Pro Talks: Interview with a Graphic Designer and Illustrator Yulia Sokolova
Yulia Sokolova is a talented CG-artist, graphic designer, and the author of dozens of inspiring and helpful tutorials. Yulia has worked for companies like Envato, Disney, and Ask.fm. We had the pleasure of talking to her about useful designers’ tools, resources, and skills.
Hey, Yulia! Let’s skip the standard introductions. Where do you live? Is it a nice place for designers?
I live in a small Russian town called Ozersk (or Ozyorsk), near the Ural Mountains. Our town is located in a picturesque place, surrounded by lakes. To be honest, there are not so many job offers for designers here. However, I’ve actually had the experience of working as a CG-artist in a game development studio and as an advertising designer for our local newspaper. Luckily, the Internet offers a lot of opportunities to showcase my art and to get the desired job offers from that.
What is the most interesting job you’ve ever undertaken?
Last year, I was invited to join Disney’s team and work at their new project. I’ve been a Disney fan since childhood and often dreamt of working on one of their projects and suddenly my dream came true! This was an enormous experience for me. I learned a lot of new drawing and design skills and it was a real personal level-up. I’ve put a lot of effort into this project and I can’t wait for the moment when I’ll be able to show people what we’ve been working on for several months.
What do you think are the most important skills or qualities for a designer? Which of them have most helped you succeed?
There are several important qualities that make a person a good designer. First of all, you need to be creative and come up with ideas that are both original and trendy. Another thing that designers definitely need is effective communication skills, because being a designer means working with clients, as well as being able to work in a team. Another great quality is being diligent and able to manage your time. Designers usually have a high workload with rapidly changing priorities. For this reason, you should be able to work through a tough schedule without getting distracted, and to complete your tasks on time to satisfy clients’ expectations. Apart from that, a good designer is always open-minded, exploring new trends and willing to learn more and more new skills.
Is there anything new you’d like to learn, design related or not? What would you like to add to your skill set?
There are so many things I would like to know! Sometimes I wish I had a time turner, like Hermione Granger. Then I could stop time and study all the new stuff I find useful and interesting. I’m in a constant process of learning, trying to discover new horizons for myself, and to gain new skills. For example, I’m really inspired by hand-lettering and font making at the moment. Apart from that, I’d like to study animation, 3-D modeling, programming, and many other things that would make my work more efficient and demanded. There are also some things on my wish list that are not connected to design, like how I’ve always wanted to try diving and surfing. On top of that, I want to study some new foreign languages. I used to learn German, French, Latin, and Japanese at university. Unfortunately, languages tend to be forgotten very quickly without everyday use, but the process of learning itself is very exciting.
Greg Breeding once said, “One of the most significant differences between graphic designers and other visual artists is our unhinged love of typography.” Do you agree with this statement? What is the most distinctive feature of a graphic designer in your opinion?
It is hard for me to draw a boundary between design and illustration, because these fields are closely connected to each other, when it comes to commercial illustration and design projects. You need to have some knowledge in both areas, combining artistic skills and a knowledge of typography in order to produce a good result. Regarding to your question, I agree with Greg Breeding, because you can hardly find a person who is into design without loving typography. At the same time, traditional or CG-artists who paint beautiful pictures may not be interested in typography at all, because they just don’t need it, while it is an essential thing for a good designer.
What bad habits do you think are killing good design ideas?
The top two bad habits for any creative person are laziness and procrastination, which result in a lack of ideas and missed deadlines. As we know, designers usually need time to do some brainstorming, research the given topic, get inspired, and come up with creative solutions. This is hard to fulfill if you’ve spent your time in vain by the reason of being lazy and, as a result, you need to finish your design “by the end of yesterday.” Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Sometimes procrastination may occur because you’ve lost your motivation. For example, it can be frustrating if you have a huge project that scares you because of the sheer size of the job you need to do. In this case, try splitting the project into several smaller parts and start working on them one by one, marking each step complete as you’ve done it. This really helps you to stay motivated during the project and to finish it on time.
You’ve worked with the guys at Envato and Disney. What challenges are there when working in an international environment?
I must admit that working with such companies is a great pleasure for me. The way they make up comprehensible tasks and set manageable due dates. The way they communicate in friendly, yet very professional tones. I can’t say that I’ve faced any difficulties or challenges while working with these people. They give you the freedom to explore, to find and suggest creative solutions, and to introduce new techniques and fresh ideas. As a result, you really love what you do. And when you put your heart into the project, you get the best result.
