We live in a new world; one where talents and skills do not matter as much as dedication and a constant message. In fact, consistency has always been a solid pillar all through time, and I am afraid that would never change. Today’s discussion is a brief and careful look at what differentiates a designer from another in our age.
Creative designers are…
…pretty powerful actors in society, as they determine to a very large extent, how communication is perceived in the wider world. Decisions and design choices now affect brands, individuals and thought silos more than ever before. This is mainly due to amplification — the type of amplification of voices and opinions that the internet brings.
Communication, interpretation of ideas and perception has now been greatly increased per individual. What that means is that as a designer/illustrator, whatever you do to communicate an idea for a brand has the potential to be seen more and can deeply affect more people. Think about this on your positive and negative decisions (the ones that used to be swept under the carpet in the past). This amplification is not privy to affecting just your indirect communication, but those that come from within you — like your character, consistency, attitude, energy and actions.
A tale of Leonardo da Vinci
Renaissance art giant Leonardo da Vinci was a very talented, yet hardworking creative who lived by one of his most important motto that read:
Powerful words that meant “constant rigour.” The artist constantly searched for perfection and unmatched beauty in all his works, which makes the story of Leonardo a very peculiar one. Rigour here represents deep research, analysis and scientific planning in the creation of any art piece, and this is what great design is today — a form of art dipped in scientific thinking and problem-solving.
Naturally, Leonardo was a very rebellious individual, but at the age of 15 when he joined Verrocchio’s studio (1467) as an apprentice, he had to settle down and learn, because he needed to. He turned to be one of the best apprentices with the amount of work he put into the tasks and assignments.
When he had learnt enough to be able to begin experimentation with his works, he took this up with the same motto and began to infuse subtle and major additions alike to his works. This came through days and hours of studies of elements in life and nature. Today, Leonardo is known worldwide as a great engineer, artist, and illustrator, and his works are preserved in galleries for years to come, as masterful pieces of art and design.
If you must be successful…
As an Illustrator or a Designer, you must pay attention to your direct communication with your work, language, posture, habits, audience and employers as much as you pay attention to communication in the little projects you are involved in.
You must partake in your craft with your entire self. Native speakers of Nigerian pidgin have a very apt way of categorising this action, which is: to put body. Simply to involve self in your quest for greatness (if that is something you care about).
A few areas to watch as creatives asides craft are:
Responsibility or irresponsibility (whatever the forté).
Voice and tone pertaining to personal branding.
Well being of your audience.
Personal dedication to cause, amongst other gems.
Many Illustrators and Designers ignore these little things and focus only on craft, which has only one outcome — monumental and repeated failure. Constant failure demoralises actual talented people, which is not an outcome that we want.
You are playing a performance.
Like an Opera, every action you take is being watched and is a performance to a very large gallery of which the least number of watchers in attendance would be yourself. Hence, someone is always watching, even if you are doing it wrong — or right.
Ask yourself, would you be willing to sit through a musical (or comedy, etc.) event where the performer is doing a very bad job at it? A performance you paid to be a part of? Perhaps not.
Finally, the Internet.
The Internet is a large Opera with an endless supply of creative performers and performances, and whatever act you put up could either land you your next gig or send your career crashing into the dustbin. Take it easy my DearDesigner, and be more intentional along this web of opportunity.
For some background, Sopeju shared a website design promotion from N27,000 to N1,000; logo on mockup for only N300, and teaching 20 Digital Skills for N1,000. These people have been called quack designers who are causing damage to the design industry. While some people might be seen as haters for complaining about these promotions, it is essential to have a holistic understanding of the issues at stake.
Before proceeding, allow me to explore those who might be influenced by these promotions.
The quack Teacher, who might have learned from another quack teacher, the person with no vast knowledge about design, trying to teach somebody else.
The quack Student, who may want to be a quack teacher one day, who has not verified the level of knowledge and expertise of the quack teacher
The quack Business owner, who may end up using the quack design from the quack designers.
These groups of individuals are not the focus of this article, but they are the motivation, and hopefully, they can be brought into the fold.
