‘I go from meetings at Deutsche Bank to meetings at Gucci’

16 Mar 2022

Tobi Ajala. Image: Mark Hayden

Tobi Ajala found her calling in being able to blend software expertise with a love of art and design. She now creates consumer experiences for a wide range of brands through her company TechTee.

Art and tech have always had a strong relationship, often feeding off each other to create a whole new dimension of one or the other.

There are plenty of artists who have come to use technology in surprising and interesting ways, from a beatboxing battle between a human and an AI opponent to an interactive ping-pong table art installation. And then there are the ways in which art and design can be brought into the technology world through areas such as UX design.

Future Human

One woman working directly within that intersection of art and tech is software engineer and former Apple employee Tobi Ajala.

Named as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2021, Ajala is the founder of TechTee, a London-based digital agency specialising bringing software research together with design and development to create strong customer experiences.

‘I love building digital in whatever form it encompasses’

Ajala was one of several guests at the launch of a new report from Vodafone on smart technology and connected consumers at the end of January. Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com after the event, she said she grew up quite artistic and became interested in motion graphics in particular in her mid-teens, but hated Photoshop.

“It just wasn’t my thing. But CSS transitions started coming into existence and it allowed me to do the simple transitional things that I quite liked interacting with – but without Photoshop, with code.”

In order to learn more, Ajala went to the library to look for books on software and all she could find was a Java textbook. From there, she turned to C++, to PHP, to HTML and CSS. “13 languages later, here I am,” she said.

While the coding came easy to her, the industry itself seemed a little more challenging because she didn’t know anyone in the space. Despite feeling isolated, she pursued it and “unintentionally started a company during university” before officially incorporating it after she left.

Blending design with software

That unintentional company became TechTee, which Ajala said is about powerful technology, exceptional design and complete consumer experiences.

“I love building digital in whatever form it encompasses. One of the interesting things that I’m still having to explain to people and clients and potential clients all the time is that yes, we service banking and finance clients, but also luxury fashion. I literally go from meetings at Deutsche Bank to meetings at Gucci, and to a lot of people that doesn’t make sense,” she said.

“The idea is there’s a level of creativity that comes from being able to write and design software that doesn’t require much variation from me because a client or a company is a particular sector.”

She said a major reason she feels able to secure meetings with the big brands she admires is because she considers herself a consumer first.

“I’ve been able to identify, as consumer, this is missing, I don’t like this, this could be improved, and I just translate that into software and design that we can then bounce back to the client – and that’s TechTee in a nutshell.”

Ajala said up until about 2017 when she was working in development teams, there was a clear understanding that developers don’t touch design. But Ajala was always fascinated by a certain ‘wow factor’ that doesn’t come from just technology or just design, but a combination of both.

“I’m able to talk in a very high-level technical sense but also talk in a very low, conversational element around ‘this is what we’re building and it does A, B and C’, but also going into that technical detail,” she said.

“I’m kind of starting to consider it a little bit of a superpower or that one thing that makes us special.”

Digital design trends

As we move into a new era of emerging technologies, Ajala sees some big changes and trends coming down the line.

“Metaverse metaverse, metaverse. The requests are through the roof. The word is coming out my ears. It’s definitely a meta question and idea of how can we get in on the metaverse,” she said.

“I have some art clients and working with artists and art galleries as well and, again, it’s just fuelling everything I love around design and being able to translate that into development and software and technology.”

Other trends she talked about is the elevation of digital experiences in a variety of forms, whether it’s an app, a website or a VR experience.

‘There’s a level of animation that come with elevating a design experience’

“If you really want to touch people, if you really want to reach people, if you really want people to have a reaction to what you have provided to them, you can’t just build flat websites any more,” she said.

“There’s a level of animation and transitions that come with elevating a design experience. That is an absolute necessity right now and I think it’s where we shine a little bit because companies no longer have to go, ‘We have to pick a design agency and a development agency’. We have that at the core of everything we do.”

She added that it’s important to give people an experience where they don’t simply scroll on their device.

“You scroll and things pop into screen. You scroll and things transform, you scroll and the information that you were looking for is following you along the page,” she said.

“All of that stems from user experience, knowing exactly what the user wants to see and being able to provide that to them in an accessible format.”

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Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic