Learn, Think, Create: An Interview with Web Designer Zhenya Rynzhuk
Zhenya Rynzhuk is a web and product designer, an art director, and a co-founder of the Sochnik Design Thinking School. She’s passionate about digital design, as well as branding, typography, and animation. Her work spans many disciplines—but she succinctly sums up what she does as “solving problems with design.”
Create: What are your thoughts on balancing function—that is, making something that’s effective—with form, with making something that’s beautiful? Do you find that difficult?
Rynzhuk: It’s often really hard. For me, I think it’s important to involve the clients from the very start, so we are on the same page and working together to create something that’s both effective and attractive. It’s not easy, but I suppose that’s what makes it an interesting challenge.
Create: How do you approach the research element of your work? Do you work with a strategist or analyst, or do you do that part yourself?
Rynzhuk: It really depends—on the project, on the client, and so on. If it’s a large company, they’ll often have an internal research team. But if it’s a startup, for example, they may not have those resources. So I’m helping them to understand their competitors and their target audience. I enjoy this kind of research because it lets me go deeply into the product and learn something new. I have to find the problem and think about how to solve it. This stage is really important for me.
Create: How did you come to this field?
Rynzhuk: I studied architecture at university, and I worked in that field for some time. Then I decided I wanted to learn something new, and I was interested in digital design…. I had some basic knowledge about composition and color and so on, so then I began learning about guidelines and reading books about the field. I think my architecture background is helpful; it’s a similar discipline, in that you have to be thinking about your users and different scenarios they will be in. When you’re creating a building, you have to be thinking about how people will use it. It’s the same with a digital product.
Create: Yes, it seems like a very similar discipline in that you have think about function as well as form, and as you say it can be very difficult to strike that balance.
Rynzhuk: Yes, that’s right.
Create: So as far as digital design, you’re mostly self-taught then—is that right?
Create: That’s a position a lot of designers are finding themselves in nowadays—more and more designers across the spectrum of disciplines are being asked to think about web design in their work. What advice to you have for those designers, or for someone wanting to make a start in the industry?
Rynzhuk: I suppose my advice is to start with the basics. I have a philosophy: Learn, think, and then create. New students, for example, often want to start with creating—and that’s a mistake. You have to learn first, and then you have to think a lot about what you learned. And then you create something.
Another common mistake is skipping the discovery stage. I see some designers creating products really just for themselves—they’re creating nice images and interesting animations, but they’re not thinking about users. You can’t be creating something just to please yourself. You have to think about your audience, you have to be empathetic. For example, if you’re creating something for athletes, you have to understand everything about their sport. You have to think about the concept before you think about the implementation. I think not doing that is a huge mistake on the part of some designers.
Create: What is your primary research method? Is it more data analysis or more first-person interviews, or something else?
Rynzhuk: For sure I’m researching competitors, analyzing them. And I think interviews with the target audience are great as a first stage—and also after the first prototype is ready. I just try to collect a lot of information. And it really depends on the product and its audience.
Create: What’s your workflow like?
Rynzhuk: As I mentioned, the discovery stage is always first—learning about the product, the audience, the problem I have to solve, and the goals of the client. Then I collect references—I start creating mood boards so I can discuss visuals with the client and share ideas even before I start to create mockups and wireframes and so on.
If it’s a large project, not just a landing page, I usually then move on to the UX side of things. And then once the structure is done, I focus on creating the skin, or the UI part.
At this point, I am also usually talking to developers, because it’s very important to discuss all the features you want to have, to make sure that what you want to do is going to be possible. Sometimes you have to simplify.
My final stage is preparing all the files for development, and also creating some animations for clients and for developers, just to visually show my concepts. And then it’s working with the developers to finish the project, and if it’s not just something like a promotional website for one event, there will probably be some tests—and then everything starts again from the first stage.
Create: What are you excited about in your field these days?
Rynzhuk: I think what’s exciting is all the new technologies that are being developed. Things change so quickly, and that’s part of the reason I like it so much. Yesterday we were using simple animations; today we’re using 3D motion graphics. We can create something new every day.
Create: Tell us about the UI kit you designed for Adobe XD.
Rynzhuk: I designed this kit with elements that can be used to create editorial or commerce websites—fashion sites, as well as designer marketplace apps and sites. There are a lot of different elements in the kit that can be used and customized: different homepage styles, product grid, product pages, blog and editorial pages, and so on. The best way to use the kit is not just to put new photos into it but rather to play with it and mix different parts of the kit to create something new, fresh, and interesting.
I did a photo shoot especially for this kit, and that was a really cool experience. The photos are like mood boards for people who will use the kit…. I hope it will be a kind of inspiration for people who will use it.