Episode 7: Gleb Kuznetsov

In our 7th Overtime episode, Dan chats with Gleb Kuznetsov. Gleb is the Design Director at Fantasy, where he designs futuristic user interfaces and jaw-dropping animations.

In this episode, Gleb shares the struggles he overcame while learning design and development in Russia, how he got his job at Fantasy, why it pays to work on side projects just for fun, his process for brainstorming and designing, and more.

  1. Smart home product Tesla flow
  2. Drop motion for AI product design by fantasy
  3. Electric vehicle cluster design

Dan also asks Gleb about a few of his Dribbble shots. Hear the stories behind Tesla flow iOS app concept for Smart home product by Fantasy, Drop motion for AI product design by Fantasy, and Electric vehicle engine experimental for Fantasy.

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Hello everyone. Welcome to Overtime. This is Dribbble’s audio companion and episode 7 with Gleb Kuznetsov from Fantasy. Gleb is currently in Switzerland, Zurich. He’s a design director at Fantasy, a big agency. It has offices on San Francisco and New York City.

Gleb is a very popular Dribbble member and shares a lot of work on the Fantasy team account. We thought it would be great to talk to him about what he’s doing. It was pretty enlightening and fun to hear about his upbringing in Moscow, joining the Fantasy team, and how they’re creating their own case studies for products and projects they want to do in order to attract clients that are in those fields.

I think it’s a brilliant approach. That goes along with what they’ve been sharing on Dribbble too, sharing experiments of their take on a specific idea or product. It was really fun to talk to Gleb about that stuff. Hope you enjoy this episode, and be sure to rate and/or review us on iTunes, and enjoy this episode with Gleb. Welcome to Overtime, Gleb Kuznetsov. Thanks for being her with us.

Gleb: Thank you very much for such a great opportunity and invitation. It’s a big pleasure to speak with you and I’m really happy to share my experiences with the Dribbble community.

Dan: We’re very excited to have you on. I know your work from Fantasy mostly, and the stuff that you’ve been sharing with us and the world has been incredible, some really great stuff. I’m happy to talk to you about just how you got there, how your process is, and get a bit of story behind some shots you’ve been sharing. Clearly, a lot of thought and talent has gone into those. I think it would be cool for the listeners to hear what makes Gleb tick.

Gleb: Thank you.

Dan: You’re current design director at Fantasy.

Gleb: Yeah, I work at Fantasy as design director, but actually I’m a freelance design director currently. I still live in my country and not in the U.S. I’m still in Switzerland, and I often travel to the Fantasy office to meet clients and stuff like that. But I am not yet inside the San Francisco office. It’s in the process.

Dan: They have two offices, San Francisco and New York City?

Gleb: Yeah.

Dan: You’re in Switzerland. Is that where you grew up?

Gleb: No, I am here just a couple of years. I grew up in Moscow and all my life I’ve worked in Russia. The last seven years I started traveling a lot around the world and started to work with different European companies and London companies. Actually, I started working in one big company in Moscow and then we opened the new offices around Europe. I lived in Moscow five years ago with that company. After living a couple of years in Riga, Latvia, and then I moved to Germany, I actually moved to Switzerland where I’ve lived the last couple of years.

Dan: You’ve been all over the place. That’s super cool. What’s it like being a young designer in Moscow? I can sort of picture it from an outsider’s perspective because we have a lot of Russian designers on Dribbble for instance. Especially in the early days, and there was a ton of super talented, very detailed pixel work was coming out of Russia specifically. I was wondering if that was a Dribbble-only thing. Can you tell us about the design scene in Moscow?

Gleb: The design community in Russia is actually pretty small, so I think it contains about 500 people, maybe up to 1,000, but not much more. It’s a pretty tiny community. Everybody knows each other and I can tell you it’s quite hard to grow up in that kind of community in Russia because the level of design and tech industry is not so high, like in Silicon Valley or any European country, because in Russia education and the project itself is not so well executed. It’s still on the start level. To be honest, the greatest Russian designers all work in the U.S. or Europe or the U.K. They actually polish their skills outside of Russia, I think most of them. It is how it is.

