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Other Faces of Tech

Bolanle Banwo OsadoloBrand Identity designer, Founder Geneza Brands and Geneza School of Design

Bolanle Banwo Osadolo

Do you mind sharing what growing up was like for you? The family setting, city you grew up in, etc

Growing up for me was an interesting journey that ultimately led me to where I am today as a brand designer. I grew up in Ikorodu, Lagos State, Nigeria, and I come from a large family with diverse interests and careers, including engineers, mathematicians, and more. Despite the pressure to follow a traditional path, I always had a passion for design.

In school, I excelled in art-related subjects, and even my teachers recognized my talent. I had a strong inclination towards design and art, but it took me a while to gather the confidence to pursue it as a career. Back then, there weren’t many well-established designers or design schools, so the path was unclear. One of my first design roles was as a Comic Illustrator, and this experience allowed me to gain valuable skills and prove to myself and my family that design was my true calling. Over time, I ventured into various design-related roles, from creating movie cover designs to video editing, and today, I find myself thriving as a brand designer, excited about the possibilities the future holds.

What kind of advice would you give to someone who doesn’t yet have the opportunity to get a job or an internship to convince their parents about their career choice?

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand that people generally respond to success. Parents, especially, want to ensure their children are secure and independent. So, my advice would be to start by demonstrating your commitment and producing tangible results in your chosen field.

Parents may be skeptical at first, but when they see that you’re genuinely dedicated and making progress, their support is more likely to follow. For example, if you aspire to be a musician, actively practice, and work on your singing or instrument skills. Show your dedication by consistently putting in the effort. Similarly, if you’re interested in design, take on projects, assist other designers, and look for opportunities in your chosen field. It’s about demonstrating that you’re serious about your passion and willing to put in the work to make it a success, even if the results are initially modest. Ultimately, people respond to actions and achievements, so focus on building a track record that speaks to your commitment and abilities.

What would you say has helped you transition from one phase of your career to another? What factors have contributed to your growth as you’ve moved from one career phase to the next?

My journey in design has been fueled by a relentless hunger for excellence. Choosing a less conventional career path like design made me feel like I had a lot to prove. I was determined not to become the family disappointment. To achieve this, I committed myself to becoming the best designer I could be. Early on, I realized the importance of thorough research and understanding the fundamentals of design. This meant studying the work of foreign designers, discerning the difference between good and bad design, and constantly pushing myself to improve.

One key lesson I learned is that in design, there’s no endpoint where you can say you’ve arrived. The field is dynamic, and staying competitive on a global scale requires an unwavering commitment to continuous learning and improvement. It’s about benchmarking your work against the best in the world, not just those within your immediate vicinity. I still push myself daily, always seeking ways to enhance my skills and create world-class designs. The key to my journey has been staying hungry and never allowing complacency to set in, and I intend to maintain this mindset as I work towards my goals.

At what point did you realize that design needed advocacy, and what motivated you to become a design advocate?

A significant part of my motivation to become a design advocate stemmed from a sense of frustration and anger at the undervaluation of designers and their work. I was acutely aware of the immense effort and creativity that goes into design projects, especially when starting from a blank canvas and crafting something unique. It bothered me to see talented designers working tirelessly on numerous projects and yet not receiving the compensation they deserved. I questioned why design was often perceived as less valuable than other professions, and this fueled my determination to make a difference.

My desire to bring about change led me to actively engage in advocacy efforts and establish a personal brand that could influence real change within the design industry in Nigeria. I aimed to gain the authority and influence necessary to reshape the landscape, ensuring that designers were fairly compensated for their work. It’s not just about personal recognition or popularity; it’s about making substantial changes that benefit the entire design community and pave the way for a brighter future for designers in Nigeria. This mission continues to drive me every day.

What would you say are some of the challenges that new designers in Nigeria face?

In Nigeria, and indeed in Africa, there are several significant challenges that designers face. One major obstacle is the unreliable electricity supply. I can vividly recall the struggles of working on design projects with a laptop that had a subpar battery because it was a used one. When there was no electricity, which was a frequent occurrence, the heat could be unbearable. Many designers in Nigeria have to deal with these power outages while trying to create unique and impactful designs. Limited resources are a recurring theme, and even tools like Adobe software can be prohibitively expensive for many designers.

