Coffee Chat: An Interview with Siarhei Stashkevich
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1) Tell us about yourself?
Hi, my name is Siarhei Stashkevich. I know, It’s a pain to pronounce, but you can call me Serge, it’s way easier and I don’t mind.
I’m a designer by trade and running my own studio called ufoby™ Design Agency. It operates in Vilnius but serves clients from different parts of the World such as San Francisco, New York, Amsterdam, Monaco, Luxembourg, Moscow, Tel Aviv and Beijing.
I worked both with Fortune 500 brands such as Coca-Cola and Microsoft and hot small startups from the Valley. I’m mainly focused on design for digital products. Which can mean many different things like creating and launching new brand on the market or working with existing name and making sure its values are translated correctly into digital space.
I oversee many stages of production from conceiving an idea and early stage prototyping to working on design per se and curating development team. This applies to websites, web apps and mobile apps.
I’m one of the many designers who became who they are thanks to the digital age. Steve Jobs once said that computer is the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. It truly was the case for me, during my career that “bike” took me to some awesome and faraway places.
I learned many things on the web (I studied in art school and have a B.A., though), I found my first clients on the Internet (later on many came by recommendations), I found many designers and developers to collaborate with on the web and this list goes on and on. I totally see why Zuck is so passionate about his Internet.org project. Because this will really make a difference, that’s why.
2) When did you start your design career and where?
Back at the computer lab in primary school I saw a Windows 95 machine with those colourful pixel icons sitting on turquoise desktop.
Then and there being a 6 years old boy, I instantly fell in love with those icons and understood what my future profession will be. I didn’t know that this was called human interface designer, of course. I didn’t know how to become one but as soon as I got my own computer I started playing with graphical and HTML editing software and making my first websites. The rest is history.
3) Who inspires you to be a designer ?
People who set the bar higher and whose work is moving the industry forward. I enjoy the timeless designs of Paul Rand and Saul Bass. Their logos are so clean yet iconic it’s hard to believe that they were made 30-40 years ago. Look at the Bell logo presentation. That’s 1970 for a minute. It’s just stunning.
Everybody is talking about Dieter Rams these days because he is a big inspiration to Apple’s Jony Ive. His work for Braun is unmatched. You don’t see that consistency and dedication to design principles very often. Not now and certainly not in the 60’s. No wonder his work is displayed in MoMA.
I’m also inspired by designers who became their own biggest clients. I mean big names such as Karim Rashid or Philippe Starck. Design is not the most lucrative industry, we’re certainly not Wall Street traders, but if you put as much effort to your own brand, marketing and business strategy as you do while working on client projects you can be fine from the financial standpoint. That being said I don’t think that chasing fame and big buck is what you necessarily have to do.
I see many people on the design scene who are just honest workers and who enjoy the craft and don’t think a lot about success (they are too busy designing). But success nonetheless happens to them because of all the great work they do.
So all the amazing designers who can get their heads down and execute ideas are huge inspiration to me.
Maybe the balance between producing great work and being a business person, public figure, speaker, writer and active member of the community is what inspires me.
From what I can see you should always strive to do more as you can’t expect different outcome from doing the same things. Current startup rush certainly adds to that feeling.
4) How does your work day look like?
I wake up, freshen up, jump in a car and drive to the office. I grab a coffee on the way. We’ve changed a couple of offices during the past 2 years.
We worked in the heart of the city on Gedimino avenue, but moved to a tech hub at Rupert. It’s a really nice contemporary building near the river surrounded by pine trees and birches. The place is a bit remote, but it’s calm and keeps you focused on work.
At the office I check my email and prioritize to-dos for the day. That can be design work, paper work, looking after development team in case we’ve got something in production, managing freelance designer and illustrators.
Sometimes I travel for work and that changes my daily routine. Most of the time is consumed by client meetings. I leave some urgent tasks to be done for the rest of the day and try to squeeze in some free time to see the city.
5) What are you currently working on?
Due to client agreements I can’t really tell you the specifics, but I’m helping to launch some pretty cool products that will change the way communication, education, recruiting, gaming and media works. Sit tight and wait for the announcements.
6) How do you manage your time?
All those fancy time management techniques don’t really work for me. I use a very simple principle. I do 3 important things per day every single day.
That’s it. It doesn’t sound like a lot but at the end of the week I get around 15 important things done. At the end of the month — around 60.
If I’m stuck with something I leave that thing behind for a while and go work on something else from my list. I use Things app on my Mac and iPhone to manage my to-dos. We use Trello and Basecamp to manage things while working on client projects.
If I’m really into something I let myself be consumed by the project and can work on a single thing for hours. I think it’s very important to maintain focus in order to achieve significant level of depth and refinement that ultimately results in superior design quality. It’s especially important to stay focused in our age of ADD. Seriously.
7) Where are you currently based and what’s next?
I’m currently based in Vilnius. It’s a really nice city in the North-East of Europe with beautiful medieval old town, amazing restaurants, cafes, parks, shops, bike lanes, and you name it.
It’s easy to fly all around Europe from here. And if you’re going to States, well you have to take a connection flight but it’s not really a hustle.
The economy is still catching up with the rest of European Union wich means that you can get amazing quality of life without selling a kidney for it. It has an unbelievably strong design culture for a city of that size.
The same goes for engineering. There is quite a lot of world class tech and design talent in Vilnius. That’s why it makes sense to run a digital design agency in here but serve clients all around the globe.
8) Working in the office for company or you’re freelancer?
Working in the office for ufoby™ Design Agency.
9) What are the tools you can’t live without?
MacBook Pro Retina, iPhone, Wacom Intuos Pro, Photoshop, Chrome, GMail, Things, Spotify, Skype.
10) What is your latest project?
I’d like to speak about ufoby.com. It’s not the latest project of course. It’s been around for more than a year (still looks fresh to me). But it’s quite interesting and significant, because it’s personal.
There are many seemingly unconventional things in the design (like how the menu works and portfolio is presented).
I didn’t want it to be one of the zillions of same-looking agency sites, so I had to rethink and question every tiny detail of the design. I also wanted it to use all the latest technology like custom fonts, resolution independent SVG icons and responsive layout.
I found the way to make those SVG icons pixel perfect, which you don’t see a lot on the web even today.
The site got Awwwards Special Mention, found it’s way onto FWA shortlist and was mentioned/awarded by an array of smaller sites and blogs.
It also generated quite a few client leads for us. I enjoy doing client work, but when you launch your own project the power of design really shows.
You get this amazing feedback and you get new business coming in and you know that the work you do is really strong and can make a difference right here right now.