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Inside Stephanie Orkuma’s journey: From Canva designs to UX strategy

Nigerian UX strategist and designer, Stephanie Orkuma shares how a tweet inspired her to start her design career journey and tips on personal branding.

Stephanie Orkuma
Stephanie Orkuma

In the ever-evolving world of design, Stephanie Orkuma, popularly known as “The Dada Designer”, has emerged as a rising star, making waves with her journey in UX design and her pioneering work in the niche of UX Strategy.

With only a few years under her belt in the field, Stephanie's story is not just about her rapid ascent but also about the power of building a personal brand and seizing opportunities with both hands.

The humble Canva beginnings

Stephanie's design journey began on the popular graphic design platform, Canva. In 2020, she was juggling her small business and working for her brother's foundation, which required social media designs. While her early designs may have been humble and leave her embarrassed today, at the time they ignited a passion in her that was impossible to ignore. "I was in school at the time and whenever I returned from class bored, I’d just get on my phone and start designing," she told Bendada.com. 

Even outside of work, Stephanie was drawn to design. A friend started teaching her the basics of Photoshop, and soon that was all she spent her nights doing.

At the time, she had no clear path to turn her passion into a career. One day, a fortuitous tweet from Orifunke Lawal, a Nigerian digital entrepreneur caught Stephanie's attention. Lawal runs a Canva training academy, and she had noticed there was a pattern of her students moving from graphic design to UI/UX design and she noted it in her tweet. That set the wheels in motion for Stephanie, for the first time she saw a pathway to turn her passion into a career in the tech industry where she had always wanted to work.

The tweet that inspired Stephanie

While Stephanie had already decided to pursue a career in UI/UX design, there were still some loose ends to tie up, the biggest of which was her Linguistics degree at Nasarawa State University. She was simultaneously juggling her final year project with two unpaid internships. However, she still did the best she could to hold onto her dream, familiarising herself with the design community on Twitter and applying for UX mentorship programs. 

"I followed every designer I could find. I wanted to wake up every day and see designs all over my timeline. I would go to follow everyone on “Tag your favourite designer” threads on Twitter," Stephanie said. 

When she applied for a UX mentorship programme led by Raheemat Atata, a Nigerian product designer, things started moving in the right direction again. Despite her hectic schedule, she made time for the interview, which took place just 30 minutes before one of her final exams. She aced both the interview and her exams, marking the beginning of her career as a UX designer.

Stephanie credits the mentorship program and the guidance of women like Raheemat Atata for her success, acknowledging their vital roles in her journey. This support network allowed her to refine her skills and find her niche in UX Strategy.

Within just three months of her formal foray into UX design, Stephanie received her first job offer. From there, her career began to take off. This year she spoke at the Untitled Design Conference alongside her mentor, Raheemat. She was also the only Nigerian to speak at Medium.com's Medium Day event.

Stephanie speaking at the Untitled Design Conference

The power of personal branding 

Stephanie's brand has been instrumental in her career. During the UX mentorship programme, Raheemat emphasised the importance of sharing your work on social media, and Stephanie embraced it wholeheartedly, understanding the algorithms and using keywords to boost visibility.

It wasn't long before a founder of a startup in Canada spotted one of her designs and reached out. Since then she's never had to go job hunting. Her strong social media presence, characterised by sharing her work, learnings, and experiences, has brought her recognition and opportunities. Speaking engagements, job offers, and networking connections have all stemmed from her brand.

"To build a personal brand, particularly on social media, there are simple steps that make a difference. These include using a clear headshot across your socials, maintaining a solid and consistent bio, and deciding on the nature of posts to put out," she said.

For Stephanie, personal branding is about sharing who you are, what you do, what you like, and what you excel at. It's also about storytelling, solving problems for your audience, and maintaining consistency in your brand identity across platforms.

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Book recommendation: Branding Yourself by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy & This is Marketing by Seth Godin

Breaking new ground in UX Strategy

One of the defining aspects of Stephanie's career is her commitment to UX Strategy, a niche she may be pioneering in Nigeria. When she first started, no one in her region had "UX Strategy" in their display name or bio on LinkedIn or other social media platforms. Stephanie decided to change that by adding it to her profile and consistently discussing it in her posts.

Her dedication had a ripple effect, inspiring others to adopt the term in their profiles as well. Stephanie's mission is to create awareness about UX Strategy and help companies understand and embrace it further.

Stephanie at her home workstation

Although Stephanie's career has been marked by success, it hasn't been without its challenges. One notable hurdle was the lack of live projects in her portfolio. When clients and prospective employers inquired about her previous work, there was nothing to show. She had to become more selective about the projects she took on to ensure they went live. Also, Nigeria's constant power and slow internet speeds have been limiting.

Generally, Stephanie Orkuma's journey in UX design is not just a story of rapid success but a testament to the power of perseverance and personal branding and the impact it can have on one's career. Now her work in UX Strategy is inspiring others to follow in her footsteps. Stephanie's story is a shining example of how passion, mentorship, and a strong personal brand can propel one to great heights in any chosen field.

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