Chris Elawa

April 24, 2017

"Over a billion people use Facebook everyday, which means that your design decisions have a widespread impact."

Soon to be a fulltime product designer for Facebook, Chris emphasizes the importance of understanding context and culture when designing for a diverse range of users worldwide. 

Meet Chris

1. How has your own context and culture influenced your work as a product designer?           

My formative years were spent in Jos, Nigeria and Vancouver, Canada. Between the Nigerian community I was born into and South Vancouver’s diverse school system, I was exposed to many wonderful people with vastly different cultural perspectives. I learned how to empathize, not just with people who looked, spoke, or had the same abilities or access as me, but with all people. 

Years later, empathy has become my greatest tool as a designer. It can slice through barriers, demanding deep consideration of the individuals one is designing for.

I always ask myself:

  • What are the cultural assumptions I’m making?
  • What context will this product be used in?
  • Do I understand that context?
  • If not, how can I better understand it?

These questions anchor my design process.

I actually wrote an article that investigates the importance of understanding culture and context when designing products for less industrialized economies in Africa. 

Eventually, I aim to do product design for development in Nigeria. I aspire to be part of a growing design culture that uncovers new perspectives and engages those most familiar with a given culture and context. I’d also like to use design alongside other mechanisms to solve problems.  

2. How have your previous internships developed your skills as a product designer?


Soon after I started SIAT, I got involved with a start-up called Skynation. This is where I learned the ins and outs of working professionally as a designer—managing projects, meeting with clients and delivering work.

At Skynation, most of my projects were visual in nature and were for clients in music and entertainment. One of the highlights was designing promotional material for Nigerian musicians who were touring North America and winning international awards.  


During my third year in SIAT, I knew I wanted to go into the field of UX. Through Touchpoint, I was fortunate enough to land an internship as a UX intern at a digital agency called AKQA in San Francisco. In this position, I was involved in work for existing clients like Nike and Nvidia, doing pitches for new business, and internal projects.


My last internship was at Facebook in the Bay Area. As a product designer for Facebook, I worked across all stages of the product design process, including collaborating with engineers to introduce new features to the platform. 

3. How does it feel to land a fulltime job at Facebook after your internship?

I couldn't be more excited to have the opportunity to return to my team and make an impact. As a fulltime product designer for Facebook, I get to work on every aspect of the product development process. This means brainstorming innovative ideas, prototyping solutions and pushing the pixels till visual harmony is achieved. 

The best part about working as product designer for Facebook is designing at scale—which is also the most challenging part.

Over a billion people use Facebook everyday, which means that your design decisions have a widespread impact.

With that comes the immense responsibility of considering the incredible diversity amongst people you design for. 

4. What are some challenges of working in the industry?

The design industry tends to move much quicker than anything you experience in school. Delivering work rapidly without sacrificing integrity or quality is definitely a challenge. I believe mentorship is the key to overcoming this and getting up to speed quickly. I was fortunate to have great mentors to lean on at both AKQA and Facebook.

5. What have you learned about yourself through your work experiences?

I learned that I get the most fulfillment from projects that may feel a bit long, but require me to tackle complex problems. When that kind of project gets completed, it is one of the best feelings in the world. 

6. What advice would you give to others wishing to follow your steps?

If you are still in school, take your design courses seriously but also enroll in courses outside of design—business, humanities, social sciences, art history, etc.

Although it might feel like those subjects are unrelated to the interface you are designing, this work doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Some of the skills and perspectives I learned from other fields are very useful in my design process today.

In addition to that, look for ways to get real world experience while you are still in school. Freelancing is a great way to start­—you learn how to work with clients, constraints and budgets all at once. You also quickly start to develop your own design process, which will continue to develop and be refined as you grow.

Most importantly, stay honest and humble. Take your work seriously and be proud of what you make.

7. How has SIAT helped you get to this point?

It is important to learn all that you can from those who are passionate about design. Russell Taylor, through his mentorship and passion for teaching and design, has been integral to my growth as a designer. As a result, I have taken three courses with Russell and have gone with him on Dutch Design Field School.

Additionally, professors Chantal Gibson (IAT 309W) and Paul Brokenshire (IAT 334), as well as teaching assistant Stevie Nguyen (IAT 438 and IAT 499), have all been integral teaching figures in my SIAT journey.  

8. Tell me something about yourself that others might not know about you.

I played a lot of sports growing up, but soccer was my favourite. After high school, I choose SIAT over pursuing soccer at the university level. In hindsight, that was probably a wise choice.

Feel free to check out my Portfolio, to connect with me on LinkedIn, or to read my articles on Medium.    

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