From: Moscow, Russia 🇷🇺
Who: Brand designer at Siegel+Gale
Quote of the interview: It’s never enough to decide on something logically. You have to feel it’s right.
I am a brand designer at Siegel+Gale; to put it simply, I create rules for other designers. This job is different from hands-on design work since I design brand strategy – the way a brand communicates with its audience, the way it feels, the way it is perceived. This work requires a combination of analytical and creative thinking. Before joining Siegel+Gale, I did my Masters in Graphic Design at Academy of Art University in San Francisco and my Bachelors & Masters in Economics at the Higher School of Economics of Moscow.
I love traveling, I’ve been to about 30 countries by now. Interestingly, I’ve never gone in groups. I like to plan my trips, having the freedom of going off the usual touristic paths. I am a food aficionado; I love to cook at home as well as organizing gourmet tours for myself. To me, it’s better to invest in good quality food than buy a new gadget or clothing. I like doing sports; I actually do a wide range of sports — from snowboarding and cycling to swimming, gym, etc.
I am a pretty social person; I love to be in a good company — that really energizes me. I can say I’m an extrovert. There is one trick that I use to help solve creative challenges or come up with ideas — do some repetitive physical activity, like walking. While your conscious part is occupied with moving your feet, the subconscious part is able to reach out and suggest a solution it has been working on in the background.
My family lives in Russia; my mom is an accountant, my dad, and my brother are telecom engineers.
Have you found your way in life?
I think I did; the search never stops though, I keep looking for the right path every moment. Life presents with so many choices. For right now, I just feel I am on the right track, in the flow, and things are coming together nicely. There were a couple of times when I got sidetracked towards something that brings more money but suits me less; however, eventually, I came back on track.
What’s your story?
I remember at school I was diligent and had quite a bit of success with studies. I managed to be both social and successful with school tasks. Everything seemed easy at school like I could do homework during school breaks. I wasn’t nerdy, just loved doing things fast.
We were lucky to study economics in school (most schools in Russia didn’t offer such classes back in the day). This subject really stood out of the rest. I was so much into it that I even participated in the Moscow research project competition and won it. My school got 13 MacBooks and a bunch of accessories for them as a prize. I got one of those laptops for personal use. I remember that those Macs came with a special charging tray, Wi-Fi router; it looked like a thing from the future.
Crazily enough, years after that competition, I accidentally found my winning research paper on the table of one of my school’s teachers. The title was changed to “Master Thesis of First Last name” and submitted as a graduation paper. It turned out that my teacher just gave my paper to her colleague, our teacher of Physics. It was used as a graduation thesis for her daughter. It was shocking to me in 9th grade. This is when I realized that the world is more complex than it seemed before and you never actually know what’s on other people’s minds.
A lot of my school time I spent training volleyball — in the 5th grade I was invited to play for a youth club and since then I played a lot. At some point I was even thinking to do sports professionally, I loved staying fit, loved regular exercises. But this didn’t happen — another idea turned out to be more attractive at the time. I preferred to imagine myself being a cool business guy wearing a suite and having a 6-digit amount in the bank account. So when I heard about the leading University in Economics “Higher School of Economics (HSE)” in my economics class, I went straight there. It was the love from the first gaze. To get admitted, when I was in the 10th grade I started attending the preparatory classes.
Every vital decision in my life I try to pass through the filter of both rational and intuitive thinking. It needs to be reasonable and also feels right. If both conditions are met, I can move pretty quickly to it. Going to HSE was one of the early examples of such decision-making process.
In my last year of school, I won a nationwide scholarship and got admitted to study in the Higher School of Economics for free. I remember that the first months of university felt like a wonder as I studied in the city center and every day after classes I’d walk by Moscow’s best sights. The environment always mattered to me, and I loved that my school was located in such a prime spot surrounded by historic buildings, nice coffee places, and other great spots. I could feel the spirit of the city, its history, its vibe.
