard: Design thinking is a 5 step process that helps us come up with meaningful ideas to solve difficult real-life problems for a particular group of people. Sometimes we have wonderful ideas or solutions that are actually solving problems but after launching the solutions we notice that people do not use them. Design thinking process helps us understand the problem from the users perspective and come up with innovative solutions that not only solve the problem but also meets the needs of the users. The various stages of design thinking are;

  1. Empathy: During the empathy phase, we try to understand the problem from the user's point of view by conducting interviews, see what they(the users) see and feel what they feel, basically putting ourselves in the shoes of the users.
  2. Define: Analyse the feedback from the interviews to get a clearer picture of their problems by creating a problem statement.
  3. Ideate: Based on the problem statement, we come up with ideas to solve the problem, the ideas must not be the perfect solution but there is room for feedback and testing.
  4. Prototype: After the ideation session, we come up with a blueprint of our proposed solution.
  5. Testing: We try to check in our proposed solution meets the needs of the users and they can actually use it effectively to achieve their goals.

Stephen: Phew! Quite lengthy but surely well explained. Thanks a lot.

Stephen: What is one thing about design that is clear to you but is not so to other people?

Richard: I come across several people (clients, friends, business owners etc.) who think the design is just about aesthetics, for me, design is more than that, everything we see today is centred around design, the design is about problem-solving, ideas made visual, relationship, strategy, innovation in fact design is life. Look at the earth for example, there is a habitat for every creation, the designer considered every creature, analysed their needs and problems and created a corresponding habitat that meets their needs.

Stephen: How did you become such an expert on design thinking?

Richard: The secret for me is consistency, I always try to get better each day.

Stephen: That’s pretty much the big secret that isn’t even a secret anymore, eh? Lol.

Stephen: Why do you think people should learn the skill of design thinking?

Richard: Design thinking skill is one skill that can be applied in every field of life, it can be applied to real-life problems and help you come up with creative solutions. It has helped entrepreneurs come up with new innovative solutions.

Stephen: It seems very needful. What qualities do you think are most important for design thinking professionals?

Richard: As a design thinker, you need to have empathy, optimism, good listening skills, patience and creative problem-solving. There are more involved but from my experience, you need to be willing to learn and unlearn, everything comes along with experience.

Stephen: Hmm, design thinkers. I love the reference. Surely enticing to be one.

Stephen: Of course, we are in Port Harcourt, can you outline some ways design thinking can help solve some of our problems here?

Richard: We have several creative solutions in Port Harcourt that are not working here in Port Harcourt but are working effectively in other areas, this is because the companies or individuals have failed to understand the needs of their potential users in Port Harcourt before coming up with these solutions.

For example, we are currently facing serious environmental pollution design thinking can help us come up with effective solutions to this problem, the design community in Port Harcourt (IXDA Port Harcourt) is currently planning to host an event titled “ Design For Social Change ( Environmental Impact)”, this event will bring together designers across Nigeria and we will be hacking out solutions for the environmental problems we are currently facing.

Stephen: This is a really good initiative, Richard. Human-centric design is absolutely needed at the core of every industrial and social process in not just Port Harcourt but the world in its entirety. Thanks to you and your team for the initiative, I am eagerly looking forward to it.

Stephen: How does design thinking work in the industry? Why do companies need to make this a priority?

Richard: Design thinking saves companies time, resources and increases productivity, instead of wasting time building the wrong product for the wrong users, it helps them build the right product for the right users and at the end of the day we have happy customers.

Stephen: Very true! I mean, if you are building solutions without the users of the product as the priority and centre of every plan, then we can surely expect a lot of things to go wrong.

Stephen: In your opinion, what does a data scientist need the skill of design thinking for?

Richard: Data Science can contribute a lot to design thinking, sometimes we have thousands of feedback that needs to be analyzed with effective data visualizations before ideation and this is one area data science can come in.

Stephen: That’s definitely a thing. I remember taking a class from frogdesign on “data intelligent design thinking” and how modern data intelligence helps designers provide more personal and human design experience. To add to that, I think design thinking can also help humanize the data science process by helping the data scientists and ML (machine learning) engineers build solutions through human-centric processes. Thanks a lot.

Stephen: Thanks a lot Richard for taking time off your busy schedule to answer our questions. Before you go, there’d be one last section on your advice to the audience. This is pretty much anyone who is perhaps looking for ways to learn the skill of design thinking, or just needs direct advice from you.


Advice to the Reader/Listener

Stephen: How do you keep your technology skills current?

Richard: I am always learning and looking out for the latest design trends and best practices.

Stephen: What online resources do you use to help you do your job? Richard: I use the Interaction Design Foundation and Udacity most times for learning. I follow a lot of design articles, learning platforms and leaders. For projects, I choose tools based on the type of project but I mostly lookout for tools that allow collaboration, accessibility, speed and enhance productivity, for example, Miro, Google Sheets, Google Docs, Figma, Adobe XD, Invision app etc.

Stephen: Thank you for the insight. I understand that you are the creative director at Nira labs. In your opinion, what are the qualities of a successful team or product manager?

Richard: The team needs to share the same vision and for them to share the same vision it means the vision has to be clear and everybody can relate to it.

Stephen: You seem to be involved in a lot of things. How do you manage your work-life balance?

Richard: I focus on what matters, try to set my priorities at every point in time so I have time for myself and family.

Stephen: What final advice would you give to developers and engineers looking to apply the skill of designing with empathy to their workflows, and what pitfalls should they avoid?

Richard: “We must design for the way people behave, not for how we would wish them to behave.” ― Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity.

There is no room for assumptions, you are not your user.

Stephen: Well put. Thanks, Richard, for impacting us today. We hope you have a great time in class.


Thank you for taking the time to enjoy this interesting interview with one of the best in the country when it comes to the area of design thinking, and a phenomenal human being. We will hopefully keep releasing sessions like these before each of the classes with a guest facilitator. If you would like to ask Richard a question directly, feel free to reach him on Twitter @ismeerich.

If you enjoyed it the Q and A with Richard, do clap for the story hit the like button, and share it with your friends that may be interested. See you soon.

No Comments Yet