Instead of trivial about page that describes my skills, expertise and work history, I decided to share my own story in a more conversational way.
I decided that I'll be a designer a very long time ago in 2006 right after 2 years of courses in a local IT academy.
My first job was creating simple websites as an independent contractor. It was very simple and convenient in my student years. All that I needed to do is creating a bunch of niche websites that consisted of 5-10 static pages. Informational websites that brought users to the main website of the company on which I have worked on. Thus, the first experience of simple web designs and HTML code I’ve received from this routine work.
What I learned for all these years is that all creative people start their way with routine actions and basically do a lot of things just to try things out and have a practice.
After trying things out the first idea that came to my mind was to create my own design studio with a small team which consists of a developer, web designer, manager, and illustrator.
It was 2009, and I worked for an outsourcing company at that time and specifically worked on the design of dating websites that were very popular in the west. There were a good salary and nice office in the central part of the city, but something wasn't right for me. I always wanted to do my own thing, and it was hard to forget this first freelance experience, freedom in my schedule and creative flow.
I visited best local IT conferences and followed leading design guys in the industry on that period of time and started doing first steps in creating my own studio. But this way didn’t work for me. It wasn’t something unique, and it didn't feel like organic growth. I didn’t want to copy experience with other companies and do the same routine as other design studios in my area. Moreover, I've never wanted to compete with others. I'd rather create something unique or apply a completely different approach to eventually dominate the market.
During that time I've changed my workplace to practice more in UX and UI direction. I've received a good offer from eCommerce company that had several websites. They needed a UI designer to make an input on their already working solutions and to develop several new projects in the eCommerce direction. That sounded promising and attractive for me as a business model. Since I could work directly with product managers and understand how everything worked from a business perspective. But right after re-organization and changes in the management of the company things changed a lot and it was a time to change this job.
I went on a couple of interviews, and something was wrong in all of it. The whole employment process felt similar to a Groundhog Day. I questioned myself if I really want to live like this and slowly develop my skills by serving big companies or corporations as a cog in their mechanisms. That wasn't appealing to me at all, and I decided to give a second chance to be a freelancer.
So I bootstrapped for about half year on the job where I was at that time to collect enough of money and eventually quit the 9-to-5 world for good.
My life started changing significantly and after years of the hard work and trying different things out I'm an independent designer. But that's not the end of the story. There was a bad experience, breakthrough, startup job, going back to freelance once again and nomadic life with crazy travels around the world.
When I was quitting my job at the eCommerce company, I found several clients that I could work with right on the next day after living my workplace. That was awesome at that time, and I was happy that I had projects to work on. That allowed me to earn money right from the start and do it independently. But something wasn't right in all of this. These guys that I started work with were connected to agencies, and technically I did all the work, and they were just talking and cutting their percentages from project budgets. And in most of the times, it was hard to manage feedback and updates since we had a chain of 2 or 3 people between a client and me who designed all the things. In addition to this end, clients were from the local Ukrainian and Russian market where design is not really developed if compare it to European and U.S. market. So often it was hard to convince people that a design that we do is modern and trendy. They simply didn't understand those things and often managed things based on their taste and local experience. Basically, it wasn't a dream job for me, but it was an experience and some money that were enough for a start.
Next thing that I tried to do is to create something similar but work with western clients and companies. I figured out that I would deal with very developed market and the only reason to work with western clients is the lower price that I can offer because of the low standards of living in my location at that time. It makes sense for most of the companies in my area, but this approach not aesthetically right for me. I always wanted something more. Something unique and working with a feeling inside that I'm in the right place and doing the right thing.
I've learned basics of management, entrepreneurship, copywriting, strategic planning, sales, marketing and lot of relevant stuff that would help me to build a successful business. I have always been inspired by such giants as Apple, Amazon, Google, small companies like Basecamp, Wordpress and other successful companies and startups. I tried a lot of business methods and approaches on my way.
All this time I have a clean and simple idea to become an independent expert in UX design which is against many guidelines, workflows and what people got used to in the industry. Since usually UX designer is an in-house specialist that interacts within companies, does all the talking, spend enormous amount of time and researchers, prepare bureaucratic stacks of documents to convince several levels of management that they have to develop product(s) in a certain direction and approximately after a year they start building the first prototype for already changed market.
I didn't want to polish pixels all my life and think only about visual aesthetics, arguing about trends and tastes of people. I was a problem solver and solution maker, and I think that design is a great tool to do those things.
So I tried working with foreign companies and clients as a freelancer, and it felt right for me. Lots of things were easier right from the start, because of the different mentality of people and the way they do business. I didn't have good budgets right from the start, but it was already enough to cover my basic needs, and I was at the start of this transition. So whatever I did it was learning and practice. I invested as much time as possible to learn how everything works on the west and it was this interesting time when we all felt this quick transition from web-based solutions to mobile screens after the first iPhone came out.
Life is always not we expect, and I learned that we can't always plan it on 100%.
The more I was involved in western projects and working with clients from EU and U.S. the more it became being normal. And after some time I stopped accepting requests for a design of any kind from locals. Especially, after participating in one interesting solution for selling train tickets online. It had great perspectives, and I really invested 10 times more of my time and efforts than was requested in the UI work I did to make it the best in the country. But bureaucracy and corruption are huge in Ukraine. Eventually, it even didn't launch. I said: "Enough, I'm tired spending my time on projects like this". Moreover, I tired of people here and basically stopped understand anyone who surrounded me.
That was a time to leave and try me as a completely remote designer.
