27 July 2022

17 Mins Read

Hidayatullah Bamidele

Hidayatullah Bamidele

Spotlighting Fiyin Adeniyi, A Modernist with a Vintage Soul

How would you describe yourself? 

I am Fiyin Adeniyi. I am a super passionate person. I always achieve anything I put my mind to and  I’m super intentional with the things I do. I’m passionate about art, design, food, music and my faith. 

What is your typical work day like?

I recently transitioned from the freelance design world to design management. My typical work day before was to wake up, skip breakfast and immediately start working on my design schedule for the day. Now, my days have shifted to waking up in the morning, having breakfast and pulling up everybody’s tasks. I check on things we need to pull out as a company, and the things I need to supervise. My days have now also moved from searching for inspiration for the design world to searching for inspiration for ideation. I now do art direction and creative direction. 

That seems like a major move. So, tell us about your journey from being a designer to becoming a design manager. 

This is the first time I’ll be speaking openly about that journey. Before I joined Check DC, I was a freelancer. I started freelancing in 2018 and I was just trying to be a part of the design community. Between then and June 2020, I gained some influence and I put out some of my works. I  tweeted about wanting to work in an agency before the end of 2020 and I got the offer to work for 3 months as an associate designer and after then, proceed to be a senior designer.

Those first 3 months were tough because it was an entire culture shock for me. Working freelance and interfacing with your clients are a thousand times different from working with other people. 

In summary, my first 3 months were the worst months for me. It was really bad that at one point, my design team lead conversed with me and he was as unfiltered as possible. He said some things that got to me, but they were a fair reflection of how poor my performance had been. He gave me a chance to choose between getting better or accepting the role wasn’t for me because he didn’t want to outrightly lay me off. 

I requested 3 more months to get myself together and those periods were entirely productive. One thing I have always had as a designer is a mindset. I achieve anything I put my mind to. I know I have to be good at what I do and not give anyone a reason to doubt me. I was in beast mode for those 3 months. By the end of the year, I had played active parts in 75% of the brand projects we had done. I was either designing a logo or creating a brand identity system. They were even calling me a logo legend at some point. 

Talking about how things transitioned from 2020 till now, I started working with the team better. Towards the end of 2021, I was told I’d be leading more conversations and I faced more clients. In 2022, I started leading both our in-house team and contract staff. These were new experiences for me, but I had that mindset that I was going to push through. 

A few months ago, I transitioned into design team lead fully and I’m not only interfacing with the brand team, but also with the UI team, motion team and even the communications team. That’s how the journey has been so far and I’m looking forward to more growth. If I can achieve all of these in two years, who knows where I’d be next year? 

What are the 3 things you learned during this transition phase?

The first thing I learned is collaboration. Throughout my time as a freelancer, I didn’t have the opportunity to collaborate even on personal projects. I am a perfectionist, so it was difficult for me to collaborate with people because I felt like I was mostly going to direct the work. 

The second thing I learned is to be open to learning. I was stuck in a know-it-all bubble when I joined the agency only to see that there were many things I was doing wrong. For instance, I was creating pdf in photoshop, until I learned I can do it in Indesign and Illustrator.  It is imperative to be open to new experiences and more exposure. 

The third thing is knowing your worth and valuing yourself. When I got the job, I didn’t know exactly what to ask for. If I didn’t have people around me to help me, I probably would have shortchanged myself. Also, in those first three months on the job, if I didn’t recognise the value I hold and my ability to learn, I would have probably given up. That might have not only been the end of my agency dream, but also the end of my career. 

What path do you think a new designer should take, whether as a freelancer or in an agency? 

It’s a little bit controversial, but I’d say a new designer should look out more for agency experience before they freelance. A lot of older designers started without a standardised structure, so there was a lot of uncoordinated growth and experiences. 

However, getting into an agency would allow you to learn collaboration early, you would learn how to speak design, improve your skills, interpret your briefs, work with difficult clients, and how to also submit to leadership. 

These are many things a lot of freelancers don’t catch on easily, and when the time comes to use these skills, they are either nonexistent or unrefined. I will always advise a new designer to choose agency work over freelancing. On the flip side, the argument might be that you make a lot more money with freelancing, but the truth is, the inflow of money is not consistent. So, I believe you will learn a lot of skills that will help you as a freelancer if you start with an agency.

