From Zero, on the Way to Pro.

Guest post by Aderinsola Oluwafemi

(Movie Starts)

Clip of Derin and her new team at the office laughing at some joke someone made.

Record scratch.

Freeze frame on Derin laughing.

Yup! That’s me. You are probably wondering how I got here. Well, it’s a long story. I warned you ahead. Get comfortable ‘cos this might take a while.

I’m going to divide this into sections so it’s easy to track where you are and know what you’re reading on.

INTRODUCTION—HOW I GOT INTO DESIGN

Aderinsola Oluwafemi Atarah

My name is Aderinsola Oluwafemi, also known as, Atarah. Earlier this month, I got a job as a Product Designer after being in UI/UX Design for about 4-5 months.

Before I officially got into design, I was, and still am, a photographer. I got into photography when I was 13, in 2012, and for a while, all I loved taking pictures of were flowers and other aspects of nature.

After graduating from high school in 2015, I got into event photography. This required me to learn how to design photo books for my clients. From this, I learnt how to do basic designs using Adobe software – Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Over time, I began to do a few things like flyer/poster designs for my church and friends, social media posts and quotes for my online ministry, t-shirt designs for my Christian cloth-line and other designs requested by the family. I had never actually considered myself a designer. To me, I was just someone who knew how to use Photoshop for things other than photo editing.

I didn’t have a laptop of my own. My old one had developed issues in 2016/2017 so I used my mom’s laptop for all my design and photography work. 2018, I moved out of Lagos, and while transporting our stuff from the old house to the new one, the screen of my mom’s laptop got bad. It was impossible to see anything on it, let alone, design anything using it. We couldn’t get a new one so whenever I wanted to design, I would have to connect the laptop to the TV via the HDMI cable and use the TV as a monitor.

Fast-forward to early 2019, I officially decided I wanted to be a designer after befriending someone who was passionate about design and a great designer. He helped me improve on my skills and constantly motivated me to be better.

GETTING INTO UI/UX DESIGN

I got into UI Design in October 2019. How and why, I truly don’t know. The funny thing for me is, I had originally decided that I wasn’t going to be a UI/UX Designer for some reason. I had actually made up my mind that it wasn’t for me. It seemed like a difficult and impossible field to get into. I considered sticking with graphic design or becoming a logo designer, but one day—I still don’t know what possessed me—I found myself signing up for the Daily UI challenge and downloaded Adobe XD on my mom’s laptop.

My first challenge was to design a sign-up screen, but ended up going further than that and designed a few screens for a travel app. I was quite pleased with myself and realized that UI Design was probably going to become the love of my life. There was a time in my life where I felt less than everyone else because I didn’t go to University. But after discovering UI/UX, I didn’t care anymore. I had found something I loved to do and I didn’t need to go to school to do it. As much as I love photography, it never really gave me the amount of joy and peace UI does. There’s just something about creating something beautiful that makes me happy and fulfilled.

I decided that for my second attempt at UI, I was going to redesign the interface of one of my favourite apps – AnyBooks. It wasn’t really easy to do because of the whole laptop situation. Plus, where I lived, power supply wasn’t constant so it was difficult to design regularly. We also had guests staying over and whenever there was light (mostly at night), the TV was in use. The only way I would get to design was by waiting for everyone to go to bed (which was usually around 11pm/12am) and then I’d have the TV all to myself. This was basically my design routine until I was given a laptop in December as a Christmas present.

I finally completed and posted my AnyBooks redesign online. It was then that I officially joined the Design Twitter community and made a number of amazing friends who have contributed a lot to my growth.

A few days after my AnyBooks redesign, one of these new friends – Abayomi Semudara – called me “The UI Queen”. I didn’t believe I was because I was literally just a few weeks into UI, but I went ahead to make it my name on all possible platforms as per taking after my Father and calling the things that aren’t as though they were (Romans 4:17) 😅. On that day, the identity “Atarah, the UI Queen” was born.

THE IMPACT OF GREAT FRIENDS AND A DESIGN COMMUNITY + GROWING AS A UI/UX DESIGNER

All this while, I was only really involved in UI Design, but as my network of designers grew (most of them being UI/UX Designers), I began to understand what exactly UX is and how important it is. In my quest to know more and not really knowing where exactly to start, I began to ‘famz’ people 😂. I hopped into the Twitter DMs of every UI/UX Designer I admired and made every single one of them my design parents (a friend of mine recently called me a Reverse Abraham – the daughter of many nations 😂😂).

I can’t stress how important it is to have a network and community of designers – especially ones in the same field as you. While there are so many of them who have helped and are still helping me a lot on this journey, I have to give a special shout out to Daniel Abayomi, Mudia Imasuen, Aanu Sebiomo and Wiz. These guys contributed and continue to contribute a lot to my growth as a UX Designer. They want the absolute best for me and never fail to create time to answer questions I have, review work I’ve done, call me and basically give me premium UX masterclass sessions. They’ve had my back from the start and I’m so grateful for them. If you’re reading this, which I’m sure you are, I love you guys ❤️.

I was invited to join the Àşà Coterie community in November and was made a community manager soon after. It’s been an amazing experience and has exposed me to a lot of great designers. The community has contributed a whole lot to my growth, especially in terms of knowledge. There’s this thing we do – started by Dumss – where we have to read at least one design article a day and post what we’ve read in the Whatsapp group. I especially love the group for the discussions. I don’t think it’s possible to be a member of Àșà and not grow as a designer. Even my mom acknowledges the impact of being a member there has had on me.

Every designer – especially if you’re new/upcoming – needs a network and community of designers. There’s so much you can learn by having random discussions on various aspects of design.

