19 July 2022

16 Mins Read

Joseph Enang

Joseph Enang

Meet Deborah Bashorun, The Designer That Keeps on Giving

Let’s meet you. Who is Debbie?

Simply put, Debbie is an energetic, carefree & fun-loving person. I love fun. Debbie is that person who just wants to make an impact in any way she can, preferably anonymously and get on with her life. As long as someone is impacted by it, she’s fine with it. That’s why I love volunteering. 

Debbie is a person who, sometimes is always looking to add more to her plate even when it’s full. Sometimes, she’s a motivational speaker who gives herself pep talks like “you can do it”, “do it afraid”, and sometimes she’s tired and wants to just sleep. Debbie is an adventure-loving person. She also loves design. She’s family-oriented and she loves people. She’s here because of the impact of different people at different points in her life.

That’s an amazing introduction. So, now let’s talk about your work history.

I can’t remember all the work I’ll refer to the ones I can remember.

My work history started from Tutor.ng where I worked as a design/videographer intern in 2016. I can’t forget that experience because it was a major starting point for me in design even though I had been briefly introduced to design in July 2015, after my NYSC.

I initially tried my hands on a web design course which focused on HTML & CSS but I didn’t like it. Yet, I wanted to work in tech. I had an interest in design but I was a bit worried about how I could thrive as a female in that space. However, my friend who was a designer kept telling me to try it out and I could try something else if that doesn’t work out. That has been my career mantra since then. I like to explore different options and if I don’t enjoy it within six months, I move on to something else.

But as a designer, I realised that I enjoyed myself. While I was at Tutor.ng, I worked quite well on videography and a bit of motion graphics but I haven’t really explored that skill.

As someone who started with motion, who/what introduced you to product design?

I’ll say Electronics Settlement Limited introduced me to product design. I joined the company as a product & graphic designer, I was handling social media and designing products. I designed an AXA Mansard project, which was my first time trying out product design. It was a challenging moment because I wasn’t meeting directly with the team, I had to listen to briefs about the project from a third party which created room for a lot of mistakes.

In 2017, I realised I wasn’t growing fast because I was working alone. That was when I saw Cregital on Social Media and thought it would be great to work with other designers. I applied to Cregital and surprisingly, I got in. I worked with Cregital for some months, then had to return to Electronics Settlements Limited.

One major thing I learned during this period was that I didn’t need to work directly with other designers to be better at my craft. I realised I could always reach out to a community of designers and learn from a distance. I became really big on communities after that experience. I started attending Lagos Meet, Usable and other community events and it was nice knowing I had quite a lot of people I could ask questions.

I met a couple of people during Lagos Meet, Usable and other community events and one of the people met was Leslie. He reached out to me one time in 2018 to see if I wanted to join TeamApt. I worked there for a couple of months and quit to freelance until 2019 when I got into Kudy Financials. I loved working at Kudy a lot. After a year, I joined Sterling Bank.

I don’t leave a job because I found another job, I leave when I’m tired or when it’s not working. I consciously take breaks for retrospection. I ask myself, “what did I learn from here?”, “what can I do better?” before going on to take another job.

How do you do your retrospection?

First, I sleep a lot. Sleep is one thing that work takes from me. There’s always a request coming in and I prioritize that over taking care of myself. My mental health, my rest, everything goes to the background and I focus on delivering on my work. So, when I leave a job, that’s one of the first things I do. That’s when I start going out, hanging with friends and doing different relaxing activities.

In retrospection, I put myself in the shoes of my employer or team lead. I ask myself serious questions about how I performed, what I can do better, what I will change if I could, and so on. Then I figure out what I need to work on next.

So, you were a mentor during the last Dear Designer mentorship program. How was it for you?

It was a very nice experience! I’m very thankful for that opportunity because I was able to make an impact. I mentored three people; one got a job scholarship, the second got a couple of gigs and landed a job, while the third also had an improved job switch. One thing that made two of my mentees stand out was that they were very proactive. It doesn’t matter how much anybody talks to you, it doesn’t matter how much anybody mentors you, if you don’t make the right moves, you’re still going to be where you have always been. Until you take that move, there might not be any change. That’s the plain truth.

