«The most valuable skill I admire in other designers — is to continue exploring even if you're already fine with some solution»
In 2017, Alexander has successfully switched from a freelancing and agency job to a full-time job in Revolut in London, continuing his design journey by joining electric vehicles company Arrival in 2020. During his career he worked on projects for such companies as NASA. Alexander is a meticulously detailed product designer, so let’s dive into his head and learn more about his experience.
My path as a designer started about 10 years ago. I studied as a computer engineer on the IT technologies faculty. I liked to code Windows applications, but I always tend to do something more visually attractive. One day my classmate asked me to design his personal blog. And it was the first time when I realised that I can work and earn money as a designer.
Right before graduation, I got into my first job as a real designer. It was a local studio where I mostly did designs for local businesses: clinics, restaurants and car services. After a year I got a feeling that I wasn't developing fast enough, so I decided to find another company. I knew that to level up my design skills I need to find either a mentor that will lead me, or put myself in an environment that will push me forward naturally. Now if I’d look for a new company — I’d pay more attention to the team where I can find an experienced mentor who I can learn from, and an environment where I will evolve faster, rather than money and a role title.
So I left that studio and moved to Moscow to find a proper place to work. And almost accidentally I joined one of the best agencies in the city at that time — ADV. I got hired as a Senior Visual Designer because of my visual skills, but I needed to learn a lot about UX and how to deal with clients from big companies. I worked with some of the largest companies in Russia, and in some way it was a turning point in my career. Having well-known brands in your portfolio is the fastest track to open new great opportunities in your career.
WHY HAVE YOU DECIDED TO SWITCH FROM AGENCY TO PRODUCT?
In agencies, I have always been frustrated by the number of design projects that didn't turn into real products. Some of those who did — looked completely different from what’s been designed. So I started to look for a job where I can build a product from idea to launch.
My first interview with the CEO of Revolut was in 2016 when almost no one heard about Revolut. It was just another financial product in London. After the interview, I received a test task but put it on hold and in the end, it drowned in the amount of other personal projects.
A year later, when Revolut was already on the radar, the recruiter approached me again. This time I decided to make the best test task in the product design history. I was doing it for almost a month, moving the deadline all the time for the purpose of making this work really extraordinary showing all my best skills. Of course, I wanted to surprise the company, but most importantly, I wanted to make a great project that I could share on Dribbble. It is a simple luck that no one else took the job during this time! Finally, when the task was finished, the team at Revolut was impressed by it and I got this job after the final call.
Looking back, I see how skills we are looking for in new designers differ from what I presented in my home task. Now it’s not enough to show just neat UI and animation, but to demonstrate proper research and UX that leads from it, explain why you made these exactly decisions and how you iterated on the design overall.
WE SEE HOW REVOLUT BECAME A LARGE COMPANY IN JUST TWO YEARS. PROBABLY THE DESIGN OF THE APP HAS ALSO CHANGED A LOT DURING THIS TIME
Yes, definitely. Revolut evolved from a simple banking app to the all-in-one banking service in just a few years, and design played an important role in it. As an example of how Revolut evolved through time, from the day when I joined the app’s main screen had 3 main iterations (until I left in early 2020):
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE?
At a certain period of time I found myself in a place where you don’t face any groundbreaking challenges, where your main task is to confirm your design decisions with top management, but not to confirm it with data or user testing.
HOW DOES THE DESIGN PROCESS AT REVOLUT DIFFER FROM THE ONE AT ARRIVAL?
The process of doing design at Revolut was pretty much common for many early-stage startups (even though the company had around 2000+ employees) — you sit within a small product team, which has its own roadmap for the next 6 months, so you do the work to bring that roadmap into real life. Most of the time I collaborated with my “product owner” (as they call product managers there), discussing business processes behind features I designed. What I was missing in that process is collaboration between designers. Yes we had a design sync meeting every week to show what we were working on, but that’s not collaboration. And this is what I’m happy to see at Arrival, where the design process is truly collaborative, where your design is evaluated by people just like you, so you’re speaking the same language and that works just perfect!
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PROJECTS THAT YOU HAVE DONE?
Some time ago I finished a project for NASA. We had strong deadlines, so I decided not to experiment a lot, but to make it in the way I imagine what NASA is: cosmic, futuristic and brave. The task was to show the capacity of ISS station at a certain moment of time, so people can understand when to send another cargo. I placed the station in the centre and the informational blocks on the sides. To get information about a certain part of the station, simply choose it and the interface shows how many empty sections it has. Initially, I made a white interface, but then decided to bring a space feeling, so I placed the station on a dark background as if it was really there.
