Optimizing for empathy in design – Part II

In the previous post, I wrote about the different ways I optimize for empathy in design. It was easy to apply these, seeing as I was designing for someone I know. What about when designing for someone I have never met, and had only interacted with over the internet?

As if to test my pontificating, such a scenario presented itself over the holidays. I received an order for a bag I had made, and mailed it. I imagined it was a gift for a guy, as

  1. The order had been placed through a male name
  2. I had just created a ‘For men’ section and was eager to convince myself it was already taking off
  3. The bag was a unisex design.

I received a gracious email saying that the writer’s dear husband had purchased her the bag as a Christmas gift, but that the strap was too short for her.

I think that one of the advantages of making bags is that unlike shoes, they are often one size fits all. For everything else, a strap adjuster is usually a good solution. The thing is that

  1. Sometimes, from an aesthetic point of view, a strap adjuster introduces at least two additional metal components, that can sometimes remove from the aesthetics I had in mind.
  2. A shoulder bag is usually fine. However, I had listed this as a cross-body bag, and for fuller-bodied people, what this means is that the bag strap has to be long enough to cover some of the width of their shoulders, lateral rib-cage, and chest/bust. So it almost becomes like clothing, where bust measurements, shoulder measurements, etc come into play. I hadn’t thought of this as I placed the listing under the cross-body category. I am now more careful to only place bags with ample-length and an adjustable strap in this category.

I thought that this would be a good opportunity to put some empathic design into play. It was after the holidays and I could make out time to create a bag that the client would be happy to wear. Also, unlike scenarios where the client places an order and I mail it in and communicate thanks via email, I had had a bit more communication with this client. Many of the people who order from Minku have this warmth about them. Sometimes I have to send customer care emails for situations like when someone is personalizing a gift, or when items would take longer to mail out, because I need x number of days to make their custom order. I receive the warmest and most patient of email responses. It makes this job really fulfilling, partly because I know I can relax and do a good job. I also work very well under pressure, but I try to avoid it, as I am lucky enough to be the person I report to.

For step one of making a bag that the client would like, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind sending me a picture of some of the bags she owned, just maybe two or three of them placed together. I told her this would give me an idea of her bag taste, and help me come up with something for her. At first I received no response, and I thought this was expected, because who really wants to get that intimate with someone she doesn’t really know? There might be an element of it that seems to say show me your style and I’ll judge you and make you something I think suits you, and I had to be proper with the wording, to remove the slightest misread sense of judgement. However, I found it important to request this information, because I needed more than a blank slate to work with.

When the returned bag arrived, we had the touchpoint of conversing again, and I asked again, just in a no-fuss way: if you can send me a photo of two or three bags, then I’ll get an idea and can work with more direction. If you don’t feel comfortable sending it, this is totally fine, and I’ll make a bag with the strap of the length we already discussed, and mail it by x date to avoid delaying this.

She sent me the photo the same day, explaining that the challenge had been deciding which of the bags to send me a photo of. It was really cool to receive the photo, because I knew almost immediately which of the styles I had been ruminating over, to make for her. I hadn’t tried padded quilting before, but I really wanted to. Even though none of the bags in the photo she sent to me had padded quilting, I felt that this was my chance to  give it a try, to achieve the more structured style of bag she seemed to lean towards. Also, leather quilting is really pretty, and I wanted the challenge.

I sent her a photo of the bag, and I received the best email, saying how much she loved it. I have to say that I feel I also got lucky, because it is not like I am suddenly a mind reader or a photo reader. It is a combination of having a gracious client and working to understand people’s taste and translate it into something that, though different, they will still like.

The bag arrived about a week earlier than I had expected, and I got the best email from her.

First, spirit animal – whenever I’m stoked about something, I think that I would cry. And sometimes, when I am telling someone that their gesture/gift/words made me want to cry, I can see the look on their faces like, “no, that’s not what I was going for” but I still use the expression anyway because it’s how I feel :) So it was nice to see the client use the same expression. I totally understood the feeling she was trying to convey.

So I felt like it was a successful interaction. The thing about this work is that the emphasis has to be that I want to make bags that people want to wear. On average, people have tens of bags, so it would be unrealistic to think that wearing one bag every day for two years will be a mark of success. However, the thought of switching to the bag should delight them, like yay I can’t wait to switch my things into this Minku bag, with its glorious aso-oke interior and how the contents of my bag hit the light differently; its comfortable strap, the artisan details, the form of the bag, and all the compliments I will get.

For me, that is the dream. And it made this unplanned empathic design experience 100% worth it.



A different photo shoot than the ones I usually do.