Dan: Why do you think that’s how it is in terms of getting out of Russia to polish their skills?

Gleb: I think it’s kind of good because in Russia first of all it’s a bit other world, and we have Cyrillic letters. We have other typographic styles. We have another mentality of people who use the product itself. They think about a project a bit different way rather than in Europe of the U.S. for example. And also, I think the amount of investment which goes into the tech and design industry is not so huge as in the U.S. or Europe. Because of this, the industry is not growing as fast as in the rest of the world.

Dan: The fact that as a designer you don’t want to just design for a Russian audience. You want to branch out to more the western world.

Gleb: For sure. In any country, which is not the first country in the industry, we try to look into the best world products which are not done in Russia but done in the U.S. and European countries, for example. And we are inspired by them, and everybody is dreaming to work in a company where you can grow much faster and polish your skills.

Dan: That makes sense. Do they teach advanced Photoshop to every Russian child? I’m thinking of Dribbble itself and the Russian contingent we have there. Again, the detail of pixel perfectness is incredible, and it seem consistent with that region. Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Take you for example, how did you get into design and creating stuff?

Gleb: I’m a really old-school computer geek. I started around 11 years old. I started to serious think about the computer. First it was in programming, so I built some programs for myself and my friends. Trying to hack everything I found on the internet or network which was available 15 years ago. It was not a popular thing in Russia, the internet. It didn’t exist yet. We used different cloud networks to connect different computers with each other, and trying to share some kind of experiences. It was a pretty fun time for me.

Dan: That’s outside of the worldwide web? Russia’s own internal –

Gleb: Yeah.

Dan: Cool.

Gleb: When the internet itself came, HTML came and started to grow pretty quickly. I started to doing websites myself, just sitting near the computer in my home. I really spent most of my time when I was a kid near the computer, and not going to the streets. I enjoyed the time. It was really cool for me, and I learned a lot of stuff. I made a decision to go to design based on my experience from an early age.

Dan: You’re self-taught then.

Gleb: 100%.

Dan: I was the same way, so we’re both old school in that way. That’s the great thing about the web. You can learn so much just being on there, viewing source and stuff, and teaching yourself that way. You’ve gone from Moscow, different places in Europe, and now you’re in Switzerland. How did you end up working with Fantasy?

Gleb: When I joined the Fantasy team it was a good time in my career. I already worked a lot as a freelance designer for various products around the world. I was a freelancer for different teams. I got the invitation to jump on the call with a Fantasy member, and when the call happened it really shocked me a bit because I never expected that kind of conversation. I was very professional and I think that I already chose some kind of professional goal in my career, and I didn’t expect anything more.

But the call was pretty amazing. The Fantasy told me about an incredible project they were doing, and they invited me to become a part of that project as a freelance designer. After a couple of months of work as a freelance designer, I jumped to the design director role on that project. I spent about six months in that role and finished the project. After that, I joined Fantasy and started doing other projects. That’s it.

Dan: That’s a good way in there. Fantasy, I’ve known about them for a long time. They’ve been around for a long time, through different trends of web design, from Flash and beyond, and now doing incredible stuff, interactive stuff, mobile things and all that. If you just look at their website which is really impressive, and really nicely done, you’ve got clients like Microsoft, Xbox, Google, Sports Illustrated, Adobe, and Viagra, and Nickelodeon, which I guess on an Emmy for best web – I didn’t know they had Emmys for apps, which is amazing: Emmy Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in User Experience and Visual Design. I had no idea.

The amount of work that comes out of Fantasy is pretty enormous. Really impressive, and one of the things I wanted to talk to you about is I love this – on the website, the first section of the site is called “What If” and it’s like before you see any client work at all, a few separate projects that are like what if Fantasy designed a shopping experience, or what if Fantasy designed an airline, or if Fantasy designed healthcare.

It sort of is like a mini case study of what you guys would do as a team if you were to take on this problem. It’s almost like a case study for not a client but maybe a project that you would want to do. You’re sort of showcasing stuff that interests you as a team. I wonder if you could speak to that at all, like obviously it’s a conscious thing on fantasies and to lead with that. But I wonder has it helped attract the clients you want to work with, or is it more like just practice for the team?

