We sat down with our friend Ales Nesetril, a digital designer and Creative Director at STRV. Ales has been focusing on interactive experiences and mobile apps for clients like Tinder, Boosted Boards, Lufthansa, Flip and others.
Happy to have you here Ales! What is your background, and how did you start with design?
I didn’t plan to be a designer at first. My initial idea was to go study IT and programming in high-school to get some computer knowledge, but shortly after the first year I got interested in web design and coding websites. Long story short: Coding websites always looked too complicated to me, so I focused more on the visual part and playing with Photoshop.
I got my first (part-time) job during my high-school studies as a junior designer in a local company. Then I moved to Prague and have been gathering experience for four years, did a few freelance jobs here and there, and joined a social media agency which turned out to be a bad fit. Only then was I ready to make a step toward mobile apps and digital products.
It’s funny because when I joined STRV I have only made like 2–3 apps so far. I wasn’t sure if this direction is right either. But I stayed and worked day and night to become better at it. Two years later I was already co-leading a team and slowly moving towards shaping my position into what it is right now.
How does your workday look like, and what makes your workflow special?
I’d say my typical workday isn’t any different from other designers out there, but what could make it special is my systematic approach.
I have a plan and system in almost everything I do, from tasks to time management, from daily/weekly agenda to my creative process.
It helps me to keep rules, automate certain things and over the years I’m becoming better at working effectively. It pays off especially when I have a lot on my plate, so I don’t get crazy or overworked.
Though I’m a bit obsessed with planning, I keep my eyes on the prize and always get things done. That’s why you see me creating and sharing so much over the years.
How do you manage your design team to achieve the best results for your clients?
I’m not really managing anyone in our team directly since we keep our team members self-managed. That’s what most teams usually don’t have, so I’d say it’s pretty unique for us. Our designers are fully in charge of their own projects, task, and responsibilities towards clients and the company. We only provide general guidance, vision for the team and work collectively on our internal resources to keep everyone on the same page regarding tools, process, and know-how.
It’s up to individual designers to do their best since one of our company values is freedom, but we also encourage everyone to be open minded for critique, feedback, and collaboration. Not only between fellow designers but mostly between other departments where developers and product managers usually come first at hand.
As a Creative Director, how do you approach your team of designers to successfully work with front-end developers?
In our case, it starts with a detailed onboarding for both designers and developers. I mean both the general onboarding when you join the company and a new project kind of onboarding. I‘d say we have great internal resources that help us to align individual roles and have everyone on the same page with expectations and actual delivery.
Being present throughout the entire lifecycle of the project is also one of the things I’d highlight. Designers, developers, PM or QA, everyone is present on all calls, participating in project specification and sometimes even involved in selected stages of the process across disciplines.
We want everyone to know what we’re building since day one and keep track of all changes being made along the way. For example, developers can observe designers during their process, be present and supervise how a new product is coming to life in the UX stage. In case they see a potential red flags we can all discuss it and clear out a lot of things right away. Same with the opposite where one of the things we do is to have designers doing “design reviews” as a part of the QA.
Where we saw a significant improvement lately and where we invested a lot of our effort is style guide/design system and documentation.
We believe having one source of truth that is flexible and easy to access to everyone is a keystone of a successful design and dev collaboration.
In general, it’s an ongoing and never-ending story, because we’re often tweaking our process on the go. Both disciplines are constantly changing, and I think it’s important to evolve the company’s internal operations accordingly.
Let’s get back to your work, what design project that you worked on is your favorite?
If I choose one of the recent ones: I have spent almost half a year working internally on our company’s brand refresh. Our visuals and style are nice and everything, but we wanted to give it a proper meaning. We also looked into brand positioning, brand voice and other related things as a whole and wanted to bring this all to another level of consistency.
For me, as someone with only limited experience with branding, this was a great opportunity to explore a new discipline in detail. It was more about the “thinking” behind branding for the most part, and I have really enjoyed being involved because it was like a completely new world I didn’t know existed. I saw a lot of things for the first time and found it really interesting.
Mostly I got involved towards the end of the project where we have worked on our brand identity update and the whole visual part. Again, for someone who mostly does UI/UX, this was a great chance to try something different. So, of course, I got over-excited and polished every detail.