This has been a pretty amazing week, with trips to get fabric for work, attendance of social media week lagos events, and a photo shoot that I had been conceiving in my mind’s eye for months.

It’s hard to know how everything would come together: this top, those pants, that hairstyle, those ad-hoc aso-oke earrings, that backdrop, this camera lens versus that one… until you’re there, on set, just click-click-clicking.

Akor, the model brought it. This was a different photo shoot than the ones I usually do, because it was as much about the clothes as the bags. A Minku bag and clothing collection. I can’t wait to present the full lookbook. These are some grainy shots of the camera viewer, because I couldn’t really wait to say, “here, dear Minku loyalist, is a sneak peek before everyone else gets to know, of what you can expect to see on the Minku social media pages, web site, and hopefully some press, in the time to come.” So I hope you’re liking it all as much as I am.

Model: Akor
Photographer: Kunmi

Listening to the Cut the Rope mobile game soundtrack.

Getting some much-deserved yoghurt (Akor) and vanilla ice-cream (me) on our return from the photo shoot site. When I was a kid, the best part of church was after-church when my parents would buy my siblings and I these ice-creams from the ice-cream bicycle man. It was always a bummer when our favorite flavor was sold out. Still is.


MMXVI: The Year of Verstappen

2016 is the Year of Max Verstappen.

He’s the man whose headstrong defensive drives we grew to dislike, yet whose aggressive overtakes had us singing his praises… all in the span of five races.

He won’t let you overtake him; yet he won’t let you not let him overtake you.

Fearless at 300km/hr (not cool, bro) as he is on a dripping wet circuit (dude, he’s like Hamilton… or Senna!), he’s at his best when he’s aggressor trying to overtake, not so much as rookie karter vacillating on the track to ensure you don’t get past him.

The FIA rules on changing direction under braking were changed only last month thanks to Verstappen and his defensive maneuvering, and definitely to cheers from other drivers. Yet guess who got caught in the FIA’s net the very next race after the rule change? You’ll be forgiven for thinking it was Max if you can’t tell your Vettels from your Verstappens.

This guy’s drives, man. After yesterday’s race, you saw him smile. It was that full-faced smize, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Vettel took second place in Canada, you know, the race where he (Vettel) had swerved to avoid the suicidal seagulls and all. Not one to jump, faux-levitate, fist-pump, DAB, or do a Tebow like one of the other nimbler-limbed drivers, Verstappen wears his mood 95% in his face and 5% in his intonation. Often this season, his expression was smug, sullen, tightened, unwelcoming. After the Brazilian GP on the Interlagos Circuit yesterday, that is to say, after he out-strategized Perez, Sainz, an increasingly whiny Vettel… and even Rosberg in that brief moment before his team called over the radio to piss on his parade — often by overtaking around the outside of the track, a part F1 drivers would normally avoid for its wetness and low grip but which Verstappen was bold enough to exploit successfully thanks to negative wheel camber keeping it dryer and with better grip than other drivers dared to imagine — he had that full-faced, I-woke-up-like-this, daddy-Jos-can-you-see-how-I’m-making-you-proud? smile. And this time, the world was full-on smiling with him.

There’s an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.” Verstappen is the best manager of his own image, and the way he has made us go from hating his driving style to admiring his gut, sheer force of will, and gosh, amazing driving talent, all in the span of the 2016 Formula 1 Championship season, is something that should make it to the case study blurbs of business texts for years to come.


  • Apparently I need to watch more karting because Verstappen, the straight-from-karting-to-F1 kid, is pulling some hot karting overtaking moves that us who like F1 would do well to get schooled on.
  • Hamilton, man. I’m so used to his amazing drives that what he did in leading this utterly wet-track race from start to finish (at times up to 8 full seconds ahead of the driver behind him) might not be getting all the laudatory glory it truly deserves.
  • Still on Hamilton, his first win in Brazil, Si Señor! And his 52nd F1 win, now sandwiching him between Schumacher and Alain Prost as the driver with the second most F1 wins of all time :-D Proud gal shimmy.
  • RED BULL. Guys, time and again, your pit stop strategy sucks. Who are the strategists for Ricciardo and Verstappen? How does anyone really think that when a Red Bull successfully comes between the two Mercedes is a good time to pit for sissy things like a tyre switch from wets to intermediates? Especially on a wet track with a high likelihood that some aquaplaning car or the other would have the safety car rolling out sooner or later (and you can capitalize on a free pit stop)? Also, was a simple weather forecast for more rain not available to these guys? It’s becoming laughable how often they deprive their drivers of a good fighting chance for a higher podium finish; and in the process, deprive us viewers of what could be some seat-edge racing in a season monopolized by Mercedes 1-2’s.
  • A three-and-a-half hour race, God, I must love F1, and he that watched it with me without being much of an F1 fan must love me (or beer. Or the excitement of seeing me cuss so much. I don’t know).
  • Red Bull gives you wings.

