Alex Slobzheninov is a type and graphic designer based in Prague, Czech Republic.
As many other people from small towns far away from anything hip, most of my life I had no idea that “drawing pictures” can be a job. Design, skateboarding, graffiti, photography, music – in the middle of Russia it was something from the internet, surreal, like a movie or a video game for teenagers. My friends and I liked that culture, but it was nothing like a real job for our upcoming adult life. Then at some point I discovered this thing called “graphic design” which sounded creative and you could study it at university, meaning it’s a real profession. It was a life changing moment. I was lucky to get a chance to move and study it in Europe.
In the beginning I tried all sorts of things from illustration and hand lettering to photography, but one thing was quite important in every project – type. Designing the first font was just an experiment, I wanted to know how it’s done and maybe get my own font for the future projects. This first typeface was called Fivo Sans (Five-O), because it took me five times starting from scratch until I finally nailed it.
There seemed to be a wall separating work for real clients and self initiated creative projects. Clients mostly wanted those “five red lines, three of which are green” kind of things. After some time of doing horrible projects like that I got sick of it and decided to focus on learning, improving my skills and doing what I actually liked. It was quite challenging in short term, but surprisingly beneficial for the future.
After I focused on what I loved and updated my portfolio, it actually started attracting more interesting people – a lot of graphic designers and nice clients who wanted their typography to be cool and unique. I never considered myself to be a type designer specifically, because there’re so many other things that excite me, but type is still the core of everything I do. The highest point so far was getting a job at Sagmeister & Walsh and almost getting it at Pentagram. I learned design by looking at what those amazing studios do, and now happy to be a new small part of it.
Even though I studied graphic design at university, I still think that self education plays a much bigger role. At university you can get good feedback, understand you mistakes, get inspired by your classmates, but all the information, knowledge and skills can be learned from the internet. I’m thankful to all the people who share their experience openly, allowing anyone from anywhere to learn stuff. A crucial part of self education for me was listening to the top designers’ sharing their wisdom at various conferences. I remember struggling to understand anything in English, and then slowly, talk by talk, video by video starting to understand more and more. Native speakers might take it for granted, but it takes years for people from other places to learn the language just to get access to the same amount of information. Weird world!
My creative process is about being honest and transparent with the client, and having a reason behind each solution. After reading the brief I think of what would work best and discuss my ideas with the client, explain my point and show some sketches. It helps to save time and avoid radical changes later in the process, because the client gets involved from the beginning and understands what we’re going to do. In each project I try to push it a bit further, extend the boundaries and explore new techniques. Yet, every decision have to have a reason. The Why question helps to test every solution – why this particular color? Why this particular font? If all I can answer is “because I like it”, the solution is probably not very solid, as it doesn’t serve any point for others.
What is great about graphic design is its independence from your location and equipment. All I need is a laptop and that’s it. Most of people I work with are from other places, from all over the globe from China to Brazil, from North America to Faroe Islands. Working in a creative field opens doors for wide range of unexpected projects from anywhere on our planet. It keeps me excited and enthusiastic, I never know what comes next.
My advice to anyone who is interested in having a career in design or in the creative industry in general – focus on what you are really interested in and don’t waste your time on anything else. It might seem like doing real commercial work is good experience no matter how bad or average the work is, but I don’t think that’s true. Bad work lead to bad portfolio which lead to bad clients and more bad work. We all have seen those designers with over 20 years of experience who still do design of poor quality and stay on the same level forever. I believe this happens when you stop learning and jump into building a career way too early. And of course I’ve been there myself.
It might also seem like personal projects don’t lead to solving real problems and therefore they are just for fun. Don’t think that’s true either. Personal projects is a great way to learn, experiment freely, and to not be afraid of failure. They lead to better portfolio and better clients. So, in my opinion, the best way to start out for a beginner is to put all time and energy in self education and building a solid portfolio of personal works. Try something new in every project, push your work to the new grounds, and honestly do the best you can. You can’t be a good designer without knowing the basics though, there’re no shortcuts. Don’t fake it till you make it, learn it till you make it!
It’s hard to predict what the future will bring. Technologies get super crazy these days, that’s pretty exciting. Everything gets interactive, animated, constantly changing. Classic design statements are not relevant anymore. Less is not more. Form doesn’t follow function. AR and VR will probably be our everyday life in the upcoming years. It’s really interesting to see what role graphic design will play in this world, I’m sure it’s going to be awesome.
Follow Alex on Instagram.