Importantly, we need to recognize the nature of the industry. The entry-level is low. Anyone with a Laptop and CorelDraw can claim to be a designer. The most professional course has a high entry-level, which makes it very much regulated. You can imagine how many years it takes to study Medicine, Law, or Architecture? These individuals invest lots of effort into their education development, and you can imagine why they make an effort to protect their profession.
Following on from the higher education requirement for a graphics designer, it is not surprising to know that the industry is not regulated, not recognized by the government, and even seldom recognized in the Nigerian higher education system. Therefore, the industry shouldn’t be compared with other professions because anyone with no formal education can be a graphics designer, while a formal education is not a prerequisite, it suggests the porous nature of the industry. You can not just claim to be a Doctor, without acquiring a formal degree
Thirdly, we need to recognize the economic situation of Nigeria, which has led to an increase in quack teachers trying to make money and quack business owners who are looking for cheap service. Understandably, these people will often want to go for the cheapest offer, even though it is not guaranteed that it is the best.
Fourth, quack can be a relative word. Creativity can also be relative; what you define as creative may not be creative to someone else. This subjective nature of art needs to be recognized as well, and it suggests why some people will not mind having anybody to design for them. They like what they see because they have not seen anything better or because that is the best they can imagine.
Following up on that, there are creative individuals as well who could offer a beautiful design at a very cheap rate. This suggests why companies like Wix are providing cloud-based web builders, allowing people to create a website using online drag and drop tools, Disha from Cregital allowing people to create a one-page site on their phone without paying thousands of dollars for professional website designers. No doubt some people will charge thousands of pounds, but there are people as well who can do it cheaper without compromising standards and quality.
Moving forward, what can we do? We in the case, I mean professional graphics designers who are willing to make changes, improve the perception of the industry ad offer outstanding creative services to customers
Firstly, there should be a definition of a professional graphics designer. Would graphics designer be adopted as a generalized name or people wants to be a brand designer or UX designer? It is essential to know who is fighting this battle and who can be called upon. Would you expect those who already have advertising agencies to be part of the group? Or they will be part of AAAN?
Secondly, with the recognition of who a professional is, it is essential for them to keep educating themselves. To increase their knowledge and be able to deliver when called upon. Professionals need to recognize that the competition is out there and therefore, they should not rest on their oars. Even when not officially affiliated with any professional body, individual professionals must take responsibility for their knowledge about design and the business of design.
Thirdly, there is a need for professionals to come together and form a self-regulatory body or a professional association. The organization would need to present what makes an individual a professional graphics designer. Could this be the formal education that has been received, the number of years of experience, or the accolades the person has received? This organization should move beyond the Nigerian Designer group on Facebook to something that is registered and recognized. People may have to join by getting their works verified and possibly getting recommendations. There is the Design Council in the UK and The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) in the USA.
Fourth, provided that this professional body is strong enough, they can start working with Universities and other educational institutions to develop curriculum that supports graphics designer as a professional. This means they need to work universities, possibly splitting it from visual design, mass communication, and/or journalism and creating a unique program/degree for graphics designers. There should be a curriculum that prepares the student for jobs as a professional designer.
Fifth, while still waiting for the Universities to develop their curriculum to meet the needs of the students, it is essential for the professional body to provide opportunities for quality education through short programs and courses. This could involve working with existing academies, accrediting them, and certifying their courses. This could also lead to a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program that is recognized in the industry. Suggesting that anyone to be admitted should have passed courses from an accredited training institute. Anyone that wants to be recognized should be able to demonstrate their verified understanding of design.
Lastly, educating the community is essential. While we cannot stop people from using the services offered by these “quack designers”, the professionals need to educate people about the business of design, the expectation from a graphics designer, and how to do business. The community must raise awareness about the damages quack designer can cause to a business. This education is essential because many may not be aware and therefore, the professionals have a role to play as a body and individuals to protect the industry.
Graphics design is a profession but not recognized as a professional profession. Many quack designers are coming onboard to disrupt the industry, albeit negatively. In this piece, I have tried to recognize the challenges of the sector and importantly highlight opportunities and a possible action plan. Few individuals must take the responsibility of changing the narrative of graphics designers in Nigeria by banding together to form a professional association that will be tasked with educating people and also developing the industry at large. It is, however, a long-term duty, but a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.
Clip of Derin and her new team at the office laughing at some joke someone made.
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
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.