Over the last 3 months, Danai and Calton from Ampli5yd and myself, have been designing and curating a digital product conference for South Africa.

Coming in September this year to Johannesburg is Pixel Up!. A 3 day session of inspiration, discussions and intense skill sharing. And it’s not just for designers. Managers, developers and project managers, you’re invited too. You all have a role to play in how things get made.

Indeed, Pixel Up! is a chance to get away from the office. But it’s also a learning experience. We’ve put together something to make you better at making products with pixels. Here’s why:

Just less than half, 43%, of User Experience designers in South Africa have less than 4 years professional experience. This is what Jason Hobbs, Dr. Marco Pretorius and Terrence Fenn found in their 2015 UX Landscape study of South Africa.

Now consider that in South Africa we have no full-time User Experience design / Human Computer Interaction courses at university level. That means a very small proportion of our 43% have formal education in User Experience design. The majority are people learning or teaching themselves on the job. With varying success.

These numbers paint a picture of a digital design industry that among many other challenges, simply does not have enough skills and flying hours.

On the other side of the coin, through my own experience, I’d also argue that in many companies in South Africa we lack what I’ll call institutional “design skills”. Many of our employers and sponsors know enough about design to chase the shiny things, but not enough to understand the critical role that design plays in the creation of sustainable innovation.

I’ve heard of more than my fair share of local organisations wanting to be the Apple (or more lately, the Über) of their sector. These folks usually understand the Über business model, or the “slickness” of an Apple product. However, what they have yet to fully understand, is the critical role, beyond the obvious, that design plays in the success of an Über or an Apple.

No matter your role, whichever way we look at it, when it comes to designing and making products with pixels in South Africa, we are all learning and we have a lot to learn.

But learning is not a passive affair. To have maximum effect, an opportunity to gain and share new skills and ideas must be designed with intent. And that’s what we’ve done with Pixel Up!.

We’ve chosen everything about the Pixel Up! experience, from the venue, the speakers and even the seating arrangements with 1 main intent: to help you learn.

For us, giving you an opportunity to hang out with speakers who’ve worked at Apple, Google, Dropbox and Twitter is not enough.

Over the 3 days, we want you to gain something that will make you better. Whether it’s through a talk, a workshop or a discussion during a tea break, if you attend Pixel Up!, we want you to build relationships with digital product people. We want you to take home relevant, practical knowledge that will improve how you think about and make digital products. For the greater good.