Interview with Tetiana Donska

Tetiana Donska, Independent Art Director, Design Partner and Advisor at Ester

Hi Tetiana, happy to have you. To start things off we would love to hear a brief summary of who you are and how Ester started?

I'm an independent Art Director, Design Partner and Advisor at Ester and member of the international AWWWARDS jury panel. I love everything that has to do with UI/UX and Product Design, Branding and Typography. Currently, my main focus is using my UI/UX design skills to help start-ups, healthcare and non-profit organizations solve their problems and seize opportunities.

Five years ago, I witnessed the very first steps of Ester’s beginning. Ester was founded by 4 passionate people and friends with different backgrounds in: finance, computer science, management and design. We were all working on the same project at the time and it grew into an organization of designers working on innovative projects. Since then, Ester has grown and opened its doors to talented people in Estonia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Could you describe your trajectory so far and the path you took to get where you are today?

In the past few years, I've found myself obsessed with digital products and new technologies and exploring ways of integrating these technologies into the design process. My main focus now is art direction and UI/UX design, however, I still work on some branding projects from time-to-time and I still love working with typography. 

Also, I've been working with a healthcare organization for the past couple of months where I’ve learned how data can help save lives, especially when it's visualized. Recently, I put together some thoughts on data visualization psychology here.

How did I get here? Well, it was a long path in which I tried different things. Hailing from a small industrial city in Ukraine, I didn't have access to a design community but was raised in a highly creative atmosphere. As long as I can remember, I have been involved in artistic activities. Even when I was doing my degree in mechanical engineering, I explored being a portrait artist, mural painter, and I attended web design courses.

Eventually, I found myself being absorbed by game design and 2D art which, luckily, helped me find my first freelance project in this industry. This was the first chapter of my design journey. After numerous game design projects, I realized there was a way to realize my potential and bring together engineering thinking with an eye for design. Then I really got into UX and web design which paved the way to website experiences. Thanks to my curiosity and passion, I then started the second chapter of my journey where I became a UI/UX designer leading to my becoming an independent art-director, design partner and advisor at Ester in 2015.

What does a typical day look like at the office and how does it look like now during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Since I've been working mostly with distributed teams, the typical day in the office isn't really different from the day in my home office, except that I now tend to get up earlier 🙂 A typical day starts with a cup of coffee and reading emails. Then, I usually spend some time with my fellow-designers and other teammates in Zoom or Slack discussing our plans and goals for the day. Then, the actual work happens with some breaks for lunch and coffee. More important meetings are usually scheduled for evenings since some project teams are based in the US and Europe. 

The last thing I do at the end of the day is plan for the next day or, if it's a Friday then I work on a rough plan for the next week. From my experience, it's better to have room for unexpected things that can come up during the day though, which means at least 10% of my schedule remains flexible

18.06 2020


Platform Design and Visual Identity for Flux - Car subscription Service in Malaysia


Platform Design and Visual Identity for Flux - Car subscription Service in Malaysia

What are your top 5 favorite work tools/apps and how do use them as a team?

I used to think that it didn’t really matter what tool to use as long as it helps to design and solve problems. However, when it comes to collaboration and distributed teams, using the same tool becomes crucial. I switched to Figma almost a year ago and I would say that was my best decision so far. Before this magic tool, I've been using a whole bunch of different apps to do design, present work to stakeholders, and handing-off to developers which meant a bit of pain to make sure all projects are up-to-date. Figma allows us to collaborate with designers and developers in real-time and makes the process smooth and fun.

While Figma has some basic animation functionality, sometimes it's not enough. For micro-interactions and transitions, I use Principle. For more advanced animations - Adobe After Effects.

Usually Slack is the main tool for communication - both internally with design teams and with our partners. And of course, work needs to be managed somewhere. Usually, it's Trello or Jira, depending on processes in the team I work with.

Tell us a bit about the kind of work you enjoy most? Do you specialize on Estonian projects only?

The majority of my projects consist of a diverse range of sectors such as tourism, cyber-security, entertainment, healthtech, fintech and many more. I'm really excited about working with startups because I can be involved in the process from the early stages and establish design processes. Being in a start-up environment means you can learn a lot because usually, it's a small team at the beginning. From my experience, a designer in a start-up can work on branding, product strategy, user research, and UI design. This really pushes everyone to a better understanding of the product when we can look at it from different perspectives; although, sometimes it might be overwhelming.
I work on projects that are primarily based in the US and the UK; however, people from within these companies often work in different locations around the world.


Music TV App Design


iOS App for Upbeat - the taste in music platform

What creative or non-creative challenges do you face at work?

I think my main non-creative challenge is finding a work-life balance, especially during the lockdown. While I'm deeply engaged with design activities, everything else seems to fall away and I find myself working long hours. I’m very lucky to be able to do what I love, but on the other hand, it's important to step aside for a moment and do something different. For example, yoga and meditation are a release for me. Not only are they important for health but they also provide a needed break when I face creative challenges. Sometimes staring at the monitor and thinking isn’t what’s necessary to solve design problems. In the past couple of years, I found two simple recipes to help save time and find an approach to almost any problem. The first is thinking about the problem or ideas out loud with other designers or team members. Sometimes you find a solution before even hearing other opinions. The second one is doing routine things. I believe some people can definitely experience revelations while washing dishes.

