4 Years of Design at Paystack

F.Merry
F.Merry
Jul 8 · 6 min read
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We made this collage at Dá Design Studio last year

As Paystack has grown, the design team has changed and I’ve been at the helm of this. Some things have worked out and others have failed, but in all we’ve learnt good lessons.

As a company, we know we should write more about the work we do. We make mistakes that others can learn from, and we learn so much on the job that there’s a lot we can talk about. But it’s hard to share. It takes time and needs encouragement. I hope this essay bells the cat.

Regardless, this exercise is useful for me to reflect on my growth as a designer, and I hope as a guide for others who have to lead someday. Here are some things I’ve learnt in the past four years of designing at Paystack.

1. Document everything

If I woke up and it was 2016 again, the first thing I’ll do is buy Bitcoin (🤷‍♂). But also, I’ll take documentation very seriously. One recurring problem we’ve faced on the team is giving everyone equal context. Where is what? How do things work? And why?

Without well-written, frequently-updated documentation, it takes more time to understand things. Newer team members are more prone to mistakes, and everything takes longer because changes can cascade unpredictably. Helping to document the work in a searchable, predictable way is something every designer should be proactive about.

2. Design for your team

We should care for our team mates as much as we do customers. With more volumes, operations becomes more difficult and when processes are manual, the team will struggle. Mistakes are more likely to happen and people won’t get the time or space to do their best work. To solve this, the company needs to automate.

As designers, our role in this is to:

On the other side of product, we can also help with:

This is not an exhaustive list and there are surely other ways design can contribute, as long as we’re looking.

3. Leadership is not mastery

The thing about designing for a startup is that you’re likely become a leader very early and this can sidestep personal growth. This is why titles make me anxious. What does being a “senior designer” or “design director” mean outside of your context?

Of course, doing the work and leading people teaches a lot, but it doesn’t teach mastery. It helps to be very intentional about improving at your craft, especially if you want to continue to contribute independently.

4. Delegation is about support

For a long time, I thought delegation was just about splitting the work—you take this, I take that. After a few disappointments, I’ve learnt otherwise.

Delegation is a process of handing over responsibilities to someone else. It’s a process, not an event. I’ve learnt to set expectations and then help people meet them: ask questions, proactively (and kindly) remind them of what they miss, review their work, point out what they can do better, acknowledge when they discover my mistakes, and keep at it until they completely understand the responsibility.

5. Learn from others

For a long time, it was important for me to be “original” and not to copy others. I’m wiser now and understand that everything is a remix. One of the fastest ways to do good work is to study existing good work and apply what you find. I’ve learnt to start my process with a reference study. Who else has done this? How did they execute it? And what can I learn from them?

6. Typography makes all the difference

Knowing how to pair fonts and arrange type makes the most difference in your work. By the time you get good at this, you probably have a hang of other graphic design basics. Write short, clear sentences. Avoid typos. Read things back to yourself. Pay attention to what the words look and sound like.

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ia.net

7. Take care of yourself

There are different ways to look out for yourself.

8. Everything good is a team sport

4 years later, the design team at Paystack has grown to an 8-person voltron that can do more incredible work than any one of us can individually.

It’s important not to attach too much ego to the work. Don’t waste time trying to figure things out yourself. If you don’t understand the context, ask . If the expectations aren’t clear, ask. When you’re stuck, ask. Expect to do multiple iterations. Invite the team help you make it better.

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Today the design team at Paystack consists of me,

We’ve also worked with Seyi and Dami of Dá Design studio since 2017.

Meet the team:

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Bobby is also an illustrator and recently signed up as a mentor on DearDesigner. The picture is from a puzzle he made for a team zine.
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Chinonso designed NigeriaLogos, an open source collection of logos for public use.
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Seeto blogs about architecture. This picture above is of the S House, a prefab building used as an example in her essay series on how flexible architecture might work in Lagos.
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Kaz is drawing alien machines and sharing with the hashtag #JewelBestiary. If you thought to yourself “but that looks an insect” you’re missing the point.
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Demilade is working on a JS library for custom cursors and recently shared a demo for one of them.
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Tomi maintains a repo of African countries on Github and is learning WebGL.
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Kachi is currently trying to learn multiple dances including the vosho, pouncing cat, tikoloshi and moonwalk dance. One time, he wrote a bot that makes playlists from the songs we share in Slack.

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