Product Designer at Spotify


TobiOyadiran (Product Designer at Spotify)

Tobi is an Industrial Designer and Product Designer living in Brooklyn, NY, strengthening the bond between artists and their fans at Spotify. When he's off the clock, he's all about pulling the perfect expresso shot and talking drones.

He/Him • New York, United States • May 21, 2024

What led you into design?

I became a designer because I've always loved making things, ever since I was a kid. When I moved from Nigeria to Ireland at 5 years old, my English was pretty bad. But I soaked up the language through watching American cartoons like "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy" and "American Dragon" all the time. Drawing became my go-to hobby, keeping me busy both at home and in school. However it did get me in trouble sometimes - with teachers calling home and handing out detentions because I'd rather doodle than focus on classwork.

Back in the day, if you asked about my future plans, I'd probably stop daydreaming about winning 'Takeshi's Castle' just to say, 'I dunno, man.' That game show had me hooked. But when I was locked in, I'd shift gears and dive back into drawing or making something, Back then, I wasn't sure if there was anything tangible for me here.

School wasn't exactly my strong suit. As a teenager, I struggled to keep pace with the rest of the class because my mind was always buzzing with a million thoughts. This led to plenty of self-doubt, especially in an environment where we're thought that grades were everything in life. Growing up Nigerian, excelling in school was seen as vital for success, so the pressure was on.

But amidst all that, I found my enjoyment in anything hands-on and visual. Whether it was getting my hands dirty in construction studies or obsessing over the details in a technical graphics class, those were the subjects that really held my attention.

At 15, my Dad got me my own computer. I'd been the go-to IT guy for the family for years prior, so I guess he figured I'd earned it. From then on, everything shifted for me. Back the, the internet was in its heyday, I went from playing around with Photoshop to make custom Twitter banners to spending endless hours scrolling through Tumblr and bugging my friends with the 'nudge' button on MSN Messenger when they were slow to respond — I was always plugged in.

In 2013, I found myself spending a lot of time on YouTube. I was around 17 at the time, feeling the pressure to figure out what to study at University. Ironically, it was during this period that I stumbled upon Casey Neistat's early YouTube videos set in New York City. This was before the explosion of creators and makers like we see today. There was this one video where Casey gave a tour of his NYC studio and shared his creative process as a film-maker. Reflecting on it now, I find it amusing. This guy was in his early thirties, at the prime of his discipline, and then there's 17-year-old me, nodding along and resonating with him. Regardless, it really struck a chord with me. Witnessing someone so passionately immersed in their craft was truly inspiring. It validated my belief that it's possible to turn a passion into a career. Despite my lack of knowledge, I couldn't help but feel excited about the prospect of my passion for making becoming my livelihood, maybe even taking me to New York City?

Looking back, I realise I didn't miss the target by much.

What does a typical day look like?

I'm a professional at relaxing, so without some structure, I can easily lose track of my day. My days usually revolve around a few main themes: (1) Tackling personal projects in the early mornings (2) Doing the day job thing (3) Taking care of my health, fitness, and relationships.

Here's a quick rundown of how things typically go:

6:00am — Rise and shine
6:30am — Work on personal projects
10:00am — Day job kicks off
12:00pm — Lunch break
5:30pm — Wrap up day job
6:00pm — Dinner time
6:45pm — Hit up jujitsu class or hang with friends
9:00pm — Me-time, usually learning about something on YouTube 
11:00pm — Bedtime

What's your workstation setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

New York has been my creative playground. Just stepping outside fills me with ideas, especially when i'm surrounded by the city's architecture. I started flying drones as a pandemic hobby in 2020 as a way to fuel my curiosity about aerial cinematography, years later it's evolved this into composing aerial mini-movies and driving emotion from them. I feel I've been able to capture this essence with the city’s iconic skyline as my muse. I've still got a bunch of clips just chillin' on my hard drive. Maybe I'll get around to editing once my shiny object syndrome is in check.

Aside from that, I gather a tonne of visual inspiration from Pinterest. During my time studying Industrial Design in university, there was a strong emphasis on creating mood boards to guide the direction of our design projects. I've come to realise that this concept can apply to a lot, and now I often find myself creating mood boards for pretty much every one of my creative endeavours. Anyone else over the word 'mood board,' let's just switch to 'world building' from now on.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

Anything DJI. They've made aerial videography accessible to everyone, not just big movie and advert makers. While drones used to lack sexiness, DJI has redefined what people think when they hear "drone" through their sleek design language. They're miles ahead of any competition trying to break into this field.

Besides that, there's also the late Virgil Abloh's take on the Alessi 9093 Stainless Steel Kettle, originally designed by Michael Graves. In my opinion, this doesn't get nearly enough recognition. I'm really into the relevant pop culture vibe, highlighting the art of refining within specific design parameters, it's as if they asked, "How would the Alessi kettle transform with just a 5% tweak?"

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I've been lucky to collaborate with incredibly talented designers and wonderful people during my three-year stint at Spotify, initially in London, then Stockholm, and finally landing in NYC. One of the most impactful projects I've been involved in is enhancing the tools for Spotify for Artists. It's truly inspiring to witness how functionalities like merch management and new features such as listening parties facilitate artists in forging stronger connections with their fan base, with Spotify acting as the bridge.

As a designer, partnering with creators is an amazing privilege, and if you ever have the chance to dive into a similar role, I highly recommend seizing the opportunity.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

One of the main challenges I face in product design isn't tied to my current company but rather to the varying perceptions of the role across different companies. Product design has evolved over the years. We've moved from having separate UX & UI designers to the more encompassing role of Product Designer. However, the expectations for this role can vary greatly from one company to another.

Every Product Designer brings something special to the table, which is awesome, but without a standard idea of what a product designer should do in the industry, collaborating with other teams like Engineers and Product Managers can get tricky. This often leaves the product designer having to show these teams how to work with them.

In one of my previous design gigs, an old manager once asked me to edit videos because I was labeled as a "product designer." The catch? I had never edited a video before, so I had to pick up a new skill.

Unlike Product Designers, Software Engineers and Product Managers usually have clearer roles that stay the same across different companies. I reckon Product Design still has some work to do to get more standardised.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

For the ambitious designers on the hunt for your big break: it's on its way. Enjoy the journey of breaking into the scene. In the corporate world, hard work is usually rewarded with more work, and what you're working on now won't be your last gig. Like me, many of us found our way into Product Design simply because we love building and staying curious. Lately, I've noticed fewer designers keeping up with their own side projects. If that sounds like you, my advice is to nurture that creative fire through personal endeavours. For sure, getting hired by a top company is cool, but don't let it define you as just "that designer from X." You were killing the design thing way before that gig came along, so always put your own happiness and growth first.

Another thing is to really connect with the folks you work with. After I wrap up a job or project, I actually always forget the nitty-gritty of what we did or shipped (just think of it like that scene in Men in Black where they zap your memory clean), but I always remember the people—their vibe, how they made me feel, and I bet it goes both ways. You never know when you might need each other's help down the line.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

I'm diving back into Industrial Design and planning to share my process on Twitter/X. If you're keen to see me create tabngible things, follow me up! @hellotobi