Layoffs and rejections couldn't stop this designer's rise: Obasola's story

From layoffs to dream job: Obasola Akintola shares a guide to turning setbacks into opportunities.

Layoffs and rejections couldn't stop this designer's rise: Obasola's story
Obasola Akintola—🎨: Alex Tudun/

Imagine trading a hammer and chisel for design software. That's the unexpected but inspiring journey of Obasola Akintola, a geology graduate who defied expectations to become a rising star in the world of brand design.

But the path wasn't paved with roses. Layoffs, rejections, and even exploitation tested his resilience. Yet, Obasola refused to be deterred. He embraced the "build in public" philosophy, showcasing his work shamelessly. He crafted mock projects for dream brands, ventured into illustration, and regularly shared insightful content, building a loyal online following.

Eventually, his consistency paid off, landing him a dream job at Cowrywise – all without a traditional application!

But how did it all begin? 

From Geology to Graphic Design: Obasola's unexpected detour

Obasola wasn't just an ace in geology class, he was a design detective. Everywhere he looked, from misshapen logos to clunky websites, his eyes itched with the urge to improve. "In university," he says, the memory still crackling, "I couldn't escape the feeling that everything – everything! – could be better designed."

He initially lacked direction on how to channel this desire for improvement. It was only when he became involved with the design team at his church in 2020 that things started to click.

As a member of the church’s design team, he spent nights hunched over his laptop, learning design with the same intensity he once studied rock formations. His designs weren't just aesthetically pleasing; they told stories, fostered community, and breathed new life into his church's images.

Armed with dedication and fueled by a relentless desire to push boundaries, Obasola carved his own path in the design world.  Today, looking back at his journey, a satisfied smile spreads across his face. "It's incredibly fulfilling to see how far I've come."

Building in public

Obasola is a shameless advocate of building in public, an approach he took to stand out from the saturated design space. As he explains, "I’ve embraced the idea of putting myself out there shamelessly while ensuring the quality of my work remains top-notch." 

To achieve this, Obasola employed various strategies, one of which involved designing projects specifically for the brands he aspired to collaborate with. For instance, creating an entire project centred around Spotify not only showcased his skills but also garnered significant attention, including followers from Spotify employees.

Additionally, Obasola ventured into illustration, initially daunting but ultimately rewarding as it allowed him to demonstrate growth and versatility in his craft. Alongside visual content, he leveraged platforms like LinkedIn to share insightful stories spanning topics such as brand strategy and guidelines.

Consistency was key in Obasola's approach to building in public. Even on days when he felt uninspired, he pushed himself to maintain a presence online. Interestingly, it was precisely during one of these moments of lethargy that he received a direct message from the design lead at Cowrywise, illustrating the power of building in public. As Obasola puts it, "Consistency pays off, even when you least expect it."

Guinness World Record Branding: A design sprint against the clock

Through his "build in public" strategy, Obasola landed an incredible opportunity – contributing to the design of Hilda Baci's world-record-breaking cook-a-thon! He describes it as a thrilling but intense experience, demanding swift action and high-pressure decision-making.

To navigate the high-pressure environment, he began with a thorough analysis of the brand's unique selling propositions and target audience. Obasola says, "Once I understood the essence of Hilda Baci's brand, I focused on creating designs that would effectively communicate her story and resonate with her audience."

Incorporating storytelling elements into his designs, including captivating illustrations, was crucial for Obasola. He expounds, "Every aspect of the branding, from colours to typography to visual elements, was carefully considered to ensure cohesiveness and alignment with the brand's identity."

The success of the branding was evident in the positive feedback received from both Hilda Baci and her audience. Obasola recalls, "People expressed their admiration for the branded merchandise, noting how much they loved the designs and even deciding to keep them as cherished mementoes."

Ultimately, the branding fulfilled its purpose by attracting people to the event, stirring excitement, and effectively serving its functional role. As Obasola reflects on the project, he concludes, "It was a rewarding experience to see the impact of my designs firsthand."

Muah! No giving up

Though Hilda Baci's cook-a-thon offered valuable growth, it wasn't the instant success Obasola sought. This period tested his resilience and determination, paving the way for his turnaround in December 2023.

Reflecting on this period, he shares, "One of the most difficult moments was unexpectedly getting laid off in June 2023, which left me feeling vulnerable and uncertain about my future." Despite receiving numerous international offers through platforms like Behance, he encountered a string of disappointments as each opportunity seemed to vanish without explanation.

Obasola even travelled to Lagos for a physical interview, sacrificing his academic commitments and resources, only to receive a rejection email weeks later.

And when he generated significant engagement and impressions, he struggled to convert them into meaningful opportunities. Additionally, he encountered clients who sought to exploit his talents by offering inadequate compensation.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, Obasola refused to succumb to discouragement. He admits, "There were days when frustration and fatigue threatened to overwhelm me, but I persisted, refusing to let go of my dreams." He learned to persevere through adversity, acknowledging that setbacks are often part of the journey toward success.

How one design led to a dream job at Cowrywise

2024 kicked off with a bang for Obasola! He resumed his dream job as a Brand Designer at Cowrywise, and the best part? He didn't even need to apply! It all started with his dedication to showcasing his work online. As he remembers, "One post, featuring designs for Spotify, unexpectedly exploded, attracting tons of attention. That's when the design lead at Cowrywise, impressed by my talent, reached out with an offer I couldn't refuse - a brand design role!"

After a successful initial conversation, Obasola had the opportunity to present additional illustrations to the team, further impressing them with his skills and creativity. He explains, "This led to subsequent meetings with the growth lead and eventually the CEO, where I showcased more of my work and demonstrated my capability to contribute to the company."

Throughout the process, Obasola's proactive approach played a pivotal role in securing the job offer. He said, "By consistently sharing my work and seizing opportunities to showcase my skills, I was able to stand out and demonstrate my value to Cowrywise."

For others seeking to land opportunities without traditional application processes, Obasola offers valuable advice. He advises, "Focus on consistently showcasing your work and expertise. Build an online presence through platforms like Behance, LinkedIn, or personal websites, and actively engage with your audience." He also encouraged seizing any opportunities that come your way and staying proactive and persistent in pursuing goals. 

Leaving a legacy beyond brands and logos

Rounding up on an optimistic note, Obasola discusses his ambitious yet deeply meaningful aspirations for his career in brand design, emphasizing his desire to become a recognized design leader and share insights on global platforms. He shared, "Looking ahead, my aspirations for my career in brand design are ambitious yet deeply meaningful to me."

One of his primary goals is to become a recognized design leader, sharing insights and expertise on global platforms such as Adobe MAX, Config, and TEDxNewYork. Obasola envisions himself travelling the world, speaking about the transformative power of design and its ability to make a positive impact on people's lives.

Additionally, he aspires to serve as a visual consultant for top individuals and companies, leveraging his skills and experience to help them achieve their branding and creative goals. Obasola's vision also includes being at the forefront of brand design, art, and creative direction, where he can push boundaries, innovate, and set trends in the industry.

As he looks ahead to the future of his career, Obasola is driven by a combination of ambition and a genuine desire to make a meaningful impact in the field of brand design. He concludes, "These goals represent not only personal achievements but also opportunities to contribute to the broader creative community and inspire others on their design journeys."

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