Iryna Bykova: “In design, it is not necessary to be super-popular”

How to convince a customer to purchase a font, why the boom of the Cyrillic typefaces influenced the entire design, and how your life changes after a month on our Instagram — explains its February resident

August 12, 2021

Ira, please tell us about yourself.

I have had a head for drawing since I was a kid. Unless you count children’s lessons and a drawing school, I am self-educated. My first job had to do with design, although I obtained a higher education degree in International Economic Relations. When I was enrolling at the school, everyone believed it to be a promising profession, but when I graduated, the crisis started, and I couldn’t find a job. I had a little knowledge of how to retouch using Photoshop, and I was given a trial at one Lviv-based outdoor advertising agency. I had to do various kinds of signs, technically complex constructs. That was hard. I worked there for two months, waited until my pay, and left to my future husband in Kyiv.

You are originally from Lviv, yet living in Kyiv, right?

Yes, I moved in 2011. I was still hoping to find a job that would be closer to my field. My English was good, so I worked as a translator for some time, but then began looking for a designer job and got a job at a TV channel where one of my friends worked. I was immediately given an assignment — to create a theme bumper for a TV show, while I knew nothing about animation. I came home, downloaded After Effects and found video courses at I did this and did that, and it actually turned out to be pretty OK. At that moment, I realised something about the occupation of a designer: previously it seemed to me that you have to be greatly talented to become a designer, that a designer is something like an artist — you look and immediately understand that you see a masterpiece. But then I realised that a designer is somewhere in between — they have to understand what is needed, and to know where they need to look to take what is necessary. Design is rather about solving tasks than about artistic creative activities. About 18 months later, I left for a development company that built modular homes — although prefab was not as popular at the time as it is now. I came there as a regular designer, worked for five years and became a head designer. I did a project for them again recently. They created an innovative capsule house that runs on solar energy and is suitable for autonomous existence. I hope that it will soon end up in Antarctica and will be used by the Ukrainian Antarctic Station, the Vernadsky Research Base.

Sola capsule house, concept

Now you have your own studio.

Yes, but before launching it I also worked as a head of design in an agency for a year. There was lots of clients, and my work was getting recognition, was appreciated: when one client says ‘that’s a great work’, another one says ‘that’s a great work’, and the third one is saying the same thing, you start to think that maybe you’re all right — your impostor syndrome backs down. I mostly did identities and also helped younger designers figure out what was good and what was bad. I was some sort of adviser. That is actually the most important thing in the designer’s job — know how to distinguish between good and bad and simply do not let this “bad” go further. Later, in the middle of lockdown, I started my own studio. I wanted to work on my terms — choosing myself with whom and on what. That is not difficult. If you like someone, you just approach them with your proposal — showing a client what they can have instead of what they are having now, highlighting problems and weaknesses and explaining how those can be fixed (by you).

And does it work?

It actually does — take even the story with At a certain point, I had a lot of work, but most of it was covered by NDA, so I couldn’t post anything. I had a feeling that my work stayed off the grid, while I wanted to find a way to demonstrate what I was capable of — for example, on Instagram. I contacted Yura and Ilya, telling them that I would be happy to run’s account, and they answered ‘we’d be glad to have you, you may take February’. And that was an extremely difficult month, but it gave me so much.

5 4 Andriyivsky City Space identity. Based on Archaism

How do you normally handle type?

I got this intuitive idea that an identity had to be about type. I am always trying to bring a type identity to a branding. I mean, after all, that’s stupid — creating a logotype separately from typesetting. It is important to understand how everything looks together. Choosing typefaces became my personal hobby. I simply came to MyFonts, wrote what I needed, a certain word, looking for something that would answer and correspond to the unique feature of a brand that I am making up. Because a client won’t go to a foundry to find a typeface themselves. It is difficult to just try it on your business. ‘Letters are letters, they’re all the same’. What a client wants is to sell things, while my job is to sell beautifully. I like when a typeface in a logo is relevant to the industry for which the logo is being created. Sometimes that happens even accidentally. I was creating an identity for the hotel complex called Aparted and applied the Druk font. It turned out that it worked great with the building’s architecture — while I didn’t even see the renders. A bit magic, but still. Another client came with a logo set in a geometric sans serif font and said that they weren’t willing to change their font, but wanted to make their website and their style more modern. We slightly added the colour, and replaced the typeface. The brand was transformed! That customer still writes to me ‘How great that you came up with that. We didn’t know one could do that’. They had no idea that type had any relevance.

7 6 Apartel hotel identity. Set in Druk

How do you convince clients to choose a font and pay for it?

I simply demonstrate them. Clients can have no idea about design details, but they are always capable of telling good from bad. Because everything is clear, particularly if compared. Even if you show the best option, it can happen that they won’t appreciate it. But if you take two options, this font and a Google font, it would be immediately clear. They can have no understanding of what is exactly different, but they would certainly pick the more quality option.

Do you mostly work for Ukrainian clients?

Today 70% of my customers are clients from (Western — translator’s note) Europe. For example, I am currently working with a London-based neobank, while a month ago I was doing things for an Israeli AI-based startup company. I am active in commercial branding, and I normally deal with large businesses. Though, following a month on’s Insta I started to be approached by people doing small projects, and those are more loyal to experimenting, by the way.

And what does it have to do with the month you spent on our Instagram?

