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Figma launches in SA

Figma, a leading San Francisco-based tech company, launched its global design initiative and community in Cape Town this past weekend.

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Figma has embarked on a roadshow to launch its Global Design Community from South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, and plans to roll it out to other countries to establish a supportive global community across continents for amateur and professional designers and web designers. 

The hashtag #FigmaCommunitySA trended on Twitter on Saturday afternoon as the Figma Africa Cape Town launch event got underway at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) incubator at the Woodstock Exchange in Cape Town. The event was hosted by Figma and its African partners Ingressive, MEST Africa, and Cape Town tech firm IO Digital. 

“Our Africa launch was a tremendous success. It made sense to launch Figma’s global design community in Africa first, from three of its top tech hubs Accra, Lagos and Cape Town, and then to the rest of the world,” said Figma Africa lead advocate Namnso Ukpanah. 

“Up to 80% of Figma’s users are located outside of the US and a large number of those users are based in Africa. That’s because Figma is uniquely positioned to suit the African design enthusiasts’ software needs – it is browser-based and therefore can be used from any device with an internet connection. It is also free for individuals and small teams, so they no longer need to install and run expensive design software to be able to do their jobs. It also allows you to design for any screen size or file format, and it’s made for team collaboration. As a result, Figma is one of the few US software companies paying attention to the untapped potential of the growing web design industry in Africa.”

Figma’s groundbreaking browser-based interface design tool with real-time collaboration is used by the design teams from top companies such Airbnb, Uber, Slack and Microsoft. And now the company has launched Figma Africa, the first Africa-wide and global online design community to connect designers across Africa on messaging app Slack, the Figma Africa social media channels and at various design events on the continent. So far, close to 800 designers from across Africa have joined the Figma Africa Slack channel.

The Cape Town roadshow was MC’d by local tech startup expert Vuyolwethu Dubese of Thomson Reuters, and included a lively panel discussion on the meaning of world class design by local startup, tech and design experts including Ukpanah, Passmarked.com CEO Mark McChlery, creative strategist Marwaan Sasman, user experience (UX) experts Dane Perring of ad agency 99c and Nicole Bergstedt of Thomson Reuters, and designer and creative communications specialist Najma Toefy of PwC. The discussion was led by moderator Evans Manyonga, Reignmakers founder and editor of Fast Company SA. 

“The key takeaway is that everyone can be a designer,” said Dubese. “Figma makes it easy for anyone with an internet connection to be a designer. Web developers and designers have traditionally worked separately, but now they can work together more collaboratively, and web developers can even try their hand at design. And with the new Figma Africa community that is growing, design enthusiasts across the continent can support each other and innovate together.”

Sasman said: “I see design as not a visual pursuit but a problem solving pursuit. Designers need to start thinking in a much broader sense as problem solvers, because it’s about more than just making visual things. The most valuable designers are the ones that understand people, political or social issues and how to make a social impact. UX matters.”

Software engineer Thabang Tsoboho, who was in the audience, quipped in Twitter that, “We’ve had the “Should Designers code” (chant), but what about “Should Developers Design?”, referencing that users often looked at badly executed tech products like unwieldy apps or software, as design failures rather than coding failures.

Figma will be returning to Cape Town in August, joined by a delegation from the world’s leading software development platform Github, to host a design-focussed hackathon for teams of developers and designers. 

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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