Dribbble for me is like Instagram but for designers. It's filled with very attractive concepts, but there is mostly nothing behind them. Usually, those concepts are not usable, and ideas not applicable to the real world.
But Dribbble is a platform for creativity, and there's nothing wrong with it. When I want to experiment and keep my visual skills trained — I make a concept! The only rule that applies — it should look great, that's it. Simple, right?
In this concept, I showed a clean modern bookstore application, with personal space (the activity tab shows your progress and your friends' activity) and a library tab where you can buy a book.
I’VE HEARD YOUR PUBLIC TALK ABOUT A DESIGN CONSISTENCY, TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT IT, WHY HAS THIS TOPIC BECAME IMPORTANT TODAY?
Consistency is a tool that helps both a business and its clients. For business, it's a great way to build products faster with reusable components. For customers, it is important because of the transparency it gives to their experience, so they understand what's going on now and what will happen next in their flow.
DOES LONDON HAVE A RECOGNIZABLE DESIGN STYLE? HOW DOES YOUR RUSSIAN BACKGROUND AND CULTURE INFLUENCE THE WORK YOU DO TODAY?
London is a city with a great eye for the details. Things that every designer usually admires mostly in digital and print pieces could be found here all the time: great taste of typography in labels and banners, fantastic colours and textures, great attention to every detail of the exterior. I love that you can find a building of almost every architectural style here: from classic houses of 17th century to brutal modernist experiments of the 70s. What I found much more important and still not very noticeable — this city tries to care about everyone. It’s very good to be comfortable for young people, but it's a hundred times more important to be comfortable for older ones and those who have disabilities.
In London, I am most delighted by free museums, from my perspective having the opportunity to see beautiful pieces of art & design every day is the best gift for people. You can see amazing things just on your way for a morning coffee. Absolutely everything here is very neat and consistent. The level of tidiness astonishes me and I think that the accessibility of cultural heritage has primary importance in this case.
YOU WORKED IN RUSSIA FOR QUITE A LONG TIME BEFORE MOVING TO LONDON. THAT GIVES YOU A PRETTY UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE. HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE LIFE OF A DESIGNER IN LONDON TO OTHER PLACES YOU’VE EXPERIENCED? DO LONDON DESIGNERS WORK OR THINK DIFFERENTLY IN SPECIFIC WAYS THAT YOU’VE NOTICED?
I think that digital roles are quite unified in terms of processes and required skills, but of course, there is a difference based on a market you’re working at and it’s needs. The UK and London particularly is a high-competitive market, so I see that designers more often use research and testing methodologies to prove their ideas than anywhere else. They realize that it’s much cheaper to understand how and for whom you’re building a product, than change things on the fly. Another thing I noticed — people value each other’s personal space and feelings, so communicational skills are very valuable. It’s an important skill every designer should develop — how to criticise another’s work without abusing them personally
I KNOW THAT YOU JUST FINISHED TEACHING YOUNG STUDENTS ON A VISUAL DESIGN COURSE AT BRITISH HIGHER SCHOOL OF ART AND DESIGN, HELPING THEM TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO CREATE GREAT-LOOKING UI FOR DIGITAL PRODUCTS. DID YOU NOTICE HOW TODAY’S STUDENTS DIFFER FROM THE PREVIOUS ONES?
Every stage of our careers gets us a different perspective. And at every stage we get various advantages. For example, young students think wider than experienced designers, because their mindset is less framed. In contrast — an experienced designer can come up with a solution, develop, and test a prototype quicker because they already solved hundreds of problems and can use one of many patterns they already have. We just need to find what we are best at, no matter how young or experienced you are.
WITHOUT WHICH SKILLS THE ROLE OF FUTURE DESIGNERS WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE?
Craftsmanship and a possibility to make a piece of design by yourself will always be the main skill of a designer. But speaking of the future, I think one of the most valuable skills will be to understand a human's mind in the new digital reality — where people connected digitally and at the same time feel more disconnected in real life. Designers have great responsibility over what’s happening to human nature right now, how we treat each other using those new digital products, how we spend our time using them. And it's a crucial thing to remember about, knowing that we all have a responsibility to say “no” sometimes.
WHICH PRODUCT HAVE YOU RECENTLY SEEN THAT MADE YOU THINK THIS IS A GREAT DESIGN?
Recently I came across MyMind service and, though it’s not launched yet, I really like its idea of organising this digital mess of notes, images and documents that we all have right now. I also appreciate the approach with which this product is being built — explaining not just which features it has, but to let people understand your personal motivation as an owner of a product via manifesto. So your early users might love the product for ideas behind it, even if it lacks some features or works not very well at first.