What is your dream job? Is there a particular company you’d like to work with? If yes, what is it, and what do you find most appealing about the idea of joining their team?
I’ve noticed that my dreams and goals change from time to time. Every time I reach my goal, I set another one, turning it into some kind of dream. At first, there was a period when I wanted to work at the office and I really enjoyed it. However, after 4 years at office job, with a monotonous workload and a strict schedule, I felt exhausted and realized that I was losing my inspiration and interest in my profession. I was dreaming of a flexible schedule and creative tasks. Now, I do many more things than I used to when I’m working at my office. It takes almost all of my time, but I’m totally happy with that. I write new design and illustration tutorials, draw decorative patterns, create characters, and participate in various projects and artistic challenges. Such variety of activities helps to maintain interest and creativity. I think combining my hobby and my job is one of my biggest achievements.
My current dream is to take part in some global project. For example, to join a team of awesome artists working on some cartoon, and to create an original character or other piece of art that will be recognized by millions of people. I was watching The Song of the Sea recently and thought, “Wow, I would really love to draw something like that, and to share that beauty with people. My other dream was to try myself in game development, I got some experience with that industry while I was working in a studio that produced games for social networks.This was really exciting, but not that kind of games I enjoy and would play myself. So, taking part in some interesting video game project is still on my wish list.
Besides the usual online blogs, Dribble and Behance, where do you draw inspiration?
Behance and Dribbble are the main sources of inspiration for me. Apart from those, I usually browse Tumblr and Pinterest. But be careful with these two! There’s so much fancy stuff that you can feel yourself literally drowning in thousands of whimsy artworks and useful tips. Sometimes I find myself scrolling down the pages and jumping from one link to another until I finally realize that I’ve spent several hours searching for something I don’t even remember.
What are your favorite design, project management, and productivity tools?
Oh, there are so many! I’d suggest to check out the following link, with a list of productivity tools and handy materials. Personally, I can’t imagine working without Dropbox, which helps me store my projects, get instant links for sharing, and be able to access my files from my PC, smartphone, and tablet at the same time, which is very convenient. Kuler helps you get a bunch of nice color palettes if you feel that you can’t make your own. Sticky Notes is a minimalistic and simple app for Mac that keeps all my ideas and important reminders at my fingertips. Fontsquirrel provides me with a great variety of fantastic, free fonts.
I know that there is a bunch of must have apps and websites for making lists and being efficient in time management and creating timetables and diagrams to help you raising your productivity (i.e. Things, Evernote, Trello, etc). However, I prefer to keep everything in my head and, despite technological progress, pencil and paper notepads are still my best friends. They are always at hand, so I can make notes or fast sketches of new ideas.
In your opinion, what is going to change in the next five years in the digital design world?
Design trends change rapidly from year to year, becoming more progressive, clean and minimalistic. Thanks to Internet — our unflagging source of information and educational materials — we have more and more self taught designers and artists. Enthusiastic people usually go far beyond the boundaries of traditional design, learning additional subjects, and obtaining useful skills. This will result in creating teams of many-sided people, erasing the distinction between graphic design, web-design, interface design, and making all these fields unite in single digital design. In my opinion, the significance of design and advertising will grow stronger as it will become more important for companies. What is more, design tends to become more people-oriented and more user-friendly. Companies do more psychological and social research to this end, and develop comprehensive and meaningful products. I feel that the digital design world will become more open for creativity, giving designers more freedom to produce fresh and extraordinary ideas.
What design or learning resources would you recommend to those who are just starting with graphic design and illustration?
The first and foremost website for learning design and illustration is, without any doubts, Tutsplus.com. It contains an enormous amount of free, written and video materials with descriptive tutorials. I used this resource a lot when I was making my first steps in computer graphics many years ago, and I’m still using it., while it grows and develops, providing more and more new tutorials and trendy educational materials. A couple of years ago I became a part of Tuts+ team of skillful and awesome instructors and I now have a pleasure of sharing my knowledge with people and writing articles. You can check them out here.
I’d also recommend to visit the SpoonGraphics design blog by Chris Spooner, Vectips, Abduzeedo, and Digital Arts Online – -they are always full of inspiring content and handy tips and tricks! Other great resources are Skillshare and Lynda.com. They require a subscription, but they provide a lot of useful materials.
My advice to beginners is to keep practicing and never stop learning! It takes time, but be patient and you’ll succeed. Good luck with your art and let the inspiration guide you!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Yulia!