It’s also easy to get overwhelmed and feel like an imposter. I struggled (and still struggle actually) a lot with this. I sometimes feel like I’m not as good as everyone thinks I am—like there are high expectations everyone has of me and I have to live up to them or I’ve failed. Comparing myself to my friends and role models and feeling like I’m not making any progress. Hearing all these design terms—lmao, the first time I heard of Affinity Mapping I had a ‘hedek’ cos what?—and not knowing what they are, I’ve had to constantly remind myself that learning and growing is a process. I can’t expect to know and understand everything from the onset. I need to take it one step at a time and improve daily instead of trying to go from 0-100 real quick. I’m saying this because there are a lot of people who compare themselves to people who’ve been in the field longer. The fact that you don’t know certain things YET doesn’t mean you aren’t growing or making any progress.

Asides from my friends and community, I learnt a lot by reading. I’m not really one to sit still and watch videos so YouTube wasn’t an option for me. Whenever I come across a subject I don’t particularly understand, I search for articles related to that subject and read up on it. This is the reason I have so many tabs open in Google Chrome.💀

GETTING A JOB

For a while, I wasn’t interested in applying for jobs. I wanted to be a freelancer but then I soon realized that I would rather get a 9-5 design job than stay at home and work. I’d already learnt a lot on my own, with the help of friends online and various resources but I wanted to be in a team with other designers I could actively learn from. I wanted to be accountable to someone.

I applied for a job at a company in January but didn’t hear back. I was presented with a number of opportunities but a lot of them were either looking for someone with a university degree – which I don’t have – or someone who had at least 2 years of experience. Seeing as that wasn’t going to work out for me, I decided to start looking out for internships but there weren’t many of those.

Just when I was about to give up, one of my design daddies – JayKay – sent me a message telling me of a friend of his who was looking for a design intern in Ikeja. I sent in my application and waited to hear back fingers crossed. They responded the next day but Airtel had been playing games all day so I didn’t see their email till I was headed to bed. I was given a task to do and I was to submit on and before 11:59pm the next day – which happened to be my birthday.

People that know me to know that I’m literally always in front of my laptop working on a design. I wake up, head for my laptop and sit there till it’s night and time for bed. I had decided that I wasn’t going to do this on my birthday. The plan was to spend the day with family, eating food and watching movies but I guess life had other plans. I ended up locking myself up in the room (to avoid distractions and conversations) and spent all day working on the task I was given. I finished in the evening but hesitated to send it in. I didn’t think it was good enough. I felt I could have done better but there was no time to start again especially since it had literally taken me all day to complete. I delayed for a while before eventually submitting about an hour to the deadline.

I didn’t hear back for a while. The anxiety was killing me. I didn’t know if I had done a good job or not. I was so stressed gosh 😂😂. But my parents and some friends reminded me to trust in God and that His will would be done. They sent me a few scriptures to meditate on and that helped me calm down.

I eventually got an email from them almost two weeks later saying they would like to interview me via Zoom. I set the interview for the next day. Guys, my boss has the best poker face man. I couldn’t even tell if the interview was going well or not. It was driving me nuts 💀. When my parents asked me how it went afterwards, all I could do was shrug cause I didn’t know.

While I waited for a verdict, I moved to Lagos so I could attend Social Media Week (I got free tickets from a friend – thank you Charles 💛). I packed like I was moving to Lagos for good because I hoped I would get the job and wouldn’t need to go back home after Social Media Week ended.

And that’s exactly what happened. I received a mail asking if I was free to come in for a brief meeting/interview. When I did, I was told I got the job and would receive my offer letter soon. That was probably the happiest day of my life. During all this, I was still under the impression that I was going to be an intern but when I got my offer letter, I realized I was being offered a position as a Product Designer. Why? How? I still don’t know. I’m currently in the process of questioning my boss 💀💀

I absolutely love my job and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with such an amazing and welcoming team. If I could go back in time, I don’t think there’s anything I would change. Everything I’ve gone through – good and bad – has led me up to this point in my life.

If you’re a beginner in this field, I hope my story inspires you. One thing I’ll advise you to do is always share your work. One of the major reasons I’m where I am now is because I shared my work online. I understand the fear of being trolled or receiving negative or rude comments but don’t let that stop you from sharing your work. Always remember that you’re growing. Be proud of where you are (but be teachable and willing to learn and improve). Don’t let anyone bring you down or make you doubt yourself. You may not be where you want to be but you’re on your way there. Don’t give up.

Also, famz all your faves guys. Hop into the dms of everyone you admire and make them love you and loyal to you. This is what I did 💀. A lot of the people you look up to and see as unreachable gods of design are actually very easy people to talk to. A number of them are cool, humble people who are willing to help others grow. Just recognize those who fall into this category and slide into their chats.

Another thing: a lot of us who are just getting into the UI/UX design space tend to start with the Daily UI challenge. I’ve seen people on Design Twitter say that this challenge is useless and doesn’t help beginners build a portfolio. I’ve seen them look down on and talk down at people who do the Daily UI challenge. But don’t let all this talk get to you. All the work I’ve put out are Daily UI challenges – except the AnyBooks redesign – and they helped me build a portfolio that landed me a job as a Product Designer.

If you want to stand out, I would advise treating these challenges like they’re actual briefs you’ve received from clients. This is what sets you apart from others who are doing the same challenges. Don’t just jump in and design. Yeah, it says daily challenge but nobody is actually chasing you to finish the challenge in a day. Take your time. Do research on what it is you plan to design. Understand how the process works. Prioritize the little details. See yourself as the user of what you’re designing. Picture people using the product you’re designing and make let your design decisions be geared towards giving them a great experience. These are the things that help set you apart from the average beginner.

Check out this short Twitter thread for more on this:

You can check out my Disha page to see some of my works. 

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