Roman Belyakov: “Understand something and get a little bit happier”

The importance of inner dialog, the non-importance of commissioned work, the strength-sucking design, and the person-centric design in the words of our Instagram host this March

August 26, 2021

Roma, please, can you briefly describe your professional journey?

I’ve been in design for eight years, and only in the last 18 months of those I’ve been doing something normal and serious. I liked drawing since I was a kid, but after high school I got enrolled at Moscow State Linguistic University, Department of Advertisement and Public Relations. If I decided to work according to my degree, I would now be doing all sorts of electoral campaigns. However, I ended up in an advertising agency, Most Creative Club, very cool and nice, where I worked for three years. The guys were great. Misha Gerasimov taught me to come up with ideas, thanks to him I learned how to combine separate ideas into meanings. Danya Filin, one of the founders, and Solomon Shlosman are currently doing an educational project called Most Creative Camp — learning creativity to all sorts of big guys. At the same time, I enjoyed doing something visual, I started using Photoshop while in high school and learned how to do things there. I took on certain unserious freelance works, but it was absolutely non-systemic. At a certain point I realised that a career in advertising was not for me: design inspires me, while advertising does not. And I embarked on my own journey. I completed two levels at the design school of Gorbunov Bureau. It was not really about design, but I was taught everything else: how to work with customers, how to run projects… I began working for myself. Most of my first commissions happened because of the guys from Most — Zhenya Ivanova, Yulya Perfilova, Radik Rakhimov, — because at first I created something for them, but gradually other clients appeared. Then we started working together with Artem Matyushkin, who has already run’s Insta, too. We studied at the same university, and this friendship evolved into working together. I really grew as a designer thanks to Artem. At first it was rare joint effort projects, and then a couple of years ago he said to me ‘let’s launch a studio’, — and he started Non-Objective which I am a part of, too.

So, today you are an independent designer whom one can approach directly and at the same time a member of the studio together with Artem?

Yes, that is exactly the case. Plus, if I am approached as an independent professional, I can even suggest doing that through Non-Objective — and we work on it together with Artem, Liza, and other guys. I can hand it over to some of the guys I know — and that’s how it travels from one to another. While there are some things that I do separately, because I understand that this or that project is right for me.

What is a nice project for you? What project would that be?

Well, projects can be nice in different ways. There are projects where I can create something interesting and inspiring aesthetically. There are projects involving great people whom I simply want to help become better from a visual perspective. There are also unsophisticated projects for which they pay a lot of money. The latter won’t make me express myself as a designer — I will create something solid, though not remarkable, perhaps, but it will be a decent, nicely made project, and it will bring me money.

Identity for Russian Federation for Creative Industries. Designed at Non-Objective, set in Loos

Identity for Zerno & List cafe. Designed at Non-Objective, set in Nekst and Gramatika

Could you name a couple of recent projects that you are happy with?

I quickly grow unfond of my work: I already don’t like what I was doing a month ago. And that is not being disappointed but rather a certain growing cool towards it. For example, the Glagol creative writing school is one of my most important and key projects. The design generated Zhenya Ivanova a whole bunch of applications for the first intake of students. Of course, it was important that she brought together a great programme, but it turned out very good in terms of design. That said, I already lost interest in it. And that happens all the time: a project comes, I get eager to do it, I do it. And I like what I did, but when I breathe out, I don’t really care about this project anymore — it happened, let’s move on.

Identity and website for the Glagol creative writing school. Designed at Non-Objective, set in Suisse Int’l и More Pro

And what kind of projects do you hand over to your friends? Are there certain things in conventional graphic design that you don’t feel yours, that you don’t own?

The key criteria, probably, is a scale of work. I am not interested in small things anymore. For example, I am approached with a proposal like ‘We need you to draw pictures for Insta in line with our corporate identity’. That is small-scale, not very interesting and rather technical work — and I hand it over. I like working on higher-level concepts, and when it comes to introducing it to smaller media — I will more likely engage someone else. I will come up with a concept for a website, and let someone else draw its mobile versions.

Can you imagine your dream project? A project for what client would you like to do?

