Graphic design studio by Yurko Gutsulyak

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Interview with Yurko Gutsulyak
May 14, 2009

Design in the former Soviet Union today reminds the story about sex in the USSR — it sort of exists, there is even someone who makes it, but it is quite difficult to understand what it is like.

Until recently there were few people who could think of at least one Ukrainian designer whose works would be internationally recognized and whose name would stand out from plenty of design studios and freelancers.

In 2008 the Graphic design studio by Yurko Gutsulyak achieved enormous popularity, and he expressed his opinion on modern design before he left for the European Design Festival 2009.


For how long have you been engaged in design? Where have you appeared before the creation of your studio?

I have been involved in design for 8 years already, 4 of which within my own studio. I started in an print shop, and then there was an advertising agency. I don’t think it’s necessary to mention their names. Then I worked as a designer of a famous brand and as a freelancer. In 2005 I, along with my sister Zoryana, opened the Graphic design studio by Yurko Gutsulyak.

Today design in Ukraine is quite a competitive and unpredictable market. What encouraged you to launch a design studio?

I would hardly consider the design market in Ukraine as a competitive one. And I even wouldn’t use the word “market”. The competition level is very low if we mean quality design. And there is major misunderstanding of the importance of design. Neither designers themselves nor the customers are aware of what design is. Even those customers who are ready to order and pay for the first-class design, often do not understand exactly why they do it, how they can use it and how their business can benefit from it. Design industry in our country makes up chaos and a set of random circumstances.

When I faced once again the need to change something in my life and realized that design happens to be the only thing that I can naturally succeed in and that it is something that can be profitable, I decided to start my own business.  That time I was unaware of many things and this made me bold enough to go.

Could you give an advice to those who develop or are planning to start their business in the sphere of design?

Give up this business and start something else right now!

What is your attitude to freelance designers? Good or evil?

My attitude to freelance in Ukraine is strongly negative. It is definitely evil in our country. There exists a myth among young talents that there is a magic profession “freelancer”. This is when you should not have any specific skills or take any liabilities or responsibility. You can just let your imagination run riot and put a pleasant price that you’d like to get, then you can do nothing, and when the deadline comes, put the blame on inspiration, which, for some reason, never came... And when it gets too tough, then you can whomp something up in 10 minutes or get a ready-made layout on the Internet and give it away to the customer with a scornful sigh. Ukrainian freelancers lack, first of all, self-discipline, commitment and responsibility, and only after that – mastery, experience and ability to improve their skills. For many young designers, freelance is a mythical guarantee of easy life and well-being, but not a way of work or cooperation.

This kind of approach, accordingly, developed the attitude to freelancers in our country. They are not respected, their names are not included in credits, there are attempts to cheat them, and they are used to close gaps in extreme cases.

This has concern to the vast majority, but not all of them. I can think of up to 5 independent designers from all over Ukraine, who can justify freelance.

Who make top-class design in Ukraine today?

Surely Yurko Gutsulyak :-)

But to be serious, I can tell that top-class design in Ukraine is made by particular individual designers or small design studios. The rest has no idea how to do that, and, after all, they are not interested in it as it takes too much effort for too little pay.


What is the price of Yurko Gutsulyak’s studio services? Is your agency expensive?

Services of my studio do not cost as much as they seem to and not as much as I would want them to. It is an average price level in Ukraine. And the quality-price ratio must be one of the highest in the country.

Who is your customer? What is the result he wants to get?

My customers are very different. And they have different reasons why they apply to me. Sometimes these are small or medium companies that start to develop or want to move to the new round of their progress. Sometimes these are very large companies that are tired of dull law quality product that is constantly offered by network agencies, and are in search of the new effective solutions. Sometimes these are private individuals who want to order designer’s products for their personal needs.

All the customers want to get the same result – successful solution of their problems and sound advice.

Do you have any special rules and policies that regulate your work with customers? For example, you make up only one outline, 100% prepayment, no entry without house shoes, etc.?

Yes, I have certain rules. The similar ones exist in the most design studios in the world.