Another challenge is the lack of exposure on global design platforms like Behance. While there are incredibly talented designers in Nigeria and Africa, their work often goes unnoticed on international platforms due to a lack of representation and recognition. It’s frustrating to see a skewed perspective of what design means globally and a failure to appreciate the diversity of design styles and creativity that Nigeria and Africa have to offer. This lack of exposure affects opportunities for collaboration and growth.

Additionally, formal training and education in design can be limited and costly. Many designers turn to online resources, like YouTube, to learn and improve their skills. To address some of these challenges, I founded the Geneza School, offering affordable courses to empower aspiring designers with the skills they need. The goal is to make quality design education accessible to those who might not have the financial means to pursue formal training. Despite these challenges, Nigerian designers are resilient and resourceful, and I believe in their potential to overcome obstacles and make a significant impact on the global design scene.

Do you think that even after attaining a certain level of success as a designer, where you’ve collaborated with international companies and established yourself, investing in a formal design education is still valuable?

I firmly believe that design education extends beyond aesthetics, encompassing vital functional aspects often overlooked. For example, a chair I purchased from a Nigerian brand looked appealing but lacked functionality, emphasizing the significance of understanding design’s practical elements like ergonomics and user experience. Therefore, formal design education holds great importance, as it offers a comprehensive grasp of these critical facets. However, in a context like Nigeria, a balance is needed. While introducing design education in universities is commendable, mentorship and experiential learning play pivotal roles in complementing formal education, accelerating career growth, and providing practical insights that classroom settings may not cover. In essence, I view formal design education as the cornerstone, supplemented by mentorship and real-world experiences for a well-rounded designer’s development.

I’m curious about emerging designers from Nigeria and Africa who often start in ‘survival mode’ in design. Beyond just surviving, what advice and insights do you have for those aiming to build sustainable design careers outside of Nigeria and Africa?

You should focus on several key aspects in order to build a sustainable design career. Firstly, prioritize storytelling. Being able to communicate the narrative behind your work will help you stand out and connect with your audience. It’s an invaluable skill that goes beyond just aesthetics. Next, establish a strong brand identity for yourself. This ensures that when people encounter your work or online presence, they form a clear and positive perception of you. It’s crucial to take charge of your own narrative and not let others define your brand. Remember, everyone has a brand identity, and it’s better to shape it yourself.

Another critical aspect is maintaining an up-to-date portfolio. Regularly showcase your work to demonstrate your growth and capabilities. This ensures that potential clients or collaborators see the breadth and depth of your skills. Networking is equally vital. Engage with fellow designers, offer assistance, and seek opportunities for collaboration. Building a sense of community and sharing experiences will enrich your career. Furthermore, create a significant online presence. Don’t shy away from being the face of your work. Sharing your insights, experiences, and design philosophy will help you connect with a broader audience. Remember, impacting lives goes beyond your designs; it’s also about mentorship and community building. Lastly, be persistent and resilient. The design industry can be competitive, but dedication and perseverance will ultimately lead to success. Trust the process and continue putting your work out there consistently.

How did you manage to overcome feelings of inferiority when starting your career in the design industry, especially considering your background and experiences?

I believe that overcoming feelings of inferiority in the design industry is a challenge many designers face. For me, it was essential to realize that even great designers experience such feelings from time to time. Understanding that it’s a passing emotion helped me ignore it. I constantly remind myself that I’m growing and improving, and I won’t let self-doubt hold me back. Moreover, I hold a strong belief that besides our hard work, there’s an element of favor and divine intervention at play. While I ensure I produce quality work, I also trust that the right opportunities will come my way through factors like favor and divine grace. This perspective has been crucial in my journey to navigate feelings of inadequacy and keep pushing forward.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

If I could offer advice to my younger self, I’d emphasize the importance of starting my design journey earlier and being bolder about pursuing my dreams. I would encourage myself to explore a variety of interests from an early age, nurturing any inclination my child might have towards art, technology, or sports. Moreover, I would remind my younger self to be confident and unafraid of the future, assuring that opportunities would come and I wouldn’t go hungry. I’d stress the significance of sharing my unique perspective and not hesitating to talk about my work, as it holds value that others may not possess. Overall, while I wish I had started earlier, I’m grateful for the journey that has brought me to where I am today.

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