We recently chatted to Stepan Solodkov, graphic designer and art director at Tabasco, and winner of Designer of the Year from the Art Directors Club of Estonia. He spoke to us about the value of learning from your mistakes, how to keep the spark burning and avoid burnout by learning as you go.

What's the worst design job you’ve ever had and how did it make you a better designer?

Probably the worst design job was my very first workplace when I started working as a designer. It was a cool downtown office, and my first iMac. I worked there for only three months. During this time, our boss disappeared for a month and we ourselves were looking for jobs for the studio on freelance sites. Once he forced us to forge documents for the bank so that he could take out a loan and give us a salary. The last straw was when I caught the boss reading my personal email. After that, I immediately quit. What did this teach me? A cool office and a computer does not equal cool work. Search for clients yourself and make decisions. And always put a password on your computer.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

I am a graphic designer and art director. I have been working in the industry for over 7 years. During this time, I managed to work as a web designer, an editorial designer, and a packaging designer, but still my biggest passion is creating identities. I come from Russia, and I started my career as a designer there, before I moved to Estonia. Here I managed to work in several studios, win several local and European awards, and be awarded the designer of the year from the Art Directors Club of Estonia. In my works, I really like to experiment with typography, optical illusions and animation. I'm always searching for new ways to work with graphics and space.

Design work by Tabasco The Design Kids interviews Tabasco work-2

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

I try to do everything so as not to have typical days. Every day and every new project, I try to find and learn something new. In each new project, I try a process familiar to me, and to apply new tools that I have not used before. I really like to learn in the process of creating new works. I always have a list of what I would like to try in my head, and when I start a new project, I see what on my list would work for this project. This is a very convenient way to simultaneously work on the current project and learn something new. And most importantly, this method allows you not to burn out to the profession, because you do not get stuck in the routine of the same type of decisions, but you burn as if you are a student and everything is new and interesting to you.

What are some of the best and worse parts of your job, day-to-day?

The worst and best part of my work is part of one process — the search process. It gets worse when thoughts come to a standstill and you are faced with the choice to be secondary and admit that you lost this battle, or continue your search and find something more unique. And when you decide to continue this search and find — that's the best moment.

Design work by Tabasco The Design Kids interviews Tabasco work-4
Design work by Tabasco The Design Kids interviews Tabasco work-4

A cool office and a computer does not equal cool work.

What’s your take on internships?

I have a positive attitude towards internships, because internships are primarily practice, and I consider practice one of the best teachers. The theory is wonderful, but you realize the essence of the profession only when you do everything yourself, in real conditions, with real terms, make mistakes that will have consequences. And such mistakes teach better than any theory. I’m self-taught, so I got all my knowledge from practice. And if someone else can give you advice during work when you are just starting out, then that's priceless. Therefore, if there is an internship opportunity, be sure to take it.

What advice would you give students graduating in 2019?

My advice will be timeless. I've seen many design graduates. I've seen how they came with burning eyes and saw how these sparks in their eyes went out when they were only allowed to do the most routine and boring projects. They became disillusioned with the profession and abandoned design, or worse, started making soulless stamped decisions. My advice is, if you aren’t in a dream studio at the beginning of your career, this shouldn't scare you. You will definitely get there, or get to open your own studio. Most importantly, do not lose the spark for a love of design in you. If you do not like the projects in the studio, change the studio. If there is no way to change the studio, go freelance. But do not take on everything, take only those projects that are really interesting to you, or go beyond your competence, so you can maintain interest in the profession and learn new things, even if you work on an uninteresting job. Just let your work be your hobby!

Design work by Tabasco The Design Kids interviews Tabasco work-6
Design work by Tabasco The Design Kids interviews Tabasco work-6

Where to find Tabasco online.

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