Kyiv-based designer Anastasia S. started her career at 15 and became an established and successful designer on the 99designs platform at a young age. Her passion and dedication were the driving force behind her success and working with a wide range of brands on 99designs helped her define her creative voice.
Her unique style is a great match for small businesses that want to bring their personalities forward. She creates hand-drawn illustrations that are fun, charming and delicately intricate. While none of her two works are ever the same, it’s easy to see that all of them have a high dose of personality. She regularly uses hand-lettering, earth tones, pastels and delicate brush strokes for a unique touch.
We chatted with Anastasia about her process, her inspiration and how she grew her career as a confident, working designer.
Tell us a bit about how you began your career
In Ukraine, you can go to college after ninth grade, so I ended up studying design at 15 on a bit of a whim. I chose graphic design because I knew how to use Photoshop.
In my second year of college, I joined 99designs. I was drawing sketches for contests during classes, applying the lessons I was learning in real-time. For example, my teachers would say that we should draw a hundred sketches for each idea and so I would draw a hundred sketches to come up with one contest entry. I was getting so much valuable practice by doing this.
But because I put in so much work into each contest, it felt like a disaster when I didn’t win. I would be heartbroken. But then I’d just go back to the list of contests and find another one. It was so cool to have opportunities to create and try out my work. It really helped me grow into my own as an artist.
After about two years on 99designs, I finally understood my own voice and design process. What I create and how I create it now feels very true to me.
So you joined 99designs when you were 17?
That’s right. I am now 22 and I already have a lot of experience. When I first started out, I was trying to follow what I was learning at school very diligently. But I quickly realized that it was all a bit old-fashioned and just not right for me. After about two years on 99designs, I finally understood my own voice and design process. What I create and how I create it now feels very true to me.
When did you know that designing was the right path for you?
During my final year of college, there were three weeks to submit my final project and I didn’t even have a topic. So I just accepted a project that the school assigned me—I had to design four or five posters to promote the faculty. I expected it to be incredibly boring but it turned out so well. I didn’t even need to “defend” it. I presented my work for about two minutes and that’s all it took, everyone liked it.
I was struck by the fact that this was my creation. I could take on something seemingly uninteresting and bland and make something super cool with it. And I love this about design work.
Tell us a bit about your current design process
When I am assigned a project, I read it and then step away from it. I take that time to work on other open jobs. Once I have had enough space to let it sink in, I go back and begin to work. Every brand is unique and it’s important to give yourself time to absorb and adjust to each project.
I spend a lot of time working on the design brief with the client. When the clients have general requests like, “I need to find a font” or “I need a color scheme”, I tell them that we need to figure out what would work for their brand.
Try not to be intimidated by your own ideas. I always used to think that my ideas weren’t good enough. Then I realized that if I don’t try it, I have no clue how it will turn out.
This is why I’ve created questionnaires for a variety of projects to get a sense of the client’s vision. I take the time to understand the company’s background, their competitors and target audience.
I also ask about brands they like visually and why they like them. The main two things I’m trying to find out are “What does the client want?” and “What will work for them?”. I’m trying to get a sense of what they want but also what they would like me to avoid.
After that, I do one or two rough sketches. And then I work on those, a lot. I prefer to perfect one or two instead of coming up with a 100 like I did at the beginning.
What inspires your work?
I think ideas come from just about everything that you’re exposed to everyday. In Kyiv we have a beautiful city center. The architecture is really cool. So I enjoy the city walks during workdays.
I love to go on Pinterest and profiles of designers on Instagram. The more you see, the more ideas you get. I also like to go to museums. There are many modern art museums and galleries here and the exhibitions change frequently. My favorites range from Monet to Soviet modernist avant-garde posters.
For example, we have a lot of traditional Ukrainian art like petrykivka. They are incredibly detailed and bright. I would love to bring a touch of that influence into my work. When I was 14, we used to do this style of painting with my mom. You need to do it with special brushes made out of cat hair.
Speaking of design tools, which ones do you use while designing?
I mostly work on an iPad. I use Procreate, Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign (if I need it), Adobe After Effects for the animations, and Sketch or Figma for the web.
If you’re a designer at the beginning of your career, learn how to value your work. You eat, sleep, need rest, and pay your bills just like everyone else.
When I was 17, I didn’t have an iPad. When I joined contests for vintage-style logos or hand-drawn logos, I would draw on paper, scan it, add some magic to it on Photoshop and then vectorize it. It felt like I was the only contestant who was doing that. It’s fair to say that working got a lot easier.
A lot has changed in your career since you joined 99designs five years ago. What makes you continue on the platform?
I love 99designs because it offers a space where designers of any level can get better at their craft by getting real work—even a 17-year-old who is just starting out. You learn how to “work” as a designer by talking to clients and working on lots of projects.
Through 99designs, I’ve connected with countless people and projects. I worked with people from London, Germany, the United States, Canada… Now I’m at a stage in my career where I only join contests when I have some free time and mostly work directly with clients.
I love doing one-on-one projects on 99designs. They are stable and I don’t have to worry about the agreement, whether I’ll be paid and other administrative things. I know that if I have a problem with the client, I will have support. It’s nice to have a third party who is managing that side of things.
How do you keep your designs fresh?
I try to learn new things all the time. When lockdown began in 2020, I used that time to learn more about animation and After Effects. I find that it’s better to be skilled and knowledgeable across different design disciplines. With a diverse portfolio, I am more likely to be the go-to designer for small businesses and other clients.
It’s better to be skilled and knowledgeable across different design disciplines. With a diverse portfolio, I am more likely to be the go-to designer for small businesses and other clients.
What are some tips you could share with new designers?
If you’re a designer at the beginning of your career, learn how to value your work. When you’re starting out, seeing your work and time as valuable feels impossible. You feel as if you have to work constantly, work during the weekends, or work with clients who don’t value you.
Some clients don’t realize that you are a living, breathing human. You eat, sleep, need rest, and pay your bills just like everyone else. You have to understand the value of your work and time from the very beginning and not wait for external affirmation.
Also, try not to be intimidated by your own ideas. I always used to think that my ideas weren’t good enough, but then I realized that if I don’t try it, I have no clue how it will turn out. If an idea or a concept doesn’t come alive like I imagined, it’s not the end of the world.
Now that the lockdowns are mostly behind us and you have your weekends to yourself, what do you do with your free time?
I watch some Netflix. I like to do some oil painting when I’m in the mood, and I’ve been working on my calligraphy. It’s very meditative. I do some step aerobics classes. I also just like being outdoors very much. One disadvantage of being a designer is how much time we spend sitting down.