"Consumers do not analyze visual range, all they can say is whether they generally like design or not. Work that is sure to be appreciated consists of carefully considered details"
European Design Conference 2010 (i.e. conference on design) has been recently held in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). Ukrainian designer Yurko Gutsulyak delivered his report there. Each year the conference organizers choose 15 most successful and interesting designers from across Europe to create an international platform for exchanging ideas and experience. Yurko Gutsulyak shared his impressions of the conference and thought about the ways of making good design in Ukraine with "New Marketing" Magazine.
New Marketing: What are your impressions of the European Design Conference 2010? What new design trends have you noticed?
Yurko Gutsulyak, art director of Graphic design studio by Yurko Gutsulyak: The main trend I've noticed among the works presented at the conference is interethnic eclecticism. People from different parts of the world: the Chinese, the Dutch, the Americans, the Iranians, etc are invited to carry out a certain project. People from different continents have different perception of composition, colour and text. As a result the design works get many unexpected details that have been added by one or another member of international team. And popularity of such teams is growing every year.
NM: The conference program included some visits to design studios in Holland. What kind of relations do they have in their creative teams, are they different from those in Ukrainian agencies?
YG: I used to visit some design studio and not only in Rotterdam. In past years I was in some studios in Stockholm and Zurich. This time the most interesting appeared to be Studio Dumbar, Ping-pong Design and MVRDV architect agency. Workspace in western offices follows the concept of open space. Contrary to western ones not so many national studios are lucky enough to have an office that provides conceptual space essential for comfortable work of creative employees.
NM: What is the Western perception of work done by East European studios?
YG: The uniqueness of East European design is predetermined by the main industry problem in this region which appears to be the lack of an academic base. There are practically no national design schools (the only exception is Russia) that could give a proper background for the generation of specialists. This results in a situation when designers have to reinvent the wheel even while solving the simplest tasks. Sure enough the majority of such works are good for nothing. However, in some rare cases this lack of standards and limitations predetermined by academic training leads to discoveries. It is these unique designers who create an image of East European studios in Western countries.
NM: Ukrainian design as well as marketing successfully employs many professionals who do not have appropriate education. What is the role of academic knowledge in this profession?
YG: The academic base is primarily required for providing a consistently high level of design projects. On visiting some studios in Western Europe I noticed that most of them do not have the breakthrough, revolutionary ideas in their portfolios. However, all their projects are carried out at a certain level which is carefully maintained. It provides many examples of good design. In Ukraine and Russia the opposite situation is observed: some works are plain bad and occasionally you can come across a very good one, but there is no happy medium.
NM: What do you thing is different in professional training in Europe? How do these differences affect the process of design project development?
YG: Ukrainian schools provide their students with a set of classic techniques. They are ready-made solutions for artistic tasks that were up to date the moment these techniques were created. Graduates use these clichés to complete modern tasks not taking into consideration their relevance. In the West all students are taught that their profession is a continuous creative search, so they are not bound by the framework of classic styles and forms. Here is an example from my own experience. Various projects often require the involvement of a professional illustrator. His task is to draw individual elements of the future image according to general concept created by designer. For instance, a central element of an apple juice packing should be fruit alone and illustrator gets an assignment to draw a “juicy apple.” While looking for such a professional I constantly come across the graduates of Ukrainian universities. If you want to get a result of their work you should give some very specific instructions, and even better some sketches or photographs to be copied using a given technique. In addition, such employees are often inflexible when it comes to illustration refinement as they do not want to accept comments. Thus creative cooperation becomes mechanical process. By contrast, illustrators in Western countries are trying to find their own techniques or come up with a non-standard combination of classic ones. They are ready to readjust drafts in order to come to a solution that will satisfy all the parties.
NM: How important is project creative component for you? Does it happen sometimes that you are not interested in a certain work?
YG: Graphic design is often called communicative. That is to say the function of any design product is to convey messages to the target audience. My major is economics, so I usually start my work on a project by asking the question of how to complete company’s selling tasks by means of design. Customers are inclined to believe that the main design task is just to come up with a creative idea. However, it is not the case as designer’s work may result in something that is far from traditional beauty concept. The main thing is to complete a specific selling task.
NM: Have you ever heard of the belief that Ukrainian consumer is not ready for non-standard creative solutions? Do you agree with this idea?