I've read some awesome stories about people who went on tropical islands not only for laying on beaches and sipping Pina Coladas, but and actually work from their laptops to prolong their stay in the paradise. It sounds like a dream life.
This was a time when no one has heard about digital nomads. Most of the people who went on islands working remotely were as freelancers and it was a rarer case that someone has a business that operates remotely or it's completely digital.
Anyway, as for me, I decided that I'll give it a try. I and my girlfriend decided to leave our home country that time. We terminated our apartment rental agreement, packed a couple of bags and moved out completely for an undefined period of time. It was extreme, there was a lot of uncertainty. Our parents were a bit shocked. The only thing we knew is that we had a train, then plane to Bangkok, then another one to Koh Samui and then a hotel for 5 nights somewhere in the northeastern part of the island.
It was Autumn 2014. We spent great 3 months on the island and I even managed to triple my income as a remote designer. Since life on the island is not that cheap as I expected and I had to do something to make more money, but also and raise my standards as a designer and as a human being.
One idea came to my mind on the island which seemed logical at that time. I liked the freelance and the lifestyle I had for the past 3 years, but I was searching for a way to live in a better place for good.
After 3 months spent in a foreign country with a great climate, picturesque views and completely different culture and mentality something has changed inside me and my girlfriend. We have this huge shift in our mindset and our abilities. We couldn't realize that we can live like this forever because of visa policies and that we always will be foreigners for people let's say in foreign countries as Thailand.
It was summer 2015, and we went to explore Europe for a little bit and planned an interesting route. Our first stop was in Poland, then we flew over to Stockholm and then Amsterdam.
We liked Sweden very much, and I was surprised to meet our friends there. They were working there for a couple of years already and pretty much happy with everything.
So when we came back from the trip, I started looking for a job in EU. It took an enormous amount of time to get interviews and go through all this bureaucratic process, pass through HR managers that most of the time don't have a clue about what you do, and eventually you don't pass their interviews because you don't have so-called "soft skills" or your skillset doesn't fit the list they have. But nobody cares that you actually have thousands of hours of practice, and no one believes if you tell them that you have 4-6 years of real experience in the industry and show the portfolio with real case studies. That was frustrating for me.
While I was pushing hard with this my girlfriend almost from the first try found a job in IKEA. Which sounded great. This was what she does, and it was in one of the leading companies on the planet. And it was Sweden. The country we liked so much. So we started the process of getting residence and work permit in Sweden which is another bureaucratic process.
It was the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, and that was a bad time for it because of the immigration crisis in Europe and tons of Syrian refugees in Sweden and for some reason, they were in high priority, and we were waiting for half a year to get our case reviewed. Unfortunately, after waiting for that long, the IKEA employer couldn't wait for much longer, and they stopped the hiring process and canceled our applications. That was a huge frustration for us. But right next day after that I started looking for another job and right within a couple of weeks I had a great offer from one of the startups in Tallinn, Estonia.
Everything sounded great. I spoke directly to CEO even though the HR lady was the adequate HR specialist I ever met. Anyway, during our chat with CEO, I felt we had a lot in common. The only downside for us was that we didn't want to live in a post-soviet country and Estonia was one of them. But guys on the other end convinced me to see everything with our own eyes and visit them. They even paid for our tickets and hotel for a couple of nights. That was very nice from their side, and all I can say is a huge thank you.
After several meetings and understanding what's happening with their product and what kind of designer they were looking for I saw a huge opportunity of working with these guys.
Estonia never was a dream country for us, but the job offer sounded appealing to me. So I took that opportunity, and we moved in at the end of summer in 2016.
That meant I no longer have time for working remotely on a variety of projects. But I decided to focus on designing one product at that time and try to understand how it feels working a fast growing startup environment.
But things weren't as I expected as usual. That has some sense in living like this and constantly working on improvements for one product taking into account different aspects of development. However, it always felt like something distant, not familiar to me.
There is an opinion that things have a slow pace in Europe. Especially, if compare it to America and Asia as two fast developing giants. It's something about mentality and culture of people.
Estonia is not an exception to this, and I'd even say that Baltic countries often have this tendency to hold their business within their borders. The similar thing happens with the business thinking.
The startup I worked in wasn't an exception in this, but that still was one of the best jobs in Estonia at that time, because of the modern approach and investments that allowed them to try things out, etc. However, that conservative approach is hard to handle as for me and moving slowly felt awful for me after that fast pace work with a variety of clients. Even tho it was a remote work I still got tons of feedback and saw the progress, launches with my design, etc.
That was difficult to implement in that scale startup for some reason, and that was destroying me. I felt useless and couldn't do anything as a single designer in the company. Even if I tried many times, the conservative culture was stronger than my passion for better product design.
After half a year I dreamed of working on my own again. Moreover, I wanted to build my products and prove myself that things can go much faster without any bureaucracy possible. In addition to this, the winter in Estonia is freaking depressing time of the year, and it lasts for half a year minimum. I even had to go to a doctor appointment to check what's wrong with me and I figured out that getting sunlight is an issue in Estonia.
It was 2017 already, and I was not only dreamed of working on my own but to experience the island life once again.
The digital nomad's movement and the community started growing really fast at that time. We decided to leave everything in Estonia and start a new chapter in our life becoming digital nomads.
That felt like a step back, but that was what we were passioned about.
Passion plays a big role in your life when you a creative person.
This is crazy, but we went to Asia again and for a long time. We had huge plans and passion of living this location independent life.
I stated working remotely with interesting products and in parallel developing my own products such as financial app, book on the remote work, online course, etc.
To be continued...
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