I don’t wait till month end to get paid –Onuora Ikechukwu Onianwa



Onuora Onianwa, the CEO of AIYKE, knew the niche he wanted to carve for himself was in the arts though he studied the sciences . Forging ahead to achieve his goals was not a bed of roses but it was definitely inter­esting and enjoyable for him. In this interview Onuora shares the joy of being a graphics designer, his challenges with clients and inspiration. Excerpts:

Can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Onuora Ikechuk­wu Onianwa. I am the fourth son and fourth child of Ogbueshi Onuora Utomi Onianwa. I am an indigene of Asaba, Delta State and from Umuagu Quarters to be exact. I love to read, dance, draw and design. I also love to meet new people and learn new things. I have this crazy and inexplicable desire to tinker with things I see around me. I am quite the introvert and though I relate well with people, I have moments when I am often on my own and not in communication with peo­ple as such. My closest friends call it a disease.

What course did you study in the university?

I studied Biochemistry at the University of Port Harcourt. It was a great course and I loved it but it has its down sides. All those metabolic pathways and reproducing them on paper in the exam hall can be really tough. It was nice though, since it’s a com­bination of two of my favorite subjects, Biology and Chemistry.

What motivated your decision to become a graphics designer?

I come from a very artistic family. Most of us have art in our blood and have been drawing and painting for a while. So, I just grew up with it. All my brothers also have the same talent. As I grew and saw cartoons and animations, I wanted to recreate them and so I started doing just that. We would draw Voltron, Teddy Rukspin, Superted, Batman, Superman and so many others. Tom and Jerry was a reg­ular as well. By the time I was in secondary school, I was already drawing real images from maga­zines, not just cartoons anymore. From there, I just found myself fascinated by the world of design­ing. I would see logos, fliers, T shirts and other stuff and I would almost drool at their sight.

One day, while I was on holi­days from school, I got a Corel Draw CD, took it to school with me, got a friend’s computer and started teaching myself. Believe me, I sucked big time.

But I kept at it, learning and trying to get it right. Today, the rest is history

When did you start designing?

I started some­time around 2008. I was quite naïve, so I worked mostly for free and earned nothing major. I thought of it as a learning opportunity. I never really thought much of the commercial side of it. It was just something I loved to do. Back then, I was so happy that I was doing stuff, even if it was not as major as those so many others were doing. I felt like a king. Then as time went by, I got better and started getting bigger oppor­tunities to hone my skills set and work on main projects.

One thing I learnt as a designer was that people won’t take you seriously when you have no work to show them. So, you need to build up your portfolio by doing a good number of jobs. Truth is not everyone will pay you for them or pay much. But if you start with what you have and get a good flow going, at some point it starts to pay off little by little.

Did you start work im­mediately after univer­sity or after NYSC?

I got a lucky break while I was in school that lasted a few months. I got a job at a point when the school went on a strike. A firm was in need of a designer to work on their brand for a project they were planning on executing. At that time, I was just making T-shirt designs and a friend went with me to this place to get the designs printed on the shirts.

He kept pushing me to ask for a job. I told him no and whis­pered to him to shut up or they would hear him.

The lady at the desk heard and asked me to submit my CV. My eyes were wide like saucers! I had only worked as an IT student and never beyond that, so this was a surprise. I did not even know how to write a CV!

I got it done anyway and sub­mitted. I got the appointment on the understanding that I would be there briefly. I was out of school and would return when I was done.

When that was done though, I did not really do any work until much later when I was out of school.

What made you believe this is the best vocation for you?

I know how to do many things but this is one of the few things that have come so naturally to me. I did not have to go to school to learn it, though that would have been great. At the time I was applying to schools, I was a science student so there was no way I could do arts of any sort, given the criteria of subjects they needed from SSCE. So I had to opt for something else. Do you know I even wanted to apply for Zoology? I can still remember the look on my mother’s face.

I love to create things with my hands. The way an engineer or mechanic loves to create things or fix them is the same way I love to do with drawings and designs. I love to sit with a paper and pencil and sketch out ideas and concepts and then go to a computer and create them. There is such a rush and thrill that comes when you are “in the zone” that you can even forget to eat, clean up and do so many other things. At that moment, the world and everything in it does not matter anymore. Everything fades into the background and it is just you and your space and what you are creating. It is beautiful.