YG: Many customers I used to work with told me after the first presentation that the ideas presented were very good, but they actually needed some more primitive solution which can be explained by low levels of consumer consciousness of Ukrainians. I believe this approach is fundamentally wrong, at least for the simple reason that we all are Ukrainian consumers. National experts fearing to remain misunderstood prefer to express their ideas directly and comprehensively. So it looks more like an instruction rather than communication. That's why my presentation of each idea is supported by a detailed analysis of the solution I came up with. I explain my choice of a certain idea as well as instruct on how, where and when it should be implemented to give a specific result. While introducing the next concept I highlight its difference from the previous one, describe its strengths and weaknesses. If customer representative sees designer as a specialist and is ready to rely on his professionalism, teamwork is productive, and the result is likely to satisfy both sides. It should be noted that such cooperation approach is typical of the company’s chief executives. However, it often works differently. For example, mid-level managers are hesitant to take responsibility for challenging creative projects. They are not motivated to make final decision anticipating confrontation with management, and try to get such concepts that will be approved on the first try. Unfortunately, such communication is likely to be ineffective.
NM: How do customers find common language with a designer? Who is your ideal client?
YG: An ideal client can give a clear explanation of his business strategy and the way current task should be completed within the framework of this strategy. This client is not too lazy to fill in a brief. Ukrainian customers often make rough sketches themselves which I consider to be not exactly the right cooperation approach. There is no need to explain to a designer what he should draw, it is better to present a task to be completed in this project. So designer's task is to provide some solutions by means of graphic design.
NM: Are there any fashion trends in design? Should designers keep a track of these trends?
YG: There are even some companies trying to analyze fashion trends in graphic design in order to report on current trends. Some designers use these reports in their work. I try to approach this issue from a practical point of view. For example, while working on a logo I ask my customer how long he intends to use this image. If the next re-branding will be no earlier than in five years, it makes no sense to develop a logo in ultramodern style. However, if we are talking about an advertising layout for a clothing collection to be sold within six months, using current trends is completely justified.
NM: In your interviews you often focus on the details of any given decision. What design elements require special attention and how do they affect the quality?
YG: At the conference I’ve presented a “Walking Calendar” developed for Huggies. It background ornaments included flowers, ducks, bears, bunnies and other elements somehow connected with the kids. I showed each of these icons enlarged and told about the principle of their construction. I received a feedback from the audience, some people told me that these icons alone made the sustainable, completed project. There are 12 pages in the calendar corresponding to 12 months, and there are two icons on each page. Consumers do not analyze it, it's just a background for them, but they do have positive attitude and subconscious comprehension of a quality product. Here is more. Once a calendar is put vertically, you should keep a check on springs as they might sag because of pages’ weight. If there is not enough space from the bottom of pages to a logo, the latter will be perceived inaccurately. Consumers do not analyze visual range, all they can say is whether they generally like design or not. Work that is sure to be appreciated consists of carefully considered details. This principle is applied by all the professional designers. I would recommend the clients to oversee developing process. Mostly it is required while changing or refining upon some project details to go with a chosen development strategy. Sometimes client’s saving on authorial supervision can result in a product that does not come up to the specified parameters at all. So, customer has to bear unbudgeted expenditure to redo the whole circulation.
NM: How do you improve your professional level?
YG: First of all, I regularly review the printed materials I get form different publishers. There are some very interesting journals published in China: sometimes even print quality and material selection is better than in similar USA mass media. In America a layout of a big design book takes about two years, and by the time it has been published the content might be irrelevant. In China a similar process takes two to three months, so their magazines are always full of latest works. Another source of self-improvement for me is the analysis of my own works. And I am not just talking about the stage of development. I often go back to the projects that have been completed long ago. I’ve managed to get rid of raving over my works that allows me to evaluate them rather objectively.
NM: What are your plans on the development of studio?
YG: During last two years I spent a lot of time taking part in competitions as a juror as well as participation in conferences as a speaker and giving master classes, etc. Surely it was not just a waste of time as I managed to expand the circle of my professional contacts and learn a lot. I’ve accumulated enough material for analysis and now I’m planning to decrease my activity as an external expert. I want to spend more time actually working. Maybe I will get back to my pre-crisis plans and finally increase the studio staff.