“A Week in the Life“ is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of this week’s #AWeekInTheLife is Lola Salehu, a Nigerian product designer based in Dubai. She tells us about switching from coding to design, the intentional way she sees the world and the most important thing on her bucket list — to change her passport.
I live in the UAE and work for a company in the United Kingdom (UK), so I’m three hours ahead. I can decide to start working at 9 a.m. my time, or noon (9 a.m. UK time). Today, I’m choosing 12 p.m.
But before then, I go to the gym from 7 a.m. to 9, return home and freshen up. I recently started taking hair and skin care seriously, so I spend an hour on those before settling down to a light breakfast of oatmeal.
When I resume work, it’s a lineup of meetings until the end of the day, aligning with other team members and business stakeholders until 3 p.m. Then, meetings with my team members for the next two hours. After that, I could do some hands-on design, run feedback loops for my team or analyse data to get insights that’ll help us decide what to build next.
When I close from work around 7 p.m., I shift to my personal projects. I’m currently working on a course for designers, and volunteering at upcoming tech communities. Then I take a walk and grab dinner, which could be a burger or jollof rice. If I’m feeling fancy, I buy shawarma. When I get home, I eat, and around 10 p.m., I go to bed.
I lead a team of two product designers, one brand designer and one web designer. While Mondays and Wednesdays are heavy-meeting days, I do more hands-on work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
As a product designer, my Tuesday can involve collaborating with other teams — marketing, sales, finance, engineering and product teams, etc. I make digital products that work and people can use — phones, laptops, watches or even VR headsets. The products I design must solve problems for both individuals and businesses.
Every company has business goals, and I’m working to achieve a goal every quarter. My job as a product designer is to make people care about how the business intends to solve the problem. It involves elements of storytelling, innovating and prototyping solutions that I think will solve whatever problem the company is looking to solve for its customers.
To do this, I talk with the customers a lot. My job involves a lot of collecting and interpreting data to make sure we’re prioritising what they really want and deciding on what’s nice to have while considering the business objectives. At the end of the day, I need to make sure my team has met those goals.
Today, I worked on testing out a user flow with customers. In product design, a user flow is the path a user takes to complete a task on a website or app. I recorded the process from start to finish and couldn’t help but notice how flexible this job is compared to my previous one.
These days, I’m more flexible with the kind of data I collect and work with. I can watch recorded sessions to observe the behaviours of our customers and make informed product decisions on the fly. Unlike when I was in fintech and couldn’t record certain things. For example, you can’t record sessions on a fintech app in case a user might be typing in their card details.
I loved being at the centre of payments processing in Africa, but fintech in the West is very different from how it works in Africa. Yes, there are regulations, but the government won’t just wake up one day with a policy that would reset your business, for instance.
I love teaching when I’m not working. That’s why I’m putting together a course for designers. In my spare time, I also have speaking engagements in tech and youth events where I pick a topic and teach people about it. I’m a designer, so naturally, I can’t shut up about design, which is funny because I didn’t always want to be a product designer.
I was a software engineer for two years, and there was this designer at the company I worked. While I’d be scratching my brain over coding a feature, this guy would be designing the next one. I thought it was easy, and I was like, “Omo, I don’t want to be doing 2+2 = X logic coding for the rest of my life.”
Only for me to switch to product design and see pepper. But I realised engineering and product design are pretty much solving the same problem in different ways. Nothing is easier than the other. While coding is logical, design is analytical and creative. I liked this way of solving problems, so I stuck with it.
After work at 6 p.m. today, I went out for a walk and took pictures of the cityscape. When I got back home, I journaled for a bit before sleeping. I love documenting memories of even the most random things and writing or creating photo journals to relive them.
On Fridays, the TGIF energy starts early. I mean, it’s the weekend!
I see the world in colours and pathways and processes. That’s why I love living in Dubai. This city started as a desert; all they had was sand. But they designed this sprawling city with so much thought and intention, and were successful at it. I apply this mentality to everything I’m doing, and I know everything will come out fine.
But another thing that drives me is my desire to escape the limitations of having a Nigerian passport. While we have a rich history, culture and creativity, there’s not much Nigeria has done for me — instead, it often takes from me.
I want to change my experience and see what the world offers. I don’t want to stay three hours extra at an airport because I’m Nigerian. I don’t want to meet people who’re wary of me because I’m Nigerian. So in five years, I see myself in a new life with a new passport and glorious new adventures.
If you liked this story, you might like this too: “I’m a Firefighter at My Job” — A Week in the Life of a Fintech Marketer