Hearing From: Mitchelle Chibundu, Product Design Lead in Web3, and Founder of Designer Babe®

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9th May, 2024 No Comments

Mitchelle Chibundu is a global product design leader and founder of Designer Babe®. With over seven years of experience in the fintech industry working at companies such as Wise and Flutterwave, she is also a published author of two best selling design books; Clueless To Designer, and Dear Designer, Write Journal. We had the opportunity to chat with her about her career journey so far…

Can you introduce yourself, tell us about Designer Babe®, and what inspired you to launch it?

I’m Mitchelle, popularly known as The Designer Babe® (DB). Designer Babe® is a platform designed to create engaging, inspirational and informative resources that encourage curiosity, creativity, and a love of learning.

But before Designer Babe® became a popular sensation, it started simply as a way for me to create something I believed needed to exist…

Seven years ago, when I was just a beginner in my career, few people brought design to everyday people. It felt inaccessible. There was a lot of information for software engineering, data science and other fields in tech, but it felt very ambiguous for design. I was doing the work myself, learning and finding it interesting, and I wanted to find a way to share that with people.

It didn’t initially come from wanting to teach, but I wanted to share what I was learning because I found it exciting. Five of my friends supported me and were there as I built it, and it grew. It’s become this massive community now—even I wonder how we’re here sometimes!

Can you explain exactly what Designer Babe® is and what it offers?

Designer Babe® is a couple of things. However, despite our evolution over time, we have consistently provided young people in technology with the skills they need to think outside the box and create meaningful, impactful careers. We create and share resources that anyone can learn from and access. In the last five years, we’ve shared over 500 written and video pieces of content, inspiring thousands of young people daily and helping them understand the humanity in design.

We have a variety of available programmes, including design books for kickstarting and documenting your design journey, a web series exploring the journeys of African designers, and a publication showcasing and celebrating the brilliance and style of leading women in design.

We most recently wrapped up our latest Wine and Design event in London, which has become a feature of what we do. 

Launched in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Wine & Design aimed to bridge distances and cultivate community among designers.

Over the last four years, it has evolved into a vibrant, in-person and virtual collection of hundreds of passionate people, including designers, software engineers, product managers, and creative people in technology. 

We also collaborate with universities to offer career workshops to their students, educating and guiding them from academic exploration to professional mastery and providing insights into real-life experiences in building a successful tech career.

How do you feel a career in fintech has prepared you for launching your own thing? Is it easy to balance the two?

This has been on my mind for the last few days. We just finished a major event this week, and I pushed myself right up to the day of the event. Now that it’s done, I have this total relief. This huge chunk of work is not on my plate anymore. I have so much more time!

It is hectic at the moment. I lead Product Design at a leading Web3 security company, a demanding nine-to-five job. You can’t do anything ‘extra’ during your working hours because they are taken up entirely. 

But I ensure I make the most of my personal time. My mornings and evenings are maximised, and I wake up at 5 am to get in my reading, wellness, meditation, gym or pilates routine. Then at 7 am prompt, I am at my desk doing work for Designer Babe® – so brand collaborations, content and whatever else needs to be done. Then at 9 am, I start work and I’m there until 5. From 5 – 7 I get a break, travel home and then from 7- 10 pm, I do some more Designer Babe® work, engage in one of my hobbies or rest – so that’s how I structure my time daily.

I’ve been in tech for seven years and found that doing something outside of fintech and creating experiences and solutions for people purely because you can is so valuable.

I will tell every creative working in a demanding industry to find work that is just for them and gives them purpose. Otherwise, you will burn out, not just physically but creatively. When you burn out creatively, it’s hard to come out of there. I experienced that myself leading me to take a whole year of sabbatical. 

For me, Designer Babe® is so important because it creates the resource I wish I had when I started, but it also is a place for me to express myself creatively without limitations. It gives me a lot of purpose.

Design is an important part of the experience with financial services; what inspires you to create great design?

The most important thing is impact. Even in 2017, when I started working in fintech, you would see someone unable to accept payments for their business or trying to open a bank account in the UK, and how difficult it was.

For instance, international cards were widely inaccessible to young people in Africa. It was difficult to pay for courses online and buy products from their favourite global stores until we built Barter by Flutterwave, giving them digital cards for online payments.

These days, I lead strategic design initiatives enabling a global set of customers to trade their digital assets securely. Knowing I can create something that helps people with their financial needs is fulfilling. The impact of my work on real people drives me.

Because we’re designing for people (real human beings!), curiosity is also so important. As long as I keep asking questions and ask the right questions, I’m able to find ideas. That’s when you can enrich people’s lives. You’re listening to them, empathising with their issues (a huge part of the design process), and making a difference.

What are the biggest challenges in your industry (either design or fintech), and what would you like to see done to tackle them?

One big thing in fintech is compliance and regulation. They’re absolutely necessary, but they’re a big challenge to everything we create in financial services. Companies must ensure they have the right people to handle regulation because it can’t be changed. If it’s coming down from the government, it must be implemented 100%. 

You can work on a solution for years, and you only need one element to be non-compliant to shut it down.

Another challenge that someone tweeted me the other day is that there are SO many fintech apps, and we still can’t send money abroad. Yes, many apps do this and specialise, but it still feels like something that isn’t solved all in one place. There are so many apps, and we as designers need to consider retaining customers because it’s so easy for people to download one app, take advantage of an opening offer, and then delete it and find a new one tomorrow. So we need to design for user retention.

Lastly, we focus a lot at The Heard on the role of public speaking and opportunities. Do you have any advice for women in fintech who want to do more of this? (Or broader advice for those looking for a career in fintech)

We say people need to leave their comfort zones, but you need to start in your comfort zone. The most important thing is consistency.

When building a presence online, especially on social media, you will get burned out quickly if you’re not thinking about long-term value. That’s because the benefits don’t come in the first or second year (or even the third or fourth!). 

If you’re working on social media, you need to think about how to have multiple ‘viral’ moments over time where people can discover you rather than one big splash. This is better for your discoverability and offers you a better chance to show your full range as a person. You can then show your authentic self in different moments and build better connections with your audience.

So my big takeaway is to start in your comfort zone. If that’s writing, write. If it’s videos, post those, but make sure you do something you can be consistent with. That’s the most important factor in building something new.

For women and non-binary people getting into fintech, you must trust yourself. You are in that space for a reason, and your ideas are valuable and worth voicing. Say what you must say in a meeting or any space you’ve been brought into. Your perspective must be heard, and you should always leverage that.

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