BOND Tallinn

We chat with Designer and Partner at BOND, Ivan Khmelevsky, about his daily challenge to push himself and learn something new; the cultural challenges they've faced opening in Estonia, and why focus, in the sea of overwhelming stimulus online, is so crucial to self-development.

Any hilarious stories about you as a kid being creative?

I think my descent into design started around the age of 16. I took part in a competition in connection to the Antz computer-animated film by DreamWorks. The task was to draw something in relation to the movie, so I came up with a comic about an ant taking part in the competition & winning it. I got to win the first place (and a Sony Playstation), which was the best thing ever for a 16-year-old kid, obviously. It made my mom realise, that probably It’d make sense for me to go study design, rather than follow in her steps and tie my life with linguistics.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied at Moscow State University of Print, then at the British Higher School of Art and Design still in Moscow and got my degree at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. My path was a difficult one in many ways: I dropped out of the first Uni. Twice. I got a job and started working at an advertising agency; was working by day and studying in the evenings and at night. I was reading quite a lot, studying works of greatest designers of the past, becoming more and more dedicated. Then was the decision to go to the UK for the final year and then graduating as one of the best students in the course, which landed me an internship at The Clearing branding agency in London. Quite a lot of freelance work for various studios and a few poster jobs for venues across London followed, just to keep me afloat in London. A placement at Why Not Associates came next. And then I returned to Moscow to open The Bakery studio with my soon-to-be wife.

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Talk us through a typical working day include for you right now.

It’s somewhat mundane, but I guess every designer will agree, that design is as much about routine as it is about exciting stuff. Now at BOND, we start at 10 in the morning, going through current tasks and objectives, answering emails, catching up on Slack messages. Then getting a coffee from a corner shop before 11. Then working on the projects till lunch and continuing afterward. We finish around 6-7 p.m. and then I usually stay for 1-2 hours more to learn something new: animation, 3d, new software, etc. This is something I find very helpful in the daily practice — broadening your design arsenal and vocabulary is crucial for any design practitioner if one wants to stay relevant and push forward. Even if routine kinda eats a lot of your energy, finding this 1 extra hour for exploration/personal projects is extremely rewarding.

What are your three must-read design books, blogs or podcasts and why?

I’m pretty old-fashioned I guess, but I’d name the ones that made a huge impact on me:

1. How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul by Adrian Shaughnessy

Quite an inspirational and useful book for anyone in their final Uni year. Solves a lot of frustration, fears, and misunderstanding. Helped me to find my focus and do things the right way.

2. Studio Culture: The Secret Life of the Graphic Design Studio by Tony Brook & Adrian Shaughnessy

A super-helpful (though a tiny bit outdated I guess) manual how to establish your own practice. It was my go-to book for practical and theoretical advice when I started The Bakery design studio in Moscow back in 2011.

3. Grid systems in graphic design: A visual communication manual for graphic designers, typographers, and three-dimensional designers by Josef Müller-Brockmann

An absolute must for anyone who’s interested in typography. Very dogmatic, but a great source of basic knowledge of how to treat type. There’s quite a lot of work today, that tries to break conventions, but one can clearly see, that some of these don’t really understand these conventions, thus the result is mediocre at best.

I’ll also mention this very recent one:

4. Run Studio Run by Eli Altman.

I haven’t read it yet, but from the snippets, I’ve seen it’s very well put together and a helpful guide to run your own practice in the digital age.

Design work by BOND Tallinn The Design Kids interviews BOND Tallinn work-4
Design work by BOND Tallinn The Design Kids interviews BOND Tallinn work-4

Broadening your design arsenal and vocabulary is crucial for any design practitioner if one wants to stay relevant and push forward.

How does the local culture of where you live affect your design work and getting clients?

Having moved from Russia to Estonia I find the process of running and operating the studio to be way more straightforward and predictable here. On the other hand, I feel that clients here are much more cautious and reserved, so quite often you can’t read them as easy. We only started the Tallinn office a tiny bit over a year ago, so still need to prove ourselves locally in some sense, though we’ve already been lucky to work with some of the most exciting companies in the city (if not in the country). Generally, Estonians consider themselves to be a part of Scandinavia world. This obviously only has an effect on what sort of design they want or need. Minimalism is in favour, though we try to challenge this if the project clearly needs a different approach.

What advice would you give students graduating in 2019?

I think the main thing today is to have focus, to really understand what you’re good at and what you want to do. With so much design around us (and especially online) it probably overwhelms a young creative — “oh, I like this”, “oh I want to do something like this”, “oh this is cool”, etc. But quantity most of the time doesn’t mean quality and telling good design from bad one is a difficult task at times. My approach would be to get internships/placements at as varied bunch of creative outlets as possible. Get paid for these. Try to work with the best out there, learn from the old masters and young geniuses, define your interests and follow your passion. Be honest with yourself and keep the integrity even at most difficult & frustrating times.

Design work by BOND Tallinn The Design Kids interviews BOND Tallinn work-6
Design work by BOND Tallinn The Design Kids interviews BOND Tallinn work-6

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