The first 2 years of school I studied diligently, but then I felt like the studies alone weren’t enough for me. So I started working as a Dean’s assistant and soon I was not only doing all the administrative work, but also lots of design work — from badges to posters for various events university always hosted. Sometimes I’d stay up very late working on different designs — it never felt like an obligation. Whenever I was asked to make a new design I would take the best western companies as a benchmark for what is good design. This might sound like an obvious thing, but back then in Russia a regular benchmark was a default shitty-looking Powerpoint theme with fallen leaves.
My sense for design slowly developed since the moment I first touched MacBook back in school. The PowerPoint on Mac was just a whole different world from that on Windows. The presentations and materials I made on my Mac stood out. It was a whole different level of aesthetics. It’s funny, I never liked cheese until I tried Swiss. I couldn’t drink beer until I tried Czech. Same thing with design — I never wanted to design until I tried to design on Mac. I guess since then I’ve been really into design.
Working as a Dean’s assistant, I was earning decent money and doing a bunch of interesting projects. I also taught some courses while I was in my Masters. Once I attended an event outside of Moscow where Russia’s top politicians spoke. It was a high-end event with a very selected group of people, that was the moment I learned that soft skills matter. Sometimes being socially educated can get you as far as being smart.
That was the time when my childhood dreams of being part of a “circle of important people” stood the validity test. I had an opportunity to see what that means from the inside as well as become a part of it. It’s rare when you can sort of test-drive your dream and decide if you truly want that. For me, the simple realization that it’s just not my plate cleared up my path from any hesitations of whether I did make the right choice. I feel like it’s vital to give yourself an opportunity to test your dreams and see if they hold in reality; unrealized dreams is the baggage that will be hard to carry on even when you find your way in life.
I’ve always felt I wanted to make some impact, do good, do things that matter. Working as the Dean’s assistant, let me make quite a lot of impact on my faculty — from introducing school stationary templates to allowing 5-year program students switch to 4+2 program (was a BIG deal back then).
While I was doing my Masters, I got an offer from Gazprom, the largest Russian natural gas company. I worked at Gazprom Export branch, that deal with gas export and transportation abroad. In the first few months, it felt wonderful — everything was new, I had to learn a lot of new things.
Then I slowly started to realize that whole work is meaningless: purely operational, basic negotiation, accounting, tracking activity. It paid really well but was very repetitive and boring. So after 6 months it started to feel a bit off, and it became evident that I could stay there for 5-10 years, and nothing would change. I also witnessed the case when my immediate manager, who left to work abroad, was replaced by someone’s son, an inexperienced and unprofessional person with zero experience in the field. The system worked like that…it was designed to suit people with power and influence rather than talent or diligence. His deputy, a very knowledgeable and professional guy, was just disregarded despite being the best person to take the job.
As I wasn’t quite happy working there, I started thinking about what I genuinely want to do in life. I quickly realized that my heart was saying “design.” This was the thing I did really well, the thing I could do the whole night and not get tired. So I decided to explore the design occupation further and started attending Photoshop and photography classes after work. I also got to read a book “Change by Design” by David Kelley, the CEO of IDEO. IDEO is a global design consultancy firm that works with large organizations, institutional clients, and governments to solve problems.
What struck me most was that IDEO hired people with both design education and a background in another entirely different field, ranging from healthcare to economics. The company would put up a team of creative people with different backgrounds relative to the project and thus bring unique perspectives to their solution. This let IDEO make a lot of impact and solve complex problems — from designing a very first graphics interface manipulator (computer mouse for Apple) to irrigation system in Nigeria that cost $12 and increased farming productivity 2-3 times. You can guess – I just felt I must work for IDEO, everything seemed to come together at that moment.
In the same book I read that the best design program on West Coast was the one from the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. Guess what – a year later I landed in San Francisco to start my Masters in Graphic Design there.
Back to the moment when I decided to go, it felt so right. Logically and emotionally all the pieces just clicked together: I’ll be doing creative work, solving complex problems to make the world a better place and use my analytical mindset for it. I’m not going to waste six years of my life, spent studying economics and finance.