Gleb: That’s a good question. Fantasy did a lot of what if projects before I joined. I really love Fantasy philosophy for that kind of thinking because what Fantasy tries to achieve with the client is not typical product design strategy or user experience design. It’s more trying to build some product or some design which doesn’t exist yet.

We try to dream with the team and try to imagine how can it be done, for example, any project, or how can it be done a travel experience in that world. We really love to work on what if with the team because then we are trying to show the product world to people who actually build the products, what can be done with just design thinking.

What we’re trying to show is that we think not inside the box. For example, many different product companies, they are very closed, inside the company and they really think from the box. Because of the past experience, because a lot of people surround them and they just can’t start exploring something really fresh or really new, or they already think it can’t be done this way because our experience show it works on that way. What if is a great opportunity for the team and Fantasy to show what if. What if you go out from the box?

Dan: I think it’s a brilliant way to show how the team thinks outside the box, as you said, and getting a fresh take on a product that’s been around for a while but maybe needs some new thinking based on what’s going on technology wise. I think it’s really smart.

I assume it’s been successful in terms of attracting some clients around those areas, and it reminds me of some advice I would hear from different folks. I don’t remember who exactly, but remember hearing it multiple times. Make your portfolio not just filled with stuff you’ve done for clients but also stuff you want to do more of. Because then you’ll attract the clients that resonates with. I think that’s sort of a similar thing going on with you guys at Fantasy.

Gleb: Definitely. This is definitely what we’re trying to do. Fantasy has been in the market a long time and we really have a lot of different clients from many industries, but we understand as a team, as people who are inside the team that we want more. We don’t want more clients as in the number of clients. We want to go forward with design future and because of this we’re trying to create something we want to do with our clients, and show them this is possible, and we can work together on it.

Dan: That’s brilliant. I think it’s a wonderful example of don’t wait for the client to come to you to expand your knowledge of design and technology. Build something yourself to prove that you can do it, and that’s going to attract the clients. I think it’s great.

It’s really nicely presented on the site. That goes to Dribbble too. You guys have shared a lot of that same thinking. Taking some things and saying here’s how we would tackle this. Is that fair to say on the way you’re using Dribbble, is partially to share those experiments as well?

Gleb: For sure. We share a lot of things on Dribbble and almost as a just like this is what we do on a casual day. We show some process. We have some exploration which doesn’t go to the client as a final delivery or final product, but is kind of part of our experience that we want to share with people because we feel it’s pretty cool. And sometimes just thinking if you have some free couple of hours in a day we can think with our team. Let’s dream about what if we controlled Tesla in a much better way than now? Make a sketch and design and that’s it.

Dan: You mentioned the Tesla which I think is your latest shot, the “Tesla flow iOS” concept.Maybe you can’t say, but are you working with Tesla or is that just another one of those experiments like this is how we would envision controlling the car from your phone? Gleb: We don’t work with Tesla yet, so it’s not a big secret. It was my experiment. I saw a lot of different similar experiments in Dribbble and Pinterest and around the internet. I think about that a lot because the cars become more smart and the future of the car is already pretty clear and understandable. I think about the experience itself, and I just try to show how it’s possible. But it’s not something we are doing right now for that company or any other, but it’s an experiment.

Dan: It’s another one of those extra-curricular activity kind of things. Is that built into the process at Fantasy? Is there time carved out for experimentation specifically or is it something you do between projects?

Gleb: It’s something we do between projects. Sometimes we have similar clients, not exactly with this industry, but the client is pretty similar in thinking. We want to show to the client not our project for them, but the possibility we can do, for example, with the objects inside design, or how we can handle the motion inside the product in other ways, not like everybody else does. How it can look at feel, and it’s always great to have some cool stuff in the pocket that doesn’t exist yet.

Dan: Absolutely. You mentioned motion which is a big part of a lot of your shots and work you do. It’s super impressive. We have a couple shots we want to talk to you about in terms of getting more of the story and process behind creating the shot.

