Designer of the Year 2022. Interview with Ivan Khmelevsky

Estonian Design Award 2022 ADC*E Designer of the Year award winner Ivan Khmelevsky.

When the jury was selecting the designer of the year 2022, they reviewed the winning works of all the different competitions of the recent years and the people behind them. There was one name that started repeating and reappearing in different places and categories, again and again. This person is Ivan Khmelevsky. Ivan is a designer with a very elegant, minimalist, and modern design language, from whose work and style always glows through the idea and reasoning ability, together with brilliant innovativeness. 

Fotol: Ivan Khmelevsky

Let's start from the beginning how did you get into the field of design? What started it all?

I think I’ve been obsessed with typography since my childhood. As a teen I had my school notebooks covered with band logos that I drew myself with pens and pencils. Then I started making mixtapes with very elaborate fold-out sleeves just for the fun of it — creating layouts, drawing cover art, mixing computer generated illustrations with hand drawn ones. At the age of 16 I won a Playstation console in a movie-related contest with a comic book, which made my mom enormously proud and she suggested I get some formal education in arts/design, which I sort of did. And the rest is history!

Client: Xnet

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs before BOND? Did you work in any agencies before starting your own?

I enrolled to Moscow State University of Print after school, but that did not work out particularly well. I dropped out twice before quitting completely and only after a couple of years of odd jobs here and there applied to British Higher School of Art & Design which happened to be the perfect place to study graphic design. I finished my degree at University of Hertfordshire and spent a couple of years freelancing and interning in London only to return to Moscow and start my own design studio called The Bakery in 2011. At some point I was on a client side leading a transformation of a huge but outdated Real Estate company to become #1 brand in the country.

Due to political course of the Russian government and few other issues I decided to move and join BOND as a partner in 2018 which was one of the best decisions in my professional life. These 4+ years before I quit in summer 2022 were an absolute blast!

How do you balance yourself being a designer and a creative director?

I think the terminology is quite vague today and the meaning depends on whether we talk about branding, advertising, product, etc. I happened to have experience in a variety of set-ups and industries and these jobs usually required a mix of competences so for me it is natural to both come up with creative directions and sometimes work on executions. I have a heavy leaning towards graphic design and still love the craft, so every now and then rolling up the sleeves and just “doing stuff” still gives me absolute joy.

Client: Kids Tactical Foodpack

What is the most important thing for you when designing? Concept, form, idea or problem solving, or something else?

I would say that a perfect dish is when all the ingredients are well balanced, so everything is equally important, but for me the most important thing is authenticity — the work has to be unique, timeless and genuine. It might be off trend, it might be unsophisticated, but it has to be honest and stem from what’s at the core of the business.

Client: Hansapost

What kind of project do you usually prefer or feel the most comfortable with? Who are your usual clients? Do you have a preference for subjects/clients?

I am genuinely interested in everything the world and modern life consists of, so there’s really no preference and it’s nice to be able to work within different frameworks and constrains to keep things interesting. Though I would not ever work on projects or people or institutions that promote or endorse hate, intolerance, violence or harmful products.

Which project do you consider to be the best from your portfolio? And why?

There are quite few nice holistic projects I’m quite happy with, so I’d probably name a few recent ones. Rebranding of Viru Keskus (which is currently being rolled out) is a great example of an evolutionary approach to visual identity that keeps the existing brand equity, but gives a new direction and means to communicate to the audience in a fresh and ownable manner. Branding and way finding for Patarei Merekindlus that is also being quietly rolled out is a great one too — a smart, holistic identity that is true to the business and the space. It has a solid strategy and a fair share of unique assets, including custom typography, art direction, motion language, etc.

Client: Patarei Merekindlus

Client: Viru Keskus

What would be the dream project or a client for you?

I have to be honest, I never ever dreamt of a client or a project. I dream of completely different things, that have to do with life, rather than work!

Who or what inspires you?

The world around me inspires me. Music and art are huge influence. People and their ideas, regardless of how small or big they are. Masters of the past. Colleagues. Technology. Movies. Travels…

What does the ''Designer of the year'' title mean to you? Or your clients?

When going solo, you have to be proactive, reach out to people only to be ignored or not really valued or alien to teams during projects… It’s perfectly normal, but sometimes discouraging, so some solid proof of being actually good at what you do was a great and timely reminder. I’m more used to studio set ups and working in teams rather then remote work, so working from home on your own also makes you question what you do and whether the work is good enough.

Client: Muhulife

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a few branding projects that I can’t really talk about yet, but these are exciting and rewarding in their own ways.

What are your plans for the upcoming year?

The best thing about freelancing is that you blow your own sail the direction you wanna go. I’m planning to grow my network and collaborate with more international agencies and clients on big and challenging projects or maybe join an in-house team as a creative director/ design director or maybe start making artisanal eco-friendly sustainable berry jams out of my backyard if this design thing doesn’t really work. Who knows?