People say it is great to find something you love to do and get paid for it. They are right. Noth­ing beats this. It is much better than being at a job you hate be­cause no matter how much you are paid, you are never happy or satisfied and as a result, you do not get to enjoy the money you earn or the rewards as you normally would have. You cannot even grow on the job. Here, I get to enjoy it, earn from it and learn new skills every day.

Design is a big ocean with so many things to see and explore. There is motion graphics, Web Design, UID (User Interface De­sign), 3D modeling and so much more. You can pick any of these and it would be like opening up a present at Christmas because it is not only fun, you end up touching on a number of other areas in the process, adding to your knowl­edge base and skills.

When I started, it was not easy but, I stuck with it because I loved it and really felt great about what I was doing.

Can you describe how your parents felt when they realized their son who was sent to study Biochemistry had come out as a graphics de­signer?

My parents didn’t freak out when they heard. They found it a bit odd but, they didn’t lose their minds. One thing I’m grateful for about my family is that even if they may not understand what it is you’re trying to do, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the important things that you have lined up, they will give you their full support. I remember when I was explaining the whole thing to my mum, she listened patiently and asked me if I was sure, what I planned to do, how was I going to go about it, how much would I make. Nobody said “Aah you this foolish boy, you want to disgrace us and waste the money we used to send you to school?” When I started going for trainings, my family saw how serious I was about it. They gave me their support and encouraged me. In fact, recently my mum asked me what my next step was and if I’m also planning on creating a comic book into graphic novel of some sort. And she went ahead to remind me of the old drawings and other things from childhood. It was touching and very encour­aging.

Did you ever go for trainings to improve your skills?

At first, no. What I did was to learn at home and whenever I went out, I joined a few pros to work on things but mostly as an observer.

After a while, I came across this online ad on Facebook from a Design Academy and I thought it would be great to go there and  learn from core professionals. I did not get to do it because I was in Abuja. When I moved back to Lagos, a friend encouraged me to pick it up again and I did, gradually but this time I was delearn from core professionals. I termined to sit with some people and learn properly. So, I first went to DayStar Christian Centre Skill Acquisition Program (DSAP) and enrolled for graphic design. I learnt new things and this moti­vated me to take designing as far as I can go. I learnt under Chuks Sunesis and Samuel Awoma. ­

I also attended Creative Acade­my run by James Abinibi to learn some more.

What does your job entail?

Designing is easy and yet so complex. What the so-called designers do is go to computer village, buy a Corel Draw CD or Adobe Creative Suite, sit in front of a computer, see where to put shapes and colors and type and suddenly they are designers! That’s horrible and the things they create will be horrible as well. The designer’s first and best tool is his mind because that is where he creates the ideas and concepts that he reproduces with the software at his disposal. The software and computer will pro­duce what you tell it to. Garbage in, garbage out.

Once you have a grasp of the direction you want to head in, you can sketch it out. We call it, doodling. You basically try to draw (you do not have to be an artist to do this one) what you want the design to look like. It is a rough sketch. Now, some pro­fessionals, will make the sketch as similar as they can to achieve what they want to make and just scan it into the computer and tweak it there, while others will create it from scratch. There are no hard and fast rules. The bot­tom line is to create something that is beautiful and functional.

The direction of the design also has to do with what it is for. I cannot apply all the exact things for say a promo design as I would for a logo. In designing there are rules or guidelines that when fol­lowed helps your work come out good. That is where some really fail. They do not take the time to either go to a school or learn it from others. They just rush into creating things and so they make many terrible mistakes. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Even clients make the same mistakes. Some assume design is ordinary so when discussing terms, they say ‘Is it not just this thing? What is so hard about that?’ That’s like walking up to a nurse who took your blood pressure and asking ‘what was difficult about it?’ It may seem easy to you but she paid money and took time to learn how to do it right and interpret the results accurately.

Some designs will take weeks or months to conclude depending on speed, time, editing and even electricity. But at the end, if the work is done right, the result is a wonderful thing. The client may not like the end result and that means going back to the drawing board to start afresh or working on what you sent them.

I have done a number of designs over time. They range from simple personal businesses to larger ones, logos and brand work for individuals and corpo­rate bodies, album art, book cov­er designs and more. Like I said, building your portfolio is very key and the more work you can do and finish successfully with satisfied clients, the better your chances of getting more from them and others, as they will give you referrals . One just has to make sure that wise choices are made on the work you undertake and your kind of clients . Do not ever try to do too much all at once or take on things you know you cannot do just to make mon­ey or be known. It could damage your reputation if you are unable to deliver.