The first one is this “Drop motion for AI product design”. It’s an animated GIF. It looks like a drop of water falling into the movie Tron or something. It’s awesome. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s hard to describe it without seeing it. We’ll have the links in the show notes.

This is a super popular shot, like most of your shots are. This is like 600 likes and 14,000 views. Tell us about this one. Was this one of those things that maybe was for a client but wasn’t used, or something completely experimental? What did you use to create this?

Gleb: This is the client work. This is a real product work, so it’s not something we made as a crazy team experiment. This is a real deal. We have approval to share the exploration process with the real deal, and I was so happy. Normally we don’t have that approval, so we never show the real deal.

This is a pretty interesting project. Before I started to work on that project I was so excited. It was like a project of my life before I started. It was interesting because the project is all about artificial intelligence, machine learning, how machine learning and artificial intelligence goes into the casual life, families, and how the people are starting to collaborate with it. It’s a huge and interesting project.

That animation was done for interaction or something like that. The drops go into the center and we tried to explore how the can be a circle in one way and in the second way it’s a very boring circle or simple circle. In that product, the circle is exactly the main shape of the artificial intelligence.

Our work as a visual design team, we tried to explore different variations of the motion of the circle, design of the circle. What the shape can contain, how it can change the shape when the circle becomes smart, for example, or when the circles reacts to the people around. Like it wants to tell you something, and stuff like that, so it’s a pretty interesting project. In this animation, we used Cinema4D plus After Effects plus a couple of plug-ins, Magic Bullet and stuff like particulars. There are lot of things we used to achieve that kind of effects.

Dan: Those are plug-ins for After Effects?

Gleb: Yeah. That’s plug-ins for After Effects. Some of them, for example particulars is used for Cinema4D. Some plugs-ins are already for Cinema and for After Effects.

Dan: I’ve been looking at it the whole time and I can’t stop looking at it. It’s very mesmerizing. The animation is so fluid and natural. That’s what is interesting to me. It’s like organic looking but yet futuristic looking at the same time.

Gleb: That was the goal. When we worked on that project for something really new for us, and something really interesting coming into that world, we really focused to make it very organic and natural. Another way people didn’t like it or they don’t collaborate with that product as we wanted, and stuff like that. We really were inspired by natural, and really wanted to achieve that goal to be a very natural animation, and natural feeling in each part of the product.

Dan: Making it more natural feeling would help engagement with it.

Gleb: I think so, for sure.

Dan: That’s a really good strategy. It’s so cool. It’s fun to watch it. I want to go to another shot. This is another one that has motion in it, but different and maybe more specific in terms of interface. This is the “Electric vehicle engine experimental for Fantasy”. This is back in October so pretty recent.

It looks to me like a dashboard concept for a car from the year 3,000 or something, but it’s probably like next year’s model or something. My Subaru doesn’t look like this. Tell us about this one. There’s a lot going on here that we could talk about, but the motion is pretty amazing.

Even the way you’re presenting it is interesting. I think that might – again, these are super popular shots on Dribbble and the way you’re presenting it is artistic as well. It’s not just a flat version of what’s on the screen. It’s sort of like I’m looking at it as I would in the driver’s seat. Maybe that was intentional. Tell us about this one. Is this an experiment one or a client one?

Gleb: This is purely an experiment, not a client. At some point in my life, like five or six years ago, I understood I really am impressed with different car concepts, and really love that industry. I’m not just a big fan of the industry. I already have had the experience to work in the automotive industry, and to build some kind of dashboard design before.

But I’m really passionate about the cars and what will be in the future inside the cars. I had an evening, and sat at the computer in the office in San Francisco. I planned the dashboard as I feel it can be cool, unique or something, something never built before. And I just made it in Photoshop, fast sketch with different details.

The next day I showed it to David who is the COO of Fantasy. And he really loved it and it was like a surprise for me. He said let’s do motion. Let’s do something. This is amazing. We can reach some client in this industry, and if the team would love to work on that kind of project, we would love to bring that project in.

We just made the motion with After Effects. I don’t think we used Cinema4D here. We did it pretty fast in a day or so. It was not hard work. I already had that kind of idea on how to animate shape before, so I have a lot of ideas. I just sometimes don’t use them, and when the time comes I understand let’s use that super special idea here.