What do you look out for in new designers?

There are three major things I look out for. The first one is their mindset. 

“How do you see design? How do you talk about it?  Are you looking to revolutionise things? Are you looking to be a part of the next generation of good designers or design thinkers? How driven are you as a designer?”

All these are encompassing when I say mindset. I like to see passion and mindset in a designer. 

The second thing I look out for is your skill. There’s a way you see someone and know they have potential. I always look out for whether the person is refined or has potential. 

The third thing I look out for is their personal brand. For new designers, a lot of people have gotten it right. One good example is Tóbi Tunbosun of Bloc. When he started, he had that personal branding on lock. He had a memorable social media name and profile. I look out for how consistent you are with who you position yourself to be and how you have been able to present yourself to be noticed. 

What is your stance on showcasing designs on Twitter?

I’m all for it. I believe in having a curated portfolio and I also believe in putting out your work, because Twitter is like a marketplace. I have gotten a lot of referrals from Twitter. I recently posted a wedding project that I did and the CEO of a decent, internationally acclaimed,

Nigerian company messaged me about having his wedding soon and he wants me to work on the project. People have gotten work from Twitter, and I also got my current job there.

How did you move from finding it difficult in the first 3 months of your job to being good at it? What did you do differently? 

The first thing I’d say is that I was aware of my weakness. Every company and agency has its process. I faced the problem of trying to adapt my process to theirs. While that might work in a growing agency, it didn’t work in Check DC because they already have their process and I had to find a balance. I had to learn their process and adapt to it.

The other thing I mentioned earlier is collaboration. I also had to learn to collaborate. There are times I would want to work alone, but I started to realise that it was less about me, and more about the team and the company. 

The final thing is being open to feedback and being less defensive about my work. It is hard for most designers, especially if you were a successful freelancer before transitioning into an agency. The only thing I was used to getting was feedback from clients and I used to get little or no feedback from them. So, it was hard accepting constructive criticism regarding my work, and I feel this is a part of what made those times difficult. I was so attached to my ideas that feedback will prompt a negative response, so I wasn’t putting too much effort into other directions because my initial direction was rejected. 

These were the core things that helped me to improve in 3 months. 

Tell us about your background. How has it influenced who you are now? 

I’m the second born of four children and I’m the first son. In a typical Yoruba household, the first son has to be something in life. Part of that influenced some of the passion and drive that I have now. My dad is a pastor and a businessman, watching him being intentional about succeeding influenced how I see life. 

Another thing that has influenced me is my faith. I have been a Christian all my life. Having the idea that there is a greater power directing my steps has influenced my self-awareness because I’m constantly in the know of where I am. 

As a kid, I watched cartoons a lot and that influenced my personality because I like to crack jokes at every given opportunity. I loved looking at visual pieces of history and a key part of what has influenced me are Greek, Roman, and Italian pieces, from their arts to their music and anthologies. This also played a subtle part in what has crafted some of my design styles. Many of my designs are minimalist, classy and elegant and they are influenced by them. I used to sketch some of their Roman numerals and black letters while growing up. All of these just infused themselves into who I am today. 

Growing up, I was petite and I got bullied for it. For a while, I was passive and not assertive enough until I went to university. I grew out of that mindset and I became more assertive and more vocal about my thoughts. This particularly has influenced my leadership, because I know how it feels to be put under. So, every chance I get to be on top, I try to lead with the mindset that no one is going to be put under and that everyone matters in a team.

What is the place of education in your life?

I studied Computer Technology at Babcock University, but I haven’t gotten my certificate. I doubt if I even finished my clearance. The only education that has played a good role in my life is both my primary and secondary education because I can speak good English and I know Maths. University was more about the experience than the education for me. 

What do you think has made you a better designer? 

I have a good eye for inspiration. I get inspired by the littlest things. I look at things and I find designs where there’s no design.  

What are your sources of inspiration? 

Online inspiration, first of all. I coined a phrase I was using for myself in 2020; “a modernist with a vintage soul.” I like to look at old things and look for how to modernise them. Everything around me also motivates me. I find inspiration in everything. Just looking at the brick wall in front of me is inspirational. 