My most popular image on was the Brunch All Day cafe. Many new customers approached me thanks to that picture. And we speak the same language with them.

You work a lot with’s fonts. Could you please share with us how it felt working with those, whether you have any favourite typefaces?

I like Halvar. It is quite conventional, but still fresh. Do you remember the once popular DIN Display? I hate it, while Halvar has everything that this font lacks: it is modern, very classy, and intellectual, I would say. I enjoy Navigo very much. It is well balanced, but with its own strong personality. I adore fonts like that. But my 100% favourite on is Nekst. It is just gorgeous. I try to apply it everywhere. It is good for both headlines and small sizes. I was even approached by its author, Denis Serebryakov, telling me that he liked my work — an headphones’ mockup. He thought they were real and wanted to upload them on his Fonts In Use.

How did you come up with the concept for that month on our Instagram?

Since my specialization area is identities, we agreed that I would be showing the possibilities of commercial branding during the whole month, and it is slightly different as compared to graphics. During this entire month, I was making up brands that I like. I was willing to show that modern branding should be simple, yet capable.

How did you come up with these posts?

I quickly ran out of previously prepared ideas, and woke up at 6 am every day, before work. That was like sports: you have 3-4 hours to come up with a brand, give it the meaning and bring the idea to life. I opened Unsplash and flipped through images until it clicked in my mind and I came up with a name that looked great next to the chosen picture.

What works did you like the most? Were there any posts that, you feel, were underappreciated by the audience?

Back then I felt that all of them had been underappreciated. I mean, I tried so hard to be heard and understood, to be ironic, to go after the meaning. Some posts received lots of reactions, but, in my view, those were easy works, without considerable message, or semantic charge, while posts where I inserted stories and ideas that were important to me, could have gone unnoticed. I got upset, overreacting, but this month has taught me how little important it was. It is important to keep it cool, stick to your own way and do not compare at all. At first my works were liked pretty well, but my first posts — buynomore and headphones — I prepared those earlier, as far back as in early January. Then I went through the success of Brunch All Day cafe.

What to do next? The next day came. And suddenly I realised that people did not like my new posts. That was horrible. But, probably, one needs to go through this. I realised that people prefer mass and clear products, but I can’t always try to please them and only create what they like to see. By the middle of the month, I guess, I decided that this was a project about myself — about things that I like and enjoy, and not about the things the audience expects and waits for. And it seems to me that in the second half of the month I started doing more creative stuff, coming up with my best ideas. For example, the chairs in the cinema, LookListen. I used Normalidad there, also very cool. I got lots of positive feedback on Morozko. This is one of those cases when the entire brand with its name and packaging corresponds to its main function. It is about simplicity and functionality. I very much liked ‘The spring will come and fix everything’. And the second-hand clothes store “of the 3d wave”, too.

The hardest thing is that each time you hesitate whether or not to post an image. You have to — because that’s how the terms are, but each time you have to struggle with yourself. I always believed that writing a post on your Instagram is an important decision. What will people think of me? But I did it for so many times, that I got rid of that feeling. And in that sense this experience was definitely helpful. You’re just a designer who revolves around their own universe. You think of yourself as a big shot. But in reality you have just posted an image — and that’s it. Some people have related to it, good. If not, also ok.

Are you keeping in contact with other Ukrainian designers? Which studios do you follow? What is happening on your market?

Everything’s going great on our market. Design in the post-Soviet area is in general very strong. I see an exceptional uplift everywhere. It’s been a long time since we have such studios as Banda and Tubik, which are the best on our market. There’s a really great bureau by Nastya Zherebetskaya, Spiilka, which does exactly the sort of identities that I like — with original moves. After all, choosing a font is good. Doing design which is not ugly is good. But creating a unique design is a different thing.

Do you understand the mechanics behind this renaissance? What happened?

There was a time when I preferred working with foreign customers. Not only because of money, but because of typefaces as well — there was nothing to choose from in Cyrillic. People posted certain fonts on VKontakte, but there were not enough symbols, plus they often were poorly executed. Now we have lots of stuff. It is such a great pleasure to visit the very same, or Future Fonts. We now even have Base&Bloom in Cyrillic sector. That is very important. And clients have grown up, too. We always felt like the only way to make money was to work abroad. That here you can do something by just barely trying. That for our customers visual design is something less important, something second-rate. The important thing was that it worked, the button was clickable, and the information was readable on a leaflet or on a billboard. But today they have begun to understand the importance of visual communication. That is a step further. And today I take more pleasure in working with customers on the markets using Cyrillic, I enjoy it more. Here there is more room for creativity, namely when it comes to identities.

So, it appears that the boom in Cyrillic has kick-started the entire design field in the post-Soviet area?

Yes, the development of Cyrillic has stimulated the entire industry. There also was a time when we wanted to be like someone else, but then we suddenly stopped wanting to be like someone else — we started becoming ourselves, exploring ourselves, and doing what we like. But there is an important moment — you need first to look at other things, to travel for some time, to develop a certain visual experience. That is what moves you forward, develops you. We have to be ourselves, but still see what is happening around us. This is how you get this confidence that you are capable of creating something that will find its own audience. In design, it is not necessary to be super-popular. It probably feels great when you have created something massively liked, that everybody enjoys. But it is rather important to be liked by at least anybody else (other than yourself). If your design relates to at least one person, that’s great.

Iryna Bykova

Mentioned fonts