When you feel the pressure of work on you, how and where do you relax?

It depends on what or where I can get to at that point. Some­times, I go for a stroll all by myself and abandon every device that people can use to contact me so that no one can reach me at all and then I go watch a movie at the cinema or on my laptop, read a book, hang out with friends or spend the time listening to music or sleeping.

There are times I just with­draw. No one can find me online anywhere or get me through texts and calls. When I was younger and I heard people say they do this, I would think they’re arrogant and callous until I got older. Some days, you realize you need to unplug or you will lose it.

Does your job bring in enough remuneration as you would get had you gone to work in a labo­ratory?

Yes, it does. I am not some­one who could have survived working in a lab. People do that and enjoy it and I am happy for them. Some actually do very well for themselves being research assistants or heads in their fields, but I would not have been able to take it. I may have come into a lab one day and start mixing chemicals just to see what colors and textures I can come up with and blow the place up.

Here I can afford to work on multiple projects and get paid for each one of them, adding up to a very nice package and not have to wait till the end of the month for it. That, for me is another plus.

What inspires you?

Inspiration comes in many ways to me. I love movies, video games, comics and the like. Sometimes, I get inspiration from the effects and things I see in them. They help me think and I go and scribble down ideas and concepts for later or immediate use.

I also have a terrible habit I picked up from Chucks Sunesis. I often grab flyers and magazines (I buy those ones) and take them home to look at them. I see what went “wrong”, how to use such an idea in another design or change it altogether while never just copying it in totality. Thank­fully, one can also go online and see designs of many people on the local and international scenes and get great ideas.

There are other sources of inspiration though. I guess it de­pends on what is going on at the moment. I even sometimes ask friends what they think of a con­cept and by the time we bounce ideas off each other for a while, I get a great idea for a design.

How soon do you in­tend to get married?

I cannot categorically say when I plan to get married. That deci­sion is for my Oga at the top. I do not want to say something now and then my Oga at the top will say another thing. I will get mar­ried at the right moment. There is a set time for it. I have my eyes on a particular lady out there. Now, I am just wisely taking my time to be sure all things go smoothly. Marriage is not a small thing and if we had more people taking the time to be sure of what they are doing before getting into it, I believe we would have less break-ups and divorces. I do not want to be another statistic, so I have been taking my time.

What organizations have you worked for?

I have done designs for Playwear, Yama Initiative, Keti’s Literary Challenge, Mdoom by Mdevaan, Shelter of Glory, Fab­rics and More and Just You, just to name a few. The jobs range from ads to logos and full brand work, or just a few designs they want to use for specific cam­paigns they are doing.

Some are of course for individuals who just run their own personal businesses and some are much larger companies and non-profit NGOs. I’ve also had the privilege of designing a number of wedding invitations, programs and laying out designs for gifts for guests at a reception.

What challenges have you faced when work­ing?

Challenges vary and even the ones I have faced have come on different levels.

Having a business structure was a challenge at some point. I did not understand the need to have one in place and also a list of terms and conditions that guide my work, rights to my de­signs and fees. I just went along and designed at will for people and so many never paid till date. So, I had to create a structure for myself that protects me and my work but one that also has benefits for my clients.

For example, I would have clients ask for a design, get it and take ages to pay or say they do not want the design anymore and not pay. Later, I would see the design in a modified state being used by them. They would have given it to someone to tweak a little and then use it so that they do not pay me my fees. Sadly, not everyone is honest.

Another example would be cli­ents who keep asking for endless modifications and changes and causing me to stay on their proj­ects or designs for so long that it starts to become dreary and even upsetting.

So, I had to come up with a structure to help avoid these. I still have issues from time to time in spite of this but now it is better and easier.

Other challenges include print­ing jobs. Some clients not only want you to design, they also want you to print their work (like flyers, business cards, brochures, programs, magazines) and some­times you may end up getting into a bad situation with a printer who either delays the work and the client is not happy with you and refuses to send in the rest of the money or the printer just messes up the job completely and you have to do a reprint. I had to stop working with a good number of printers. It was not fun at all to go through so much stress and end up looking bad to a client.




Source : SunOnline

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