Let’s focus on you now. What does mentoring mean to you?

I think mentoring makes me feel fulfilled. Being able to see results from people’s lives as a result of your interaction with them can be fulfilling. You can even measure where they started from and where they are now and see the difference in terms of career growth and the kind of jobs they’re getting. I believe everybody’s growth is their doing but it makes me feel good to know that I was one of the core people who influenced their growth.

How many mentorship programs have you participated in?

I’ve mentored at Dear Designer and Girl Code Africa. I’ve also been mentoring at Design Labs for over a year , I also spoke at Tech4Dev. I’ve judged project sumbissions  at Technovation as well, helping young girls come together to build SDG-driven products. These are just young girls between the ages of 8-16 with a lot of Nigerian representation and it makes me very happy.

What do you think makes a good working mentoring relationship?

The first thing is to identify the goals. It’s good to define what each party is looking to achieve at the end of the mentorship from the first meeting. 

“What are we looking to achieve? Why does this mentor-mentee relationship exist?”

Secondly, trust should be established. Trust is accepting my advice as a mentor and working with it. Sometimes a mentee may not trust you enough to take that bold step or it could be fear, which I understand. But I believe without taking an action, you don’t see a result. 

Thirdly, the mentorship relationship should be cordial and both parties should be free enough to bring problems to each other. They should freely share their experiences and be able to ask questions from every facet as long as it is design or the main subject related. They should not be scared to approach their mentor at any point. A mentor should be a chief supporter who is approachable & easy to talk to.

How about volunteering? Why do you volunteer?

It’s a way to give back. I believe that no man is an island and I didn’t get here by myself. It took the effort of a community both within and outside design, to get to where I am. I don’t know the next world leader that I may just impact by volunteering. And it’s fine. I don’t always have to calculate the impact. If everyone does their bit, I believe the world would be a better place. That’s why anywhere I can, I would always choose to volunteer. I volunteer at my two local churches. At Redeemed Christian Church as a security official and House on the Rock as a designer.

So, what are your career goals?

I’ve been thinking about leadership. However, I’m also the kind of designer that likes to get her hands dirty. I want to do the research, the strategy, the visuals, and everything involved. I don’t want to replace the core design for leadership and people management. So, I’m still learning the best way to create a balance and to get positions that will enable me to do that.

So, I would say my immediate goals for the next two years would be to learn what exactly I want to do and how to go about it. I may actually be taking up a master’s in a leadership or entrepreneurship related path. If I end up not liking it, I may just continue designing and remain a product designer as an independent contributor for the rest of my life.

What are your thoughts about design in Nigeria at the moment?

Well, it has evolved. We’re not there yet but we’re on the right path. I’m proud of the designers I have seen so far, I’ve seen that people are looking to get better.

Regarding brands in Nigeria and how they deal with design, there’s still a lot of work to be done. When you look at something as simple as social media creatives being pushed out on special days, you can be surprised at the quality of work being delivered. But yeah, we keep growing daily.

What advice do you have for new designers?

One, explore. Don’t just write things off. Explore different options, test the waters, and discover if it’s something you can handle. Don’t just create doubts without testing it. It’s better you try and fail than not try it out at all.

Two, community. Growing a community does not mean you have to be part of a selected group. Sometimes there’s no label to it, it’s just acquaintances. However, they’re there for you when you need them, and you can respect their advice as solid. The truth is not everyone can bank on a community. A lot of these communities are already set and sometimes you get in and feel amiss because you’re not one of the core or founding people. Optimize for that. Don’t sit back and sulk because you weren’t accepted in a community. You have to put in the work.

Three, have support systems. Sometimes, your mental health is down and you need people to talk to. Have support systems you can always reach out to. 

Four, invest in your growth. It might just be that small online course you need, other times you need to meet someone to put you through, sometimes you need to get an extra degree. It’s your life, if you want to be a professor, do it! You can be a professor and still be a designer. 

Pursue knowledge. Start with what you have.