It was pretty cool. We really got some interesting conversation out of it the industry after that shot and after one article we posted in the Fantasy medium. I hope soon I really hope I can work very closely with a big automotive company, and can bring something to the future of automotive design. I really am passionate about that.

Dan: That’s super awesome. That’s really cool this was another example of creating something you’re interested in, and your sort of take on it. Then seeing the reaction from it. I would love to see this in my next car, by the way.

Gleb: It’s really cool. It’s not something we can tell it’s something we really want to build, exactly that this UI is more about possibility to see a bit out of the box of casual dashboard, and things like this. It’s already become a bit boring, for example, if you buy a new car – any car, you always get inside the car. Normally it’s amazing interior in the new car, and it’s really nice, but when you turn on the car I get always the feeling – I can’t explain it, but it’s some kind of oh, guys, you can do it better. That feeling has always helped me to be like okay, if they can’t, I’ll try my hand at it.

Dan: That’s the curse of the designer is seeing how everything can be improved. Lucky for us you’re sharing that, which is super cool. Throughout all these shots of your work, in terms of process, is there an analog component to this or is it all digital from the start? How does the flow go for something like this?

Gleb: Actually, it’s different ways. It depends on what the task is and what the goal of the thing is, what I want to do. Mostly it’s pure digital except one small step. I used a notepad with my pen, to just write things, what I need to keep in mind before I start working on something. I’m trying to come up with some kind of plan to just not lose my mind in the process. That helps me a lot.

Sometimes I do a Sketch but I actually work not as a hand designer, but like a paintist. I normally work with a mouse and use some kind of instruments like Balsamiq which is a simple prototype tool before I got into Photoshop. So I use a lot of simple things for prototyping. After that I got into Photoshop and after I’m done with visual design I open it in After Effects and create it from Stretch in After Effects, then I get the motion and try to finalize the concept or product with execution like mockups or presentation or whatever it can be.

Dan: So Photoshop is your tool of choice for creating most of the graphics initially.

Gleb: Yeah, I also started using Sketch last year. But I’m not a big fan. I’m still using Photoshop because Sketch doesn’t yet have such great effects, like Photoshop already has. But I use both tools because sometimes in Sketch it’s much faster and better to achieve the user experience goal, or to change for example in 10 screens one button. To make it much faster.

Dan: They each have their pros and cons there. I’m curious. I use Photoshop too. I just have forever, and that’s why I use it.

Gleb: I grew up with Photoshop.

Dan: Part of it is muscle memory, but do you use vectors in Photoshop or is it all rasterized?

Gleb: Yeah, a lot vectors so for example the Fantasy team has a lot of different kind of designers. For example, someone from our team is pure Illustrator, and he uses only vectors. That means that I should use it also. I use Illustrator as a secondary tool in Photoshop and I try to contain smart objects inside Photoshop with vector files. We always have different sizes and need to collaborate with resolutions.

Dan: It’s funny the vector tools in Photoshop are decent. I think some people don’t realize that and dive right into Illustrator, which is obviously made for vector. That’s good to hear. Maybe I’m not doing things the wrong way. I think if you’re using Photoshop vectors then you’ve made my day.

Gleb, thanks so much for being on the show today. Thank you for being on the show and taking the time to share some of your work with us, and what’s next for you at Fantasy or elsewhere?

Gleb: I hope I will be in San Francisco pretty soon, and incredible projects. We always hire new people, so we grow pretty fast. I think the future will be very exciting for us. Thank you very much for inviting me, and it is such a big pleasure for me to speak with you.

Dan: Thanks a lot, Gleb. You mentioned Fantasy is hiring. That’s very much the truth. They’re often advertising on Dribbble. Right now, there’s a lead product designer in San Francisco, experience director in New York City, and design director in New York. Definitely if you’re on the lookout for working at an awesome agency, definitely check those out.

Thanks again, Gleb, and we’ll be watching your Dribbble account to see what other things you’ve been cooking up. Thanks again for being on here.

Gleb: That’s very much, Dan.

Dan: Take care.

Gleb: Take care.

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