I don’t think of my work in these terms. Actually, commissions are not as important as people often believe they are. I mean, I am trying to perform all of them as well as I can, but it is still something very applied — a certain pleasant way to make money. And in this sense I like all the projects, I couldn’t describe a dream project. I just enjoy when people respond, relate to something. I actually do not have this ambition of becoming the greatest designer and the biggest art director. I want to use design to help people get back to themselves, for them to learn something new about themselves, understand something and get even a little bit happier. It is often easier to achieve this through my own creative projects rather than through commercial design.

Do you currently have such personal projects?

Today it’s any communication through design. For instance, I recently gave a talk as part of the course on creative thinking. I was telling what I thought, what I saw and how I lived. That was an interesting experience of interaction and exposure: listeners said that I managed to tell about creative work in the modern world honestly and without cynicism. Also, I taught and consulted — just wrote in my Instagram stories that I was willing to be an art director for an hour for free, and helped those who reacted.’s Instagram became a tool for scratching people off, too, helping them take a look at themselves. I was writing about something personal, but people started thinking about themselves.

You began asking us questions about Instagram long before your month started. What ideas did you come up with back then?

My month with turned out to be a follow-up on my own Instagram. I started running it the way it is now approximately in December 2019. At some point people began asking me why I didn’t take part in’s. And I had these thoughts myself from time to time, that maybe I was right for this job. But I thought I wasn’t ready: if you draw pictures for yourself when you feel like it — though, I come up with those nearly every day — that is yet still a different level of responsibility. But when in December your Instagram was taken by Holystick, I came up with the very concept of what I wanted to tell about. That was a certain accumulative effect, that accumulated to the proper extent by December 2020, and so I contacted you. I had a clear idea, and I decided that it was time.

I cannot: draw illustrations, icons, pretty letters, animate in ae, prototype in figma, i can do nothing in sketch, make 3d in cinema 4d, 3dmax or blender, build multipage layouts in id, do business in notion, mondaydotcom or even ios calendar, or follow any plans at all, make longterm plans, make myself work, put nothing off till tomorrow, put nothing off till day after tomorrow, preassume workload, assume previous experience, plan my finances, save up for future, demand lots of money, reject projects when everything inside me says reject but my traumatic mind searches for false reasons, get things done, not blame myself for it all, live with a belief everything bears a greater meaning as if it really was important or meaningful. All I can do is — point my finger into this void in the middle of my chest, reach inside it up to my elbows my throat top of my head. And draw these strange images which you wouldn’t understand since there is nothing to understand. I also cannot spend a lot of time making these images. I would rewrite the copy, delete a lot, add a lot, but I don’t want it anymore. It’s done. That is not me.

And what feelings did you have after this month?

Positive ones. Frankly, I don’t remember what expectations I had. When you’re going through this, it feels very differently, which is why, perhaps, I might now have certain distorted memories. But the most vivid memory is that sometimes the response of the audience is highly different from what you meant and what you see yourself. The key fear was that I simply wouldn’t be understood, with my approach, my way of narrating. I was often told that my month was funny, although I had no intention whatsoever to make it funny. At first it upset me: yes, there are some jokes, but there is also very serious stuff, while the audience focuses, for some reason, on the outright funny things. Then I realised that it was OK. I got used to this tone of mine, therefore I don’t really notice it. I might joke about something, but it’s just the way of telling about something important. I agree that sometimes there were pure shticks and jokes, but I was trying to keep the balance between fun and serious. But because it was very spontaneous, born at the spur of the moment, I observed these proportions by feel — now we’re laughing, the next moment we’re crying, — it was not precisely executed in equal shares, and the audience got the impression that I focused on humour. It was probably that they wanted to pay more attention to funny things themselves, and didn’t want to concentrate on something sad.

But there were also lots of comments saying this was a great month on, with no focus on irony and joking. You very accurately identified the need for storytelling in the audience — for typography not to be reduced to abstract beauty, but to carry a message, bringing in new meanings and making people reflect on something.

Thank you. That means I did it. I often speak about this lately: any tool — whether it’s words, music, or graphics — is a language we speak and use for telling stories. The same is happening in design, even commercial design. We are telling some stories either about a brand, or about a person with his projects. It is better to speak about something meaningful, rather than juggling words — meaning creating beautiful, but empty images. Yes, it could be fun sometimes, but afterwards you’re left with the feeling of emptiness. I have on my own Instagram plenty of just beautiful, but empty images, and they suck out my strength when I release those. Therefore it is important to speak about something valuable.