1. Prepayment (50% - 100%). No self-respecting designer would start his work without prepayment. Prepayment is the proof that the customer means business and realizes that design is labor, paid intellectual work.

2. Copyright. I always reserve the right to mark my work with copyright without agreement of the customer. And this is not only compliance with my rights but also the guarantee of the authorial product.

3. Use of my own developments for self-promotion. I have the right to publish the works created by my studio without customer’s consent in printed and electronic editions that specialize in advertisement and design, as well as submit these works to the professional festivals and exhibitions.

As regards single outline, I think this is stupid and unprofessional (though I have met designers who work with one outline only). Customer should always have a choice. I present at least 2-3 completely different concepts on each project.

And concerning house shoes, at first sight this sounds like a joke. But a year ago I visited a major Swedish design agency where there really exists such a rule. All the staff without exception and all the customers enter the office wearing house shoes or barefoot. Maybe this rule deserves to be adopted.

How do you usually start your working day?

I open my eyes, put on my underpants, go to make coffee.

Your source of inspiration?

I am often asked about my inspiration. And the older and more experienced I get, the more clearly I realize that inspiration, as this word is generally understood, does not exist at all. For professionals, inspiration is an excuse for their own helplessness. In other words, professional does not depend on inspiration. He can control it.

I find my inspiration in the work. Brief turns me on. Though it may sound weird. As soon as I get a set of limits (requirements) on the project, my head starts to work. If the task that I get from the customer is not complicated enough, I complicate it for myself to the extent that makes the job interesting for me. I always seek the work to be interesting as a process.


Today you, just like Lebedev Studio, have created quite effective image when not only the name, but also the leader of the company effects sales. How do you promote your studio?

I never compared myself to Lebedev and never thought that we are somehow alike. But I like some of his works. About promotion, the first what I do is quality design. And then all the rest: festivals, communication, publications and so on.

Your principal award, as of now, is the Gold at the Epica Awards Festival for the Energy calendar (“Matches”) that is already exhibited in the Museum of Advertising in Louvre. What changed for the studio after you received such an award?

You mean are the customers standing in line at my door from 6 a.m.? – Unfortunately (or fortunately) no. In Ukraine except ad makers no one else has ever heard of Epica Awards. It’s something faraway, western and inapplicable, in the customers’ opinion, to our conditions. And there is no need to know about it if no Ukrainian has ever won it. And if Yurko Gutsulyak has got one, then it must be not that cool. As far as I know, there is also similar situation with Epica Awards in Russia.

But if we consider this award for my studio globally, then, undoubtedly, the result is obvious. Epica gave me communication and acquaintances at fundamentally new level. It determined my status and provided unique experience.

I can suppose that now many customers and the market itself will compare every new work of your studio with the matches. Doesn’t such a high standard discomfort you?

This standard does not discomfort me. It’s me who sets the standards for me. Moreover, concerning the matches, I don’t think that this is my strongest work that should be taken for a reference standard. It’s just a work that taught me a lot and gave me an opportunity to understand many things and processes.

Concerning customers, they did not compare, do not compare, and, as far as I can foresee, will not compare each work of mine to the matches. By “matches grade” the customers may be subdivided into two categories:
-  those who like my works, including this one, and they want to order something quite as much interesting;
-  those who like only this work and they don’t believe that I am capable of something else (they even doubt that it was me who created the calendar).

How do you think, which of the 2 categories will benefit?

And the ones who compared, compares and will compare all my works with the matches – those are the ad makers, mostly copyrighters and sometimes art-directors. In most cases these people act like children who wait to be constantly entertained and surprised with the new ideas. I’m not going to entertain them, as they are not within my target audience. And I think that it’s more reasonable to get down to work instead of waiting for entertainment.

Is Yurko Gutsulyak available at specialized resources, at social network services?

Sure. I am easy to find on the web. Among the designers’ resources I can name the following ones as the most interesting:
- (available only in French) (unfortunately, paid)
As regards social networks, I use them far less (or, to be more precise, I practically do not use them at all). To be honest, I do not understand them and, therefore, I’m not interested in them. But maybe someone will manage to explain the beauty of social networks to me.

I am available at:
You’ll never find me at odnoklassniki and LJ.