You are a pastor in your church, a choir director, and a designer. How do you balance church, work, family and your relationship? 

Honestly, I don’t have a formula. I just try to give things the priority they deserve. I work 9-5 and part of the contract that I signed is that the time frame is going to be used strictly for achieving the company’s goals. During that time, a lot of other things take a lesser priority. Once it’s 5 pm, I’m able to focus and give more attention to the people who matter most to me – my family and my girlfriend.

On some other days, those things also bump down a little because I have church work to attend to. Some days, I bump everything down and decide to eat dinner with my mum.  So, it’s all about prioritising certain things in the time that they deserve. 

There will always be overlap and priority might be radical in some cases. While on this day normally, I would have given it to my family, things might come up that need urgent attention and I’d have to attend to them. That means leaving my family in the loop. What I do, however, to salvage such situations is to communicate. That is where I strike the balance. 

What is the role of design in faith? 

From my perspective, faith is abstract and design is what can take abstract communication to something more concrete. For instance, if a church named Spirit of Life ministry requires a logo,  how do you take the abstract concept of spirit and life to visuality? The level of abstraction in faith makes design even more important. Design makes these abstractions understandable to the human mind. The role of design in faith is to make complex things simpler. It is taking away abstraction and making it easy to absorb and understand. 

What do you think about design in Nigeria? 

Personally, design in Nigeria is getting to a point where I’m getting a bit scared because of how fast things are moving. Soon, it will be less about how good a design is and more about how much you can quickly make from it. Looking at countries that have infused design as a core part of their structure, and where we want to be in Nigeria, design has to move beyond just a money-making scheme, to becoming a tool for the future. 

This is not to invalidate anyone currently doing that. Of course, many of us are very intentional about creating designs that can match and even beat the world’s standard, such that designs in Nigeria have no choice but to be noticed. DearDesigner is doing that, Check DC is doing that, as well as a lot of other good platforms. It is just a community effort, it should be instilled in the mind of everyone who breathes design in Nigeria. I’m not against making your coins from design, but beyond making money, we should have the mindset of elevating the standard of design in Nigeria. 

In summary, I’m a little bit scared about where design is going in Nigeria but I am optimistic as well because there are platforms passionate about Nigeria being recognised not just for the talent, but also for the standard. 

Do you think design can save us? 

No. Only Jesus can save us. Design in itself is not enough to save us in any capacity, either as a country, by preserving our culture, or just saving us as people. If we decide to use design to create systems and visuals that address our culture, it won’t still be enough because if it is not infused into other systems like education and religion, all our designs will just be in a bubble. We will be the only ones using those products. 

Design can unify more industries in fulfilling that one goal of saving us as a people, but it is not enough. It is only the hand of God that can save us. 

Let’s talk a bit about your job, what is the most fulfilling part of your job? 

I’ll mention 2 things. The first one is seeing the quality of work that we put out. We have an unspoken rule of putting aside works that are not our best. Seeing that everyone is working hard to push this vision of work standard that we uphold is fulfilling. 

The second most fulfilling experience is seeing the young designers grow. It is particularly very dear to me because I didn’t have anyone holding me by the hands to teach me. The younger designers have access to not just me but to an array of great designers, such that if a brand designer decides to try out product design today, there’s always someone guiding them. 

As a design lead, how do you set up your team for success? 

This will be summarised as highlighting individual uniqueness while also fostering collaborative efforts. Many people don’t find a balance between those two things. In a bid to make sure everyone has individual uniqueness, some team leads ignore the part of collaboration. Finding that good mix of collaborative efforts and the ability to highlight individual uniqueness is what makes it easy for me to set up my team for success. This means that in every project, everyone has something complementary to bring to the table. 

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? 

I see myself with a pot of chicken wings in front of me. Jokes aside, looking at my current trajectory, I am either in one or two places. One is being at a design agency, it might be at my current job or another place, managing and supervising projects. This goes beyond leading a design team. 

I also see myself with some of my albums out, because I am currently working on them. I see myself settled. 5 years from now, I should be married. I don’t have any big picture in mind, but just as I am content and happy now, I know I’ll be content and happy in 5 years. 

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