Work, play, and dreaming of the weekend

I worked all of yesterday. Today, too. I am simultaneously working on four bags. You can see one I completed on Monday, here, and also below.


The extra lovely weekend prepped me for such a busy week. On Sunday afternoon, we hung out in plazas watching castellers and drinking canned juice. Then we met up with friends for tacos. On Monday evening, we went to an outdoor cinema where we lay on the grass with maybe 800 other people and saw a movie we had both seen before, and both love. Tuesday came and I started prepping for work and then Wednesday came and I woke up early and started to work and then today too, though I let myself sleep in a bit longer.

I’m making progress, and it is all looking good. You can’t rush this work, though. For two of the current projects, I’m designing as I make, and you can’t rush design. It’s a series of decisions that need you to be well-fed and well-rested and just chill. So yeah, I’ve been having some Zen days of creating, but when it’s all done and mailed, I’ll also just have some Zen days of serious resting.

This heat is not helping things. I don’t know what it is called, but the air here has been stagnant since yesterday. As in, you open the balcony door, but no breeze. Please, summer, have some chill :-)

Speaking of chill, well on Saturday, we will go to a friend’s birthday party. I’m pretty excited — maybe just the thought of taking a break, seeing this friend again, meeting the new people that will be at the party, and exploring a neighborhood with them after tapas. It’s Formula 1 on Sunday :-D :-D :-D, Hungraroingaroing in Hungary. Ok, the circuit is actually called Hungaroring; still, it reminds me of Antananarivo, where I have to consciously learn how many times to repeat the middle syllables. After Sunday’s race, the drivers are going on… August break, he he. ‘August break’ is funny to me because it is the name of a poem we had to read in Junior Secondary 1 (like 7th grade), regarding the rainy season in Nigeria, which runs from April to October, with a break in August. When I start cheesing at my own jokes, it’s time for bed (just kidding, it’s something I always do). I hope you’ve been having a fulfilling week.


A race in the wet

Trust the Silverstone circuit to deliver a race in the wet. It wasn’t actively raining, so most drivers switched from wets to intermediate tyres early in the race, and as the track dried, to mediums. All the same, the wet track reminded me of one of my favourite quotes in the 2010 movie Senna: “Then his favourite thing happened. It began to rain.”

The most exciting thing about this race was the tussle between Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen. And if you’d been following these two since their Ferrari days, Massa (now driving for Williams) and Alonso (now at McLaren Honda) were interesting to watch midgrid as well.

As a driver who has had 15 race wins, 11 pole starts and who finished 2nd in the 2008 Drivers’ Championship, Massa is one of the really good drivers out there right now. The way he fended off Alonso’s overtake attempts during Sunday’s British GP only served to reinforce this idea.

Sunday was a day of back-to-back sports watching: F1, and then the Wimbledon men’s finals (congratulations Andy Murray and of course SERENA WILLIAMS :-D), and at night, the UEFA Euro Championship finals. What a great day.

Best part of the British GP: Hamilton’s crowdsurf at the end. You earned it, mate.

Confetti tyres and detach-y front wings

If you wanted a clue about the unpredictability with which the 2016 Austrian GP was about to unfold, you needed to look no further than the array of tyres on which the different teams started their drivers. What would normally be an even split between, say, softs and supersofts, or intermediates and wets, was a colorful mix of softs, supersofts, and the newly-introduced ultrasofts in the Pirelli F1 range.

RACE DAY – The race started off decently enough, with no surprises (Rosberg quickly overtaking his way up to 4th place from 7th; the uncharacteristically front-of-grid Force India of Hulkenberg going down some places in the first few laps). So let’s fast forward to where all the excitement happened: Lap 71/71! It was like watching a football match where an equalizer and a winning goal happen in the 89th minute. I was already writing off the race, saying in my head that it would be another Mercedes 1-2, with a happy (very happy) Verstappen as third. Vettel, who had been in third place until about the 26th lap, had seen his right rear tyre ceremoniously explode and shear, leaving huge marbles and rubber debris scattered on the racetrack (and stuck under Rosberg’s chassis!); and his SF16-T immobilized until the safety car was deployed and the car towed away. He retains third place in the championship, so this DNF hopefully doesn’t affect his championship placement much.