What projects are you most proud of and excited about? Are there any side-projects you work or worked on?

Have I already mentioned that I'm excited working with startups?

I've been working with the Thespie team for more than a year now. Initially the idea of Thespie was to help people find theatre tickets for shows playing in London by purchasing from the theatre directly, thus helping users avoid ticket agent fees of up to 30%. But the global pandemic hit the theatre industry significantly and challenged us to look at the product concept from a different angle.

Thespie now brings theatre and the arts to the audience virtually. While theatres can't present their shows in person, Thespie aggregates more than 1,000 filmed performances, livestream listings, artist talks, educational resources, theatre podcasts, digital scripts, and more.


A few years ago I was helping to build FLUX, a revolutionary Malay Car Subscription service from scratch. Car subscription is a recent phenomenon. Until recently, it has been an experiment by car companies seeking new ways to push their wares to the next generation, who are often at odds with traditional ownership. Flux was successfully launched in Malaysia in 2019. And it's seen as an attractive way for Malaysians to have access to a car because buying a car may isn’t always the best financial decision to make. I worked closely with the Business Owner on all aspects of design, including Art Direction, refining the User Flows and creating Wireframes. In addition, I designed the high-fidelity mockups and tested the prototype. I also developed the Design System to support scalability of the platform.

There was also a side project. During the past few months I've been volunteering as a UI/UX designer for The Zerobase Foundation which is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build open source public health technology for the good of communities around the world. This free, privacy-first contact tracing empowers both individuals and communities to stop the spread of COVID-19 using QR codes. This QR code technology has great potential to fill the gaps left behind by other contact-tracing products. For instance, those products using bluetooth would be unable to help communities which don't have access to smartphones.

Another side-project is more personal. Since I've always been fascinated by album cover art and admire designers who can transmit the vibes and meaning of songs through visuals, it naturally led me to start experimenting myself. I've selected top albums in my playlist to redesign. I wanted these covers to be more dynamic and reflect the sound by making visuals audio-reactive. Then I discovered TouchDesigner with endless possibilities for experiments in generative art, live visual performance, and even AR/VR experiences. There are a few album art cover examples in my Instagram which were created using a mix of audio-reactive particles or geometry and animated typography.


Credit Score Web and iOS apps for CreditCardCompare


Visual Identity and Platform design for Shine - streetware marketplace

How do you keep in touch with the creative world and community? How does the creative scene look like in your city?

Most of my interaction with the design community happens online because there are so many great minds around the world. There are millions of opportunities to stay connected, share knowledge, and be up-to-speed with other designers. I'm part of the Toptal Network, where I can always ask questions and share my experience with designers in a Slack channel. In the past couple of years, I've found other great design Slack communities such as Designer Hangout - an invite-only network of UX designers and researchers. Also, recently I became a mentor at a non-profit organization that connects professionals and provides equal access to educational resources and mentors for designers across the world.  

What in our opinion are future Design Trends of 2020?

I tend not to believe in design trends because of their nature. They come as fast as they fade away. And blindly following trends means the work you do won't be timeless. But, I think there might be a few reasons to follow design trends. One of them is when a young brand or product is trying to fit in the market. Following the trend is the safe tactic that might help a business look modern and familiar. Also, following a trend makes the design process cost-efficient, as creating something unique requires a lot of time and effort from the brightest of minds.

Nevertheless, there are a few trends that fascinate me. One of them is injection of art into design. Companies like Dropbox, Intercom, and MailChimp during the past couple of years, incorporated bold illustration style into their design language. And the most important thing about these illustrations is that they helped to humanize technology. They spoke to potential users in a way they could understand and this made routine things, like sharing files more fun. 

On the other hand, there are UX trends, which, in fact, are not trends at all but rather best practices that continuously evolve in our technology-driven world. For instance, inclusive design seems to become one of the top priorities for product companies. User-experience design is good when it is accessible to all users and now it's easier to meet the needs of more people. Here come AI accessibility services that scan sites for compliance and adjust the interface to meet the requirements. The accessibility interface is responsible for all the UI and design-related adjustments, while the AI-powered background process handles optimizations for screen-reader and for keyboard navigation (the most complex requirements). 

Overall, I think it's better to use trends wisely and push boundaries whenever it's possible.


Music TV App Design

What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?

I believe design can help solve global social, environmental and cultural problems. Design has the power to shape new technologies because it helps to humanize them and make them attractive to people. I don't know if I’ll ever make a significant impact in my career; however, I know for sure you live only as long as the last person who remembers you. People will remember the impact we have on them. I hope to live a good story and do what I'm passionate about, share my knowledge and inspire someone because passion brings out passion in others.

Is there anything you want to promote or plug? Where can people find you and follow you?

You can follow me on Behance to check-out mostly branding-related projects. 

On Instagram, I post once in a while, and you can find a few exciting experiments with generative art I've created in Touch Designer.


Credits: Tetiana Donska

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