This interview is the second in a 3-part series where I talk to three young people about their career journeys, professional interests, and finding their purpose. You can read the first interview and learn more about the series here.
For the second interview in the series, I talk to Oluwaseeto Tanimola. As a Designer at Paystack, Seeto has been involved in some exciting projects. We discuss her decision to switch to design after studying architecture for many years. She provides insight into her journey of becoming a self-taught designer and her inspiration for starting a design and architecture podcast.
Please tell us what you currently do at Paystack?
I joined Paystack as a Brand Designer. I do inward and outward-facing brand work for the company. This includes designing for product announcements and out-of-home (OOH) advertisements. For example, I recently worked with the team on the packaging design and production for our Popup Shop. I was also part of the team that worked on Paystack Music which was released in June 2020. For Paystack Music, I helped with the UI and assisted with documenting the process of how we built Paystack Music through a post on the Paystack blog.
This year, my responsibilities have changed. Now, I work with the business team as a service designer. Paystack is scaling rapidly with team members joining from different parts of the world. So, I work with the team to look at ways to maintain our company culture as we scale.
You studied architecture at the undergraduate and graduate levels which could indicate that you were convinced that architecture was what you wanted to do long-term. What drew you to architecture?
Honestly, I can’t say I was drawn to architecture. I initially wanted to study medicine; I got a few offers from some universities, but my parents thought I was too young to leave the country for my undergraduate studies. I had to stay in Nigeria. However, I did not want to study medicine in Nigeria because I was unsure of how long I would spend in school due to strikes. So, I started the process of elimination and landed on architecture. To practice architecture in Nigeria and be treated like an architect however, you need more than a 4-year degree. Therefore, it was a no-brainer that I needed to get my Master’s degree right after my undergraduate degree. These are the reasons I studied architecture at both levels.
With the Nigerian education system, prospective students must select a particular number of courses; you cannot apply for different courses at different universities. We also do not have a wide selection of courses in our universities to choose from. There is no room to be undecided in say, your first year, where you do different courses until you make up your mind. It is so straitjacket. If there was more freedom in the system, perhaps I would have made a different choice.
During my undergraduate studies, I was taught to regurgitate information from my professors and to write what I knew my professors wanted to see. While completing my Master’s in England, I experienced a shift in the way I approached architecture as a course. I was encouraged to think critically. This time, I put thought into research and my approach to learning. I gained a genuine love for and interest in architecture.
Your podcast, Studio 400, features conversations about architecture, architecture education, and design in Nigeria. What is the inspiration behind Studio 400?
My inspiration is simply an interest in these topics. Sometime last year, a video of me passionately airing my views on Eko Atlantic City found its way to Twitter. Someone commented under the video suggesting I start a podcast, as they would like to hear me speak further on such topics. Despite not practicing architecture, I still have an interest in it and wanted to put my degree to use. So, I took that suggestion and started Studio 400.
My podcast is meant to educate people. My classmates and I had to teach ourselves quite a bit in undergrad. My podcast is particularly helpful for architecture students and young professionals starting out in the space. It is also an avenue to close the information gap in architecture. Documentation of architecture in Nigeria is severely lacking. In undergrad when we’d be tasked with finding case studies for our projects, we had to look to architecture in other countries/continents which did not always fit our context due to geographic and socio-cultural differences in planning, designing and construction of structures. On the podcast, I drive discussions about architecture in Nigeria to close this information gap.
I also want to teach people about designing for Nigerians and Africans. You don’t just build skyscrapers, slap glass all around a building and install air conditioners everywhere. There are better ways to design modern structures that are suitable to the climate and people.
In the future, I hope to create an architecture and design community out of my podcast.
Why did you ultimately choose design over architecture as a career choice?
After completing my Master’s, I returned to Nigeria and started searching for a job. Having experienced a paradigm shift in England, I knew that I would not find fulfillment in practicing architecture in Nigeria. I looked at architecture jobs but did not find them appealing in remuneration, commuting time, and work hours. I noticed that the lifecycle for architecture projects can be long. The time between receiving a brief from a client and breaking ground on a site can be six months to one year. Additionally, I could not find roles in research, which is what I wanted. Before my job search, I had started learning design and I loved it. Sometimes, I would spend hours working on a design and would not notice the time pass. The lifecycle for design projects, that is, design, development, and testing, is shorter than the lifecycle for architecture projects on average. The fact that I could see my work come to life in a shorter period appealed to me.
You are a self-taught designer. Which courses, learning platforms, communities, and design tools did you leverage during your learning journey?
Most of my learning was through replicating designs that I saw. For example, if I saw an album art with a ‘glitch’ effect, I would search the internet or YouTube for how to recreate this effect. I gained multiple skills through experimenting with other designs I saw and built my design acumen this way. I took some online courses on Udemy, Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF), and LinkedIn Learning. The YouTube channel that I leveraged the most was “The Futur”. I also read many articles and case studies from designers I admired.
With respect to communities, I found people in my immediate environment who were doing design work that I was interested in. At the time, this was Covenant University where I did my undergrad. I developed a mentor-mentee relationship with these people. I would share my work with them as I progressed, and they were always happy to provide feedback. This way, people knew that I was interested in design and knew to approach me if they needed work done. Two other communities that helped me were Usable and SheDesigns, which is a community of female African designers.
Throughout my journey of becoming a self-taught designer, I was not afraid of rejection. I openly published my work on my Behance and Dribbble pages. I was bold in the way I reached out to people whose work I admired. This was how I got my first design internship. I cold messaged someone asking for feedback on an illustration I had done which was similar to an illustration he had done. Afterwards, he informed me that an internship opportunity had opened at his office. Most of the design jobs I have gotten have been based off past relationships with people I reached out to at some point. Additionally, I was not afraid to experiment with different areas of design. Apart from illustration, there is also product design. I started out making posters, which is where I believe most designers start from, then did advertisement design during one of my internships. I also tried UI design. Over time, I picked up skills from multiple areas.
“Try different things” has been a recurring theme in this series. At what point in your journey did you feel ready to enter the job market as a designer?
I knew I was ready to enter the job market when I stopped actively searching for side projects or freelance gigs, rather people were approaching me with work and project opportunities. This signified growth to me.
Being a self-taught professional — designer, developer, data scientist etc— requires discipline. How were you able to keep yourself accountable, minimize procrastination, and stay motivated during your journey?
To be honest, there were times when I got frustrated but I remembered to pace myself. I looked at designers I admired and knew that I needed to put in work to become as good as them. I was trying to make a career out of what I was learning, so I needed to be good enough to compete against people who had learnt design through formal training.
A big motivator was the fact that I knew the kind of company I wanted to work for, which was Paystack. I had seen who Paystack’s Design Director was and knew what the design team was capable of. I had to ensure I put in the effort, time, and discipline needed to produce the best work of my life. I felt discouraged sometimes, but I took advantage of the days I felt motivated. Having a community of people who supported me throughout also helped greatly.
Do you think choosing design has paid off so far? Is there anything that you would have done differently at the beginning of your design journey if given the chance now?
Design has paid off. I enjoy my job; it does not feel like work every time even when our team is doing a product launch and we’re up at 2am working. Design has also made me more financially independent. The barrier to entry for architecture is quite high, therefore, I do not think I would be as financially independent as I am now if I had ultimately chosen architecture. I would have started with design earlier if given the chance, but in the end, I am still grateful for my journey.
This interview is the second in a 3-part conversation series on career, purpose and goals for the questioning 20-something. More conversations in the series to follow at a later date.