What it did affect, however, was the tyre strategy confidence of the other teams. Their radios were suddenly abuzz, and those whose race plan had entailed seeing how far those ultrasofts could take them, were now second-guessing, in part to benefit from a deployed safety car. Whether it is the tyre manufacturer or the team’s strategy that is to blame, it is not very sexy to see the live and then replayed footage of your team’s car bouncing about the track, its tyre unfurling like a roll of confetti or a party whistle, its driver’s gloved hands conveying the frustrated futility of trying to steer a car on three wheels. Ferrari may have the most recognizable livery in F1, but after it happened to them, no other team wanted an encore with its car. So it was pitstop after pitstop, changing the race strategy of many drivers (including Hamilton; when he changed his tyres around lap 21, it was with the intent of having them last the whole race, knowing that his teammate would still lose time pitting. But then he had a tyre change again around lap 50). Hamilton’s pit stops, though. They were long and clumsy. I had thought that Nico’s would be long because the  Sky commentator had said he still had debris from Seb’s car stuck under his chassis. Yet it was art.

Well, the good thing that came out of Lewis’ late tyre change (to softs, against Nico’s faster-wearing yet better-grip supersofts, as we would see in much-replayed footage of their final-lap tussle, later), was that it emboldened him to take on Nico later. Luckily for him, the Red Bull Ring seems to have ample opportunities for overtaking. It’s also a short track (2.3mi), so if you miss this chance to overtake at Turn 2, say, well, in a minute or so (assuming ~200 miles per hour), the chance would present itself again.

Still, man, what a bold move. These two Mercedes drivers are not beyond taking each other out, as they showed in Barcelona. So it was clear that were Hamilton to make a move to turn that 1-2 around in his favor, the chance of a DNF-DNF would be real. But no one could have predicted a 1-4. Especially not in Hamilton’s favor.

Toto Wolff said something about team orders, but I think the best way to enforce driver behavior will be to work on the drivers’ own rational minds. There is such a split-second of time for decision making when overtaking, that it won’t help to have your team barking or even cajoling orders at you simultaneously. I want to watch a race where the drivers aren’t ruthless but are rational even if it will cost them a place or two. Overtaking is fair game, and is indeed the whole point of motorsports. Blocking the driver’s car from returning to the track after an unsuccessful overtake attempt, doesn’t seem to be.

In the end, Rosberg’s front wing was stuck under his car, leading him to slow down to a lucky fourth place (lucky because had there been two laps left, all the other cars would have overtaken his). It reminded me of Verstappen’s front wing, lost during Friday’s practice. Kyvat’s, too. Nine races into the season, the drivers all seem to understand the capabilities and limitations of their respective engines. That their front wings are delicately attached and their tyres rapidly expendable, however, it seems they are still wrapping their heads around.

Do you know what week it is?

It’s Formula 1 week. Which happens every two weeks during Formula 1 season, except in August when the drivers have, gasp, the month off!

Formula 1 week means I have Formula 1 to look forward to on the weekend. Sometimes I study the circuit and learn a bit about it – the corners, presence or absence of hairpins, the descriptive terms the drivers use for it, and since F1 is so heavy on history and heritage, past notable events on that circuit.

Two weekends ago, we went to Belushi’s to see the first race ever to be held in Azerbaijan. During qualifying, I kid you not, a cat made its way onto the circuit. Yes, way to get squashed by cars doing 200mph. The cat was safe, but at first I thought the picture (it appeared on @F1’s instagram feed) was photoshopped. It wasn’t.

Did anyone see the interview with Hamilton after Canada? Vettel, super excited to have come in second, bombed Hamilton’s victor interview, saying in a very jovial manner that the reason he came second was that he’d slowed down for two suicidal seagulls that were on the race track and that didn’t budge as he approached. But that Hamilton hadn’t, lol. This resulted in search for the footage of the seagulls (I think it was on Sky Sports, not sure), but each time, Vettel was like, nope, not there, not that. And finally, there they were, two white specks on the track as his Ferrari sped towards them!

So, yeah, F1 is hilarious at times. And it’s great to see the drivers smiling and having a good time at it. There have been many good drivers joining in the past few seasons, like Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kyvat, or Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (who effectively blocked Rosberg from achieving any podium aspirations at Gilles-Villeneuve (Montreal GP), and was voted driver of the day for that race).

Oh, Toro Rosso means Red Bull in Italian by the way, go figure. Two teams sponsored by the same company — they also have some of the most beautiful livery I’ve seen. What is the car with the orange and blue livery? It is a very bold statement that happens in the middle to back of the track, and it’s quite beautiful to see.

I also wanted to mention that it was cool to see Force India’s Sergio Perez on podium in Baku. He was so happy, he couldn’t even hide it. In a sport dominated by European drivers and the occasional Brazilian, Perez was just too happy to be flying Mexico’s flag.

Love and chicanes,