Coffee Chat: An Interview With Travelling Designer Luboš Volkov
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Tell us about yourself?
First of all thank you for having me here. It’s a pleasure to share my story with other people. I’m Luboš Volkov, Designer currently living in Czech Republic, but more or less traveling every 3 months.
I have the opportunity to be Lead Designer at @toptal which is well known for its remote culture, so I have big freedom of picking a location where I want to work from. That’s extremely important for me since I don’t want to spend my life in an office, but that might change in the future. Who knows!
When did you started your design career and where?
It’s a bit long story, but let me make it short! After I started university (Czech Technical University) I quickly realized that this is not how I want to spend the next 4-6 years. I highly appreciate education, but the current system is broken and produce tons of people who more or less know the same things and they end up being unemployed.
Obviously not all of them, since if you are talented and willing to work hard/smart you will always be valuable for some company (or you will build one of your own). But let me get back to my story. When I dropped off college, I was in a really bad shape. I didn’t know what to do next. My parents were angry. I was constantly in a bad mood, running short of money.
Since I had a lot of free time I didn’t want to waste it anymore! I started looking back to my teenage years when I was actually playing a bit with Adobe Photoshop CS3. Luckily, I got back to it and got hooked on immediately! I wanted to know more and I was constantly seeking for every possible information and tutorials. I locked myself in my room and for one whole year I kept working on my design skills. No parties, no relationships, no distractions. My only side thing was sports.
After one year of really intense preparation, I was working mostly on my side projects, for free, to get at least on the basic level. After yet another year I luckily got on Dribbble (keep in mind that Dribbble was very exclusive back then, and I didn’t have proper contacts so I wasn’t able to tweet and get an invite in seconds). After a few shots and a few bad gigs on Dribble, I was lucky to be found by a startup (Reachli) based at Plug and Play in San Francisco. So actually one year after I left high school I was already in design industry.
Ever since then I kept working super hard to be better and better and currently I’m leading the design team at Toptal. If I should give you one advice, never ever sacrifice side projects. I was, most of the time, hired because on them. Since these projects can show your very own personality and style. I will share with you a site we had done back in high school with some of my 10 years old “designs” :)
Who inspires you to be a designer?
This is hard to answer. I’m not a typical designer, I’m self taught. I was raised in post communist era, and my parents are not into it much. I was, however, curious about how things work and look all the time. Also, there is one big motivation for me which is to solve problems and move on. With design it’s actually my everyday task and I absolutely love that.
Tell us about your daily routine?
I get up at 7AM, have coffee, go to the office and get out at 5PM. Well no, just kidding… I try to avoid routines as much as possible. But most of my days, I get up at around 1PM, have something for breakfast and coffee. Then I check my emails, sync up with design team members, and if any, complete pending tasks.
During the evening, I mostly go to the gym to keep myself in shape and then push stuff until 4AM. Obviously everything is different every day, also If I don’t feel in the mood or so, I just take a car for a spin or go walk around to clean up my head. But one thing one needs to keep in mind is that some tasks can be done tomorrow but some of them needs to be done right away. You need to get to a point where you will be able to understand which tasks can or cannot wait.
How do you manage your time?
This is simple: I don’t. I would say that all of softwares for tracking time, productivity are actually just more distractions. Only thing I do is before I going to bed, I review what I need to do the next day and put it on a piece of paper, so that when I wake up I have full list of tasks I need to accomplish. Again one more advice, relax as hard as you work.
Where are you currently based and what’s next?
I just got back from a road trip over California. It was seriously awesome, over 2500 miles in the car. Now I’m back in Czech Republic (my home location). I haven’t entirely decided about my next trip yet, but France, Bali, Indonesia are definitely on my list.
Working in the office for company or you’re freelancer?
I have worked as a freelancer for a quite a bit, but what I have quickly realized is that, although it’s a nice source of money, but most of the time you are losing that connection between your design and the problem. You simply need to work on a product for a longer period of time to understand its users, problems, etc.
This is important if you want to craft an appropriate solution. There is actually a third option, where you work as a full timer but remotely. You don’t need to sit in an office to produce high quality work. If you are a really strong individual and you are willing to put maximum in your work, it’s possible. If you are interested in that read more about Toptal.
Did you ever meet with a ‘client from hell’? How did you handle it?
Ah! I’m really picky when it goes to clients. I always try to do a little background check on them (at least google their name). So I know where I’m going, but what is most important is to talk to them not via email, but via a Skype call.
This way you can easily determine if this is the type of person you would like to work with, and if they are suitable for you. Of course, this is not going to prevent you from getting silly client requests, but it’s going to help you to understand what this client is looking for. :)
5 Tools you can’t live without? (me working)
I am not particularly obsessed about the tools I use, but:
- Pen & Paper
Tell us about your last project?
I can’t share too much from about what I do at Toptal. But what I can share is about my free time project called Krono. It started as an accident. Me and my friends from Humdinger have been working on simple a conversion app that allows you to post un compromised slomo videos to Facebook, Instagram etc.
During this process we actually found out that we can do some magic with videos by making them slower (2X,4X,8X). So you could make certain parts of the videos slower than others, including sound. But then thanks to a bug on my device I was able to make videos not only slower, but faster as well. With a mixture of slow and fast segments, I was able to produce super funny videos.
So we decided to make it a core product feature. During its development, a lot of similar apps came out (even Hyperlapse) but our app is different, it’s fun and you don’t need to set up any shit: you just press a button and you are done! There is a ton of ways to improve and we will. If you want to test it out, go to Krono and if you make some funny videos with it, share them with me on my Twitter! :)
Questions, Ideas? Or just wanna be Friends?