The question wasn’t – do it or not. It was – how to do it? The Master’s program in the Academy of Arts was costly – $56k, you can imagine I didn’t have that money. Luckily, my family was very supportive and we agreed that I use part of my family heritage to invest in myself, so we sold part of the property we had.
Now the challenge was to create a portfolio from zero to get admitted. It took me 4 months to think through how to do my portfolio and my cover letter and then after 4 months when the deadline was a week away I put everything together in 6 days. It also reflects the way I’m working — I can’t start doing things before I think them through and be solid on the idea.
The program I got into was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. There were tons of tasks that were very hard to do, I mean extremely hard. In comparison, I never studied nearly as much in HSE, doing Master in Finance. We were programming mathematical models to predict currency exchange rates, but that wasn’t nearly as hard and time-consuming as design projects.
Imagine doing an 80+ page book, where you come up with the concept, write or appropriate the copy, design layouts, shoot all the photography, print and bind it yourself in 3 months. Plus, two more classes like that. That was the time when I first came close to the point of giving up but I never did; even when it comes to coming to the class an hour late for the final presentation. It turned out to be a big success and I learned what it actually means of pushing through and not giving up.
While at school I started volunteering for AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), with them I grew from a regular trainee to volunteers coordinator. Just like in my bachelors I felt like I needed to do something apart from studies, something social, something that would let me develop in the new ways. Thanks to what I did at AIGA I met lots of experienced designers, built a strong network in the community with my hard work and dedication.
My story might sound like I’ve always been having a stable life. But there have been ups and downs. When the ruble crushed in 2014, I quickly ran out of money and had to take a lot of different jobs to have money for basic things. I worked as a waiter after classes, studied at night and went back to school after 3 hours of sleep. In the weekends I would spend 2 full days driving an Uber, 12 hours a day, the whole weekend. Halfway through school, I started working full-time. That was the toughest period in the States for me. I have to say I was never upset or sad about it, it was hard, but I just had to do it. So I did.
I don’t talk much about friends, but my social circle is and has always been essential for me. It’s just that when I needed a certain person or certain kind of people, they are around. I have close friends that are always there when I need them, and at the same time, I make new mates all the time.
Now I graduated my Masters and started my job in the brand agency Siegel+Gale and working with customers like Wells Fargo. It’s that kind of a combination of creative and analytical work I’ve been looking for. I can totally say that I love going to work and doing what I do; I feel like I am making a lot of impact and that makes me feel great.
Whatever it is to come, be that a career at IDEO or a whole different track doing UI/UX for tech companies, I am open to that. In the end, my passion to design is the main thing that drives me forward.
3 key realizations
It’s never enough to decide on something logically. You have to feel it’s right. It has to click logically and resonate emotionally. Both. We are both creative and analytical creatures, and often we disregard one of the parts. The true self-realization is only possible when we take both into account.
You never know a person too well. Everyone has their ways and motives to do what they do. So just accept this as is and live with it or let them go; don’t try to change anyone.
The main people in your life are your family. No one will ever love you and support you like they do.
My parents. They always supported me even when they didn’t agree with me. My ex-girlfriend. My friends. Honestly, I’ve always felt supported by my friends, teachers, and other people. I just always felt it.
What are the top books/videos/movies that inspired you?
- Mr. Nobody
- Knocking on Heavens’ Doors
- To Die For
- The Magus by John Fowles
- A short history of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- Harry Potter
- Felix Baumgartner jump from the space
- Snowboarding videos
- Apple and Tesla presentations
What does it mean to be lost and found to you?
To be lost means to not see the way. To see the things you don’t like. You can’t see what you want to do. You feel like you just can’t find your place – whatever that is, professional or personal life.
To be found means to find something that feels right and that you know is right. Know + feel.
Do you think you’ll be doing what you do now for the whole life?
I know for sure I’ll always be doing design, design that is both creative and analytical. This can take any shape, this could be any job, but I’ll always be solving problems using analytical + creative approach.
What’s your purpose?
To make a world a better place. Whatever I do, my purpose is to make someone feel better and happier, make things just a little better in this world. Even sharing my life story with you. Always.
Get it touch
Feel free to reach out to Eugene on Facebook.