We recruit across the digital product lifecycle. This means we get to spend our days working with generally awesome people who are doing interesting work across technology, product management, user experience, digital design, project management, analytics and insight, marketing, change and transformation and leadership roles.

And we love exploring what makes these digital minds tick. So we launched FFS, or Futureheads Five Stories, where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell, to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

And we couldn’t resist the acronym.

This week, we sat down with Lola Oyelayo, Design & Product Strategist.

What’s the story of your career so far?

I’ve been working in digital for the last 15 years, and I consider myself a multi-disciplinary specialist.

I started out as a business analyst, was fortunate to get a mix of different projects to learn on, before focusing on research, then design and then working in an integrated development environment.

I think this variable experience has positives and negatives, in some ways a generalist can be a master of none. However, for me, I’ve found that most digital projects I come across require me to pull on skills I’ve acquired through these different roles. I value my ability to see the challenge through a number of different lenses. I’m most proud of my ability to say ‘hey, I can’t do this, but I do know what/who you need’.

After helping to run an agency that successfully sold in 2016, I now consult with businesses, helping strategic teams work out what they need to solve their (usually new product and/or digital transformation) challenges and mentoring new or young teams.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?

Relax!

I’ve always been extremely driven and straight out of university I wanted to ‘make it’. I was very fortunate to have an amazing friend who very early on told me to enjoy the moment so I never have to look back on a great experience and regret not taking the time to enjoy it properly.

So in the time before I got this advice, I would tell my younger self to just chill out, see each situation for what it is and appreciate it more. Be more mindful to acquire and remember the lessons that are now serving me so well in my career.

What do you love most about what you do?

I’m a problem-solving addict. Give me a challenge and my brain starts whirring through possible directions/solutions, ways to move forward. I’m motivated by shifting the needle on things, even if its just a little bit, I’m fulfilled by having made some kind of positive impact.

I also love the medium, although I hold the ethics of our work in the highest regard. I love that pretty much everything is possible in digital. If you can conceive it, its probably already being done. But I balance this with the view that more of us have to consider the human cost, and, the paradox of unintended consequences.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?

I’ve learned to listen. Even today, I have to remind myself to listen and really hear whats being said. As I said earlier I was a very eager young person and was told I was bright and smart my whole life. Unfortunately, that can breed arrogance and a need to prove to everyone how much you know. Working as a researcher was critical to helping me understand the importance of listening and asking questions that open up the person you’re talking to, rather than just further your own worldview.

I’ve found that in some of the toughest digital projects, nobody is listening to each other, and that is what ultimately breeds catastrophe.

What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next five years?

Where do I start! Firstly I think “UX” as a formal discipline is technically phasing out and what we will increasingly need are user-centred specialists (researchers, BAs, product managers, front and back-end developers, c-suites etc.). The pace of evolution in digital and the ubiquity of services, means we need more people to take ownership of this unifying thing we call the ‘user experience’. I always say to people, your code/UI mock-up/ product roadmap isn’t sh*t if no-one is using the product itself.

Linked to that but slightly at a tangent is how we are going to best develop new skills we need to design connected and no-UI experiences. Those on the front end of things will need to develop a more technical mindset as the ‘how its made’ question will directly impact what it does and how it’s used. We’ve never solved the problem of training, gaining experience and validating expertise within UX and that challenge will continue to haunt us.

A little bit about Lola

Even though she is a self-confessed geek, Lola spends most of her time putting people ahead of technology. With a wealth of experience as a UX and product specialist, she ensures user-centred research and design are at the centre of all her work. Having worked agency-side and client-side, Lola is adept at dealing with a wide range of digital problems and opportunities.

The last five years Lola has focused her career on the strategic side of things marrying good taste in technology with addressing big business challenges. She helps organisations to see the bigger picture and mitigate their “me too” tendencies, with meaningful, impactful and tangible product visions which they can actually execute. 

An intellectual with a big heart, Lola is also an advocate for increased diversity in the tech industry and mentors young people pursuing careers in digital. 

You can connect with Lola on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at liz@wearefutureheads.co.uk.

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