I was on sabbatical for all of Q1 2021, and when I resumed, the overwhelming advice I got was to get back into it slowly. The team had run without me for months, there was no pressure.
My first task was to work with Stefan (my manager) to close out a hire. We’d been talking to Claire, a designer from SA, to join as Design Systems Lead so we picked up the conversation, agreed on terms and she joined!
With Claire, we’d brought on someone with a richer perspective of what it means to run a design team. Very quickly, it became obvious what the team was lacking in systems, collaboration and experience.
Realising this gap, Stefan pitched Claire the Head of Design role. The idea was for her to focus on systems, people and delivery while I oversee ideas and execution. My role didn’t change — I’ve always been Design Director, but now it was to be more than just a fancy title for team lead.
Stefan gave me a template to think through things. Amandine recommended I approach it as a new job. I read articles and books, did multiple exercises and talked to a lot of people. I spent many days thinking and writing. Eventually, I arrived full-circle at the conclusion that being a director suits me.
A company is not a family business, and being an early employee doesn’t qualify me for any position I want. So it’s worth asking: why should I be Design Director?
I spent the first five years at Paystack as a generalist. I’ve worked as a graphic designer, web designer, product designer, frontend developer, product and engineering manager. Anything I can do, I’ve tried.
I’m very curious and have a sharp synthesising mind. I read widely, so I’m full of ideas. I write well, understand concepts fairly easily and can explain things beautifully. I tell good stories and prototype very quickly, so I can sell my ideas when I need to.
Some of these skills are stronger than others, and some have declined for lack of practice, but I understand them well enough to know what quality looks like. As far as making things that work on the internet, I have incredible taste.
I’m generally easy going, communicate well and have a good amount of empathy, so I work well with others. Paired with my obsession with details and understanding of the business, it makes sense to direct.
Before now, my mental model as team lead was that we shared the work. Just like everybody else, I was hired to make things. I expected each person to own their part and if it wasn’t satisfactory, then I’d step in to finish up.
I’ve always imagined myself a craftsman, hammering away in the darkness of my forge, making the best version of whatever I was working on. I’ve even called myself an internet carpenter, but those days are coming to an end, at least at Paystack.
The company has grown significantly, and I have to as well. It’s a bit weird, but building things is no longer the most valuable thing I can do.
I need to make sure every designer has a well-articulated picture of the problems we’re tasked to solve, participate in discovery and synthesis to encourage the very best ideas, oversee our systems and processes to make sure our work is cohesive and pore over the final outcome to see it delivered just as excellently as we’ve imagined.
My place is to help other people excel. It’s clear now.
For personal reasons, Claire had to leave the company, but she was a light, and in those months of working together, I found a lot of clarity.
During my stint as Engineering Manager, I had a 1:1 with someone who told me something in the lines of “I think you can be more”. At the time, it was flattery, but I’ve gone back to that conversation a lot recently.
Working alongside people with deeper industry experience, being exposed to design at scale and starting all over again has been quite the ride. But mostly, it’s really good to be learning and growing again.
I hope I continue to find room to be more.