Do you have a blog? I think many people would be interested to read about features of design and your discoveries in this field.

I have been dreaming about starting my blog, but I never have time to do that. I have not decided yet on why I need this, but I have a hunch that it’s worth taking up. In the course of my activities I often face or even create the things that have nothing to do with design but cold be interesting to people. Hopefully I will finally launch the project this year.


What is the role of design in creation of a brand?

Recently it has become a trend to make not just design of a logo or style, but to provide branding or brand-consulting. One and all have turned to this new faith and allocated their money to it. And this is exactly a religion.

I started to study intensively this relatively new “science” myself, all the more for me, as a marketing specialist by education, it is clear and interesting. But the more I learn and analyze, the more I understand that it is design that plays the major part in making a brand, everything else is not provable, just as any religion is based only on conviction and belief.

Design is the only tangible thing.

Design is the only thing that costs money.

Which projects in the field of design would you like to realize?

In general, I like almost all the projects that receive funding. And as far as my personal views are concerned, I believe that there are no uninteresting projects. The approach to work determines everything.

But if we get deep into my fondness, I would really like work in the field of music design. I would like to create album covers, posters, visual attributes for musicians, etc. Unfortunately, entertainment industry (including music) in Ukraine is at the stage of feudalism. And even if we disregard funding, still there are very few musicians who pay attention to the appearance of their product.

Which designers’ works make an impression?

I like the works of many designers, but I wouldn’t say they make an impression...

Some time ago I had a strong prejudice against women in graphical design. But for some reason it is mainly girls who long for becoming designers, particularly those who live at someone else’s cost and get bored to stick at home. And it is girls who suffer from excessive ambitions and insufficient ability to work. It is girls who often told me “I do a bad job because I’m underpaid”.

My opinion changed when I saw the works of a female designer from Canada, Marian Bantjes ( I was shocked in a good sense by the variety and depth of her works as well as by her mastery. Every time I look at her works with admiration. I would like to meet her and get acquainted sometime.


What are the plans for studio development? Geography, new areas of activity?

Concerning geography, there are no plans yet, there are only dreams, but this will suffice for a start.

One of the popular trends among the creative people today is their wish to contribute into the modern art. Is it possible that Yurko Gutsulyak finds himself among them in the nearest future?

Yurko Gutsulyak tried to find himself among them not long ago. Specifically, for 2 years we were trying to realize 2 authorial projects in the field of actual art. We went round a whole lot of galleries and funds; we negotiated with enormous amount of people. Some of them wouldn’t even listen, others listened with pleasure repeating “What a wonderful project, it should be immediately realized!” but then they found various reasons why it was impossible. Besides they acted in a very strange manner, and it constantly seemed to me that everyone is holding something back.

For 2 years we watched the actual art projects demonstrated in the Kyiv galleries and for 2 years we were at a loss “how can one exhibit such a shit?” and “why do they refuse us?”...

Today the destiny of the first project is as follows:
-  some time ago in one of the Kyiv galleries a Ukrainian artist exhibited a project that was the spit and image of my project...
The destiny of the second project:
-  the representative of one fund with sparkling eyes grabbed the sketches and told that she needs to show them to someone immediately, and in a month she left the country and never gave us any reply...
I sincerely don’t understand what’s going on and when I think about the modern art in Ukraine, I want to take a shower, to wash myself with soap and it would better if more than once.

Certainly, I have ideas and keep coming up with the new ones, but today it would be easier and more comfortable for me to let them quietly die inside my mind or just hibernate until the time comes.


What is the fundamental duty of a man?

Being honest with oneself.

Who is the one that you’ve never become?

A rock star.

What would be written on your tattoo if you decided to have one done?

I wouldn’t decide to have a tattoo, never mind a writing. All the words turn to lies sooner or later.

If you shot a film, what would it be about?

I would love to shoot a porno film.

What is your special talent?

I can quietly sit in a corner and be silent, but keep doing my work in the meanwhile.
Dialogue between: Yuriy Gladky and Yurko Gutsulyak.

Read next article:
Articles / Destroyer of myths: Yurko Gutsulyak

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