You just gave quality advice. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

It first had to be imposter syndrome. I used to be really scared to talk in design-related scenes. That went on for a while until I spoke to someone about it and I learnt you have to outgrow it and say what you have to say. You never know who might need to hear it. And I think I realised that it’s better to even say it and it turns out wrong and gets corrected than keeping shut. When you keep shut, you don’t even know that it’s wrong.

Another challenge I faced was deciding on what to do. As someone who started off her career doing a couple of different things; motion design, videography, graphic design, and product design, it was like juggling so many things in the air. I had to make a very conscious effort to streamline, prioritize and pick the top two options I want. That’s the same advice I would give anybody going through that phase. 

Learn to prioritize, pick one and streamline and let the others be somewhere in the background.

How do you handle imposter syndrome? What’s your opinion on handling it?

I’m a big preacher of “do it afraid”. I hear people say that they don’t have imposter syndrome and I’m really happy for them. I’ve found a way and I think it was Lade that shared it some time ago to write out your accomplishments, things you’ve done, and products you’ve worked on. I’ve seen that sometimes when I feel down, I just look at my products. Shortly after, I feel better.

You need to have a pick-up activity for yourself; it could be a phrase, a system, or anything that works for you. Have it so that you can always help yourself. You don’t want to remain down for a long period. Have documentation of things you worked on, things you’ve done, and the things you’re proud of. Then you can always go to them when you’re feeling down to see how much work you have done and the impact it has. It also helps you to document where you need to be or do next.

You’ve worked on a lot of projects. Which would you describe as your most fulfilling project?

This is a difficult question. I think I will consider LAFIA, a health-tech product I worked on as a consultant. We were basically building the “Google for health issues” in Nigeria. It has a symptom checker, you can search your symptoms and get suggested ailments, then you get plugged to talk to a doctor around you, and you can also get cheap insurance.

It’s basically to make better healthcare available to people from the comfort of their phones. There were some pushbacks from an insurance company but the product was launched. My design got changed a lot but creating that platform is something that actually means a lot to me because of the non-quantifiable impact it has on people’s lives.

So, are you happy?

I’m happy that I’m not just a designer. I mentor. I speak at events. All of these means I impact people’s lives and it makes me happy. Regarding just design, I’m happy where I am currently in my career and workplace. I work at a place where everybody’s voice matters and even when I feel I don’t know much, everyone asks for my feedback and input. There’s no micro-management. I’m free to explore, the timeline takes as long as I think it should and I’m just allowed to fly. So yeah, I’m happy and the work I do creates impact.

What are some practical steps you give people who want to get remote gigs or work for foreign companies?

There are design intermediaries you can be a part of. There’s Rise, Meaningful Gigs, etc. But before that, allow a senior designer or your peers to go through your work and give you actionable feedback. Work on this feedback before you go ahead to join intermediaries. They open you up to foreign companies.

Also, apply for jobs especially when you meet their requirements. Companies are looking for talent and Nigeria is blessed with talent. Also, learn to build in public. This is something I don’t really do but it’s important to show off your work. Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are great platforms for this. Show off milestones because you never can tell who would reach out to you. Don’t be afraid to show off your growth. When you get invited to speak at events, please accept and speak, it helps with your growth. 

You should also volunteer. Volunteering helped me stop thinking about just myself. Don’t make it all about opportunities, see how you can help others as well. There’s always something people can learn from you and there’s always something you can learn from others.

So, do you have any “japa” plans?

Well, if I had my way, I would be very comfortable in Nigeria. For some time now, Nigeria has been affecting me mentally. So, I try to take breaks, travel on vacations and just sleep a lot. This helps to rejuvenate me and I get to feel better. This doesn’t last long, unfortunately. Once I get to the Nigerian airport, I get irritated again.

So if Nigeria were a great place to stay, I don’t see any reason why. Maybe I’d have regular monthly visits to different places just to see the world. But with the way Nigeria is, there’s a very high chance that I’ll leave the country.

Deborah Bashorun has a lot of inspiring design experiences both within and outside Nigeria. Check her Portfolio for projects she has worked on.

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