Are there certain posts that you cherish the most? What could you highlight in this month?

The story I relate the most is The Poetry of Random with Elya Akatieva, when each day, up until 27 March, we gathered scraps of random conversations and then brought them together into one comprehensive story, without ruining the order. People didn’t really like it, I don’t know why. But this image is close to me in terms of mood and state, and it is good aesthetically as well.

You broke all our records by your image ‘I’m not much of a designer’.

Let me tell you its story. I honestly shared the fact that I took it from my Instagram. It happened in the autumn, I was at home, getting to bed at around 4 a.m., standing and washing my face, when I suddenly got the idea of this text. I really wanted to sleep, but decided that I still should do it no matter what, I will make it (sometimes I tend to have this designer’s neurosis). While putting it together, I thought it would collect no more than 50 likes. I tossed it and went to bed — then I woke up and it had loads of likes. For me it was the most unexpected thing, that people liked it so much. I don’t understand why. That is not the text I relate the most to — there are way more deeper texts that I posted. But I thought that if people related to it so much, it would be interesting to try here. Plus, I didn’t have to rack my brain when there is already a ready picture: change the fonts and post it. To my great surprise, people responded to it, again.

I’m not much of a designer, I’m a mediocre one. But that means nothing could stop me from doing this. Or even this. No-one would think ‘Whatever happened to the guy?’. They would rather look at me with a hint of ‘Well, he has his hits and misses, this is the latter’ in their eye. And I’m perfectly okay with that. They would be right: that’s the way I am. I can do amiss and I can do alright. I can do whatever. That is why I am free. Free from expectations, limits, importance. I might become a good designer someday. Meanwhile, meanwhile, it’s blue top, grey bottom. (Like a wall outside with the dirt below, and I’m tagging it, like a street artist. Dope, huh? Not so much, I know.) So, if you’re someplace inbetween, then- (you know what, I could do without a conclusion). today will be a good day.

That is an inner dialogue that is inside anyone who does anything visual, and that you brought outside.

That was, probably, exactly what my month was about: to find something which is important to everyone and bring it to the surface. When you bring it to the surface, it becomes not so scary. When you spell something out and everyone says ‘That’s what I think, too’, ‘Same here’, ‘Me, too’ — then this ‘I’ turns into ‘we’, and it already gets easier. This was a month about releasing my internal worries and preoccupations, which are in fact not mine, but ours.

Did you happen to go through some revelations or disappointments when it comes to fonts in our collection?

At first it was quite difficult working with typefaces I never touched before. I wasn’t familiar with any of them except Stratos, Spectral, and Druk. That is, I knew them visually, but never used them in practice. It wasn’t easy, but cool things revealed themselves in the process, and it became interesting. I realised how important it was to know how to use a font. The beauty of a typeface is only half the job, the second half of the job of a designer is how to apply it. Simply taking a super-popular, intentionally beautiful font — anyone can do that. While to make something more delicate and smart, you have to try harder. And that is actually the job of a graphic designer — to create a greate stuff, completing what a type designer started.

Do you follow font releases, novelties, platforms?

I am subscribed to a ton of accounts on Instagram, and that is my only source of information. I don’t go and search intentionally. Everything happens by chance: I saw something, something popped up, someone sent me something — that’s how I get to know things. I’m not really into names.

Do you have a font that you try first when a new project arrives?

If we talk about some personal works, I have a typeface of the month of the period. Currently, I often deploy Basis, Suisse Int’l, or Editorial New. As for commissions, it depends on the project. I have a certain list of fonts in my mind, where I go first: for example, I need something strict, and I look at the strict fonts that come to mind. Then I check my list of type foundries, including visiting

Perhaps you would like to say something important to our audience at the end of this interview.

Anything I say in this interview is relevant only for the moment when I’m saying this. There must have been certain very questionable statements here. And I would probably have answered some questions in a completely different way. Simply because that is an erratic flow, which I haven’t articulated earlier, and my vision can very well change soon.

That is rather a disclaimer than a concluding phrase…

Then let it be so: if you are experiencing something, experience it, and the rest will follow. For me, everything is about a person. For me, design is an addition, a secondary appendix to a person, to what they are doing in this world.


Roman Belyakov


Mentioned fonts