Design is an extension of who we are as we represent ourselves to the exterior world. It is important for designers to understand the significant role that design plays in creating identities that both appeal to and meet the needs of the general public. In this way, design becomes a service directed towards meeting the real aspirations of people.

This point was never more obvious to me than when I was working in Uganda this past summer for UNICEF. I was in the unique position of having studied and lived in Uganda for 7 years of my youth. Then, as a graduate student, I found myself back in Kampala, Uganda in the summer of 2014 looking at design through the lens of a graphic designer. I noticed numerous opportunities where designers could positively influence business growth and development.

In particular, I was interested in how design could be used to enhance profitability and social impact. When people interact with well–designed products and services, the experience sensitizes them towards the value of excellent design. From my research, I discovered that a unique Ugandan identity of creative expression is gradually emerging that appeals to both global and local markets.

This led me to the key question of my thesis: “How can I use design to augment experience, enable access, and gracefully reflect the core values and mission of a company or an institution?” Even though I understood aspects of the Ugandan culture, I still needed to research the process of design in Uganda and how Ugandans view design. I researched the culture, economy, and a number of companies including their potential to meet customer values and needs.

Three case studies in Uganda use design to augment experience, enable access, and gracefully reflect the core values and mission of each entity.

Uganda is located in East Africa surrounded by Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Congo, and South Sudan. According to the 2011 Ugandan Census Report, the population of Uganda is 36 million people with 78% of the population being under the age of 30. This large, dynamic, and youthful population uses the internet and a network of mobile platforms to connect socially and to conduct business. Due to the discovery of 6 billion barrels of oil and natural gas reserves, new opportunities are rapidly emerging to meet global and local demands. This means that the economy is showing signs of stability giving rise to a better educated middle class who have deeper appreciation for democracy and the rule of law. The middle class is demanding high–quality products and services. Ugandan designers are starting to fuse indigenous design forms with elements from Western design thinking.

I connected with local businesses, designers, and customers situated in Kampala. I reviewed companies searching for identities to redesign, and settled on three case studies that would be the focus of my thesis: a product, a service, and an institution.

My visual exploration of these three case studies challenged my skill set in strategic, structural and systematic ways. Strategically, what potential visual experiences would effectively communicate with customers? Structurally, what visual language would best reflect the core values and mission of each entity? Finally, how would the various parts best fit into a systematic whole?

Safe Boda is a service that connects passengers to a safe and affordable mode of transportation.

A hired motorcycle is called a boda in Uganda.

I worked in Uganda for UNICEF in the summer of 2014. I met Maxime DIeudonné, the founder of Safe Boda, a company launched with a mission to reduce the staggering number of accidents caused by motorcycles on Kampala’s busy streets. Maxime introduced me to Alastair Sussock, the co–founder and manager of Safe Boda in Uganda.

Motorcycles accounted for 7,280 accidents and 5,145 passenger deaths on Kampala’s streets (Police and Mulago Hospital Records 2013)

The Safe Boda app displays travel costs calculated according to the distance of the journey. This reduces anxiety surrounding the negotiation of exorbitant motorcycle fares. Business cards and stickers share contact information with the public and raise awareness about Safe Boda’s mission. Tote bags, designed with both shoulder and hand straps, enable passengers to safely transport goods thereby reducing cases of motorcycle theft on Kampala’s crowded streets. Neon orange color represents vigilance and caution on the road and the cohesive visual language provides Safe Boda drivers recognition and inspires trust in the company. Success of this business venture is measured on a yearly basis by customer satisfaction, and a reduction in the number of motorcycle related injuries, deaths, and theft cases.

The motorcycle drivers are vetted, trained, and monitored by Safe Boda for their compliance with quality assurance standards.

Identity design opens up larger cultural dialogues. In 2013 approximately 1% of passengers and 30% of motorcycle drivers wore helmets. (Ugandan Police Records)

Safe Boda could increase its marketability with the introduction of bold reflective color and the effective use of typography to convey a sense of safety and vigilance on the road. I designed neon orange helmets and vests that would be easily recognizable and glow at night in the dark busy streets of Kampala, especially during power outages. The color orange and reflective silver represents caution, giving the viewer a feeling of comfort and safety. The typographic lockup provides structure suggesting an aerial view of a road system. The arrows convey movement and direction. The numbers on the backs of the helmets and vests connect passengers to Safe Boda’s vetted motorcycle drivers for verification through an app or a call on a mobile phone. The face, bio, and verification number related to each motorcycle driver allows passengers to access information upfront about each driver.

Rosebud is a company that grows and sells roses in global and local markets.

While working in Uganda during the summer of 2014, I taught yoga at a facility owned by a well–known Ugandan businessman. His company, Rosebud, provides high-quality roses at competitive prices in global and local markets.

The Rosebud farm operates an automated hydroponic system that meets Uganda’s environmental cultivation standards. The company plans to increase the number of rose stems sold monthly from 12 to 15 million by the end of 2015. The company meets bud, stem, color, mix, and bunching requirements of both global and local consumers. The company offers the public a design scheme presenting eight different types of roses with a color palette and form reflecting beauty, delicacy, and impermanence.

Research also revealed the ever–changing nature of the design world. Some companies today regard design as a way to communicate through a rapidly growing global language. Too often, companies think about their design needs from a narrow, fragmented perspective rather than a holistic “kit of parts” that merge to represent the vision and values of their company. Companies might think they just need a flyer, a poster, or a logo, yet each of these customer touchpoints are integral to expressing a unique and coherent identity to the public.

The sensual and beautiful form reflects the growth of a rose from bud to bloom.

The Ugandan Law Society ensures that all Ugandans have access to a competent, independent, legal profession.

I was connected to the institution through Isaac Kutesa and Aster Ruzindana. Aster works as a manager for Seven, a marketing agency in Kampala. The design brief from Aster included suggestions from the client such as a new logo looking realistic (3D) with a crested crane (symbol of Uganda) and weights (symbolizing justice) remaining as part of the logo.

The Ugandan Law Society aims to improve the professional standards of its members by ensuring respect for human rights, the rule of law, and access to justice. The society has both an advisory and advocacy mandate to ensure legal compliance with the Constitution of Uganda. Through alliances and exchange of expertise, the Ugandan Law Society fosters networking, collaboration with international and local organizations, and legal fraternities. The institution promotes informed citizen participation with a goal of achieving free and fair elections. Interventions include: public awareness campaigns about current electoral laws, standards, and practices; and skills training for the judiciary to ensure independence in judging disputes.

Highlighting allows a specific text to have a clear separation from other information.

The use of colors from the flag conveys the message that the institution exists to protect the legal rights of all Ugandan citizens. The design element promotes a sense of humanity, equality, and respect. Highlighting key legal words calls the viewer’s attention to vital information. The rest of the design falls into the background and becomes a supporting layer of information either defining or giving context to the highlighted words. This distills content and simplifies information so that the viewer is able to grasp the meaning through key words. Buttons, cards, and bright national colors add humanity and cultural significance to the Ugandan Law Society’s programs and services. The identity confers a feeling of independence, honor, reliability, respect, and equality before the law.

These three entities are well positioned for growth in an emerging economy.

My redesign work engages customers inviting them to interact with newly designed products and services by enhancing the customer’s visual experience, and providing access to valuable information that reflects the mission and values of each business. I came into this program very invested in behavioral change communication. This project has enabled me to build upon my previous experiences and use design as an agent of change.

Thank you Jennifer Cole Phillips, Ellen Lupton, Class 2015, Alastair Sussock, Maxime DIeudonné, and Isaac Kutsea and Aster Ruzindana.