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned on this project?
I’d say there was nothing particular but in general a realization how much there is still to learn, and how many things I can try and practice besides what I already know. Not sure how others feel about this, but sometimes it’s like being in your own bubble where you think you are at the top and there is no need to grow more (or not being sure how). I really appreciate moments like this, where you get back to the square one.
Were there any obstacles or challenges?
Since almost every Department Lead and Manager were involved in the process on our side I saw the biggest challenge in aligning everyone in terms of our updated visuals and all new things we’ll be introducing. I took full responsibility for our brand as a part of my Creative Director role, and I have focused a lot not only on the output we were creating but also on clear communication with all stakeholders (and later on everyone in our company). I feel like I also made a big step forward in terms of my management and communication skills.
Do you have any time for side projects? Are they important for your personal growth?
Side projects are a big part of my career. I have gained a lot of experience working on these and they are partially responsible for where I am right now. However, I do less than I used to. It’s probably because I focus more on quality over quantity.
Nowadays, I value things that last over one-time spikes in personal analytics.
In the long term, I’m positioning myself more as an artist, not only a designer. That means I might be doing other stuff than just UI/UX. I hope that my next project will be more “artsy” if you will.
What would be your dream client to work for?
As a big fan of electronic music and e-sports, I’d like to work with brands or individuals from these industries. I’m actually really close to making it happen, because of one of my current client projects is related to it.
The fact that I’m so close scares me a little because it feels like I’ve been waiting for this moment for my whole career and I don’t want to lose it. Luckily, I have great support from my team.
You’re very active across many Social Media channels. How important in your opinion is a self-promotion for designers and why?
It’s not necessary for everyone and I’d even say it’s overrated. If you have a clear goal of what you want to achieve or how it should help you in your career then it’s totally on point to invest time and effort into building a personal brand.
Having the right motivation, something to say and some sort of “unique voice” or style also helps if you want to stand out and spread your message, work or story. Otherwise, there is no need to chase it just because everyone else is doing it. Stay true to yourself and focus on good work. It will pay off the most in long-term anyways.
Looking at the current state of the design scene I’m afraid most people only look for a public validation and chase fancy stats to look like they are better than someone else. Often it’s not about bringing value, quality work or in-depth opinions. I’m doing my best no to do that and instead focus on sharing only quality work and in depth insights, as I mentioned before.
I think people should be careful with both who they follow and also with understanding what self-promotion means. You don’t really want to stay in a loop of building better personal brand than someone else’s personal brand and not growing as a designer. Focus on your work and experience first, then make a story about it. Not the other way around.
Focus on your work and experience first, then make a story about it. Not the other way around.
Which channels work best for you and why?
Well, if we break it down I usually publish the biggest or most detailed pieces to my portfolio website, Behance or Medium. This is where I showcase the whole project and talk about how I made it as a whole.
Then I use Instagram, Dribbble and some other platforms to post smaller previews or daily progress with whatever I made or discovered. I’d like to add YouTube as well soon to talk about my work and thought process. Not really aiming for a vlog, because that’s what I’ve tried and it didn’t work for me. But I think it could be interesting for people to see me doing screencasts and explaining the way how I work and think during the design process.
What’s the most important skill to develop for designer and why?
I think we don’t talk much publicly about presentation skills and communication. I always say: you can do the best work of your life, but if you can’t explain it to your client, colleague or manager, it’s going to be useless and you’re never going to make it into a final product.
This used to be an issue for me as well, but facing more and more clients, doing more and more meetings and calls helped me to practice, get confidence and adopt a particle way of explaining things. Now I feel way more comfortable to “sell my work,” present ideas, open new doors and opportunities and do it in a way so it makes other people excited. Besides design skills, I’d recommend anyone reading this to focus on communication skills as a second priority.
Where do you want to be in 5 years as a designer?
I’d like to grow a more diverse portfolio of my work. Go beyond just being a designer and focus more towards being a creative and artist as I mentioned in the context of side projects.
It’s fascinating for me to try to design and write a physical book one day, speak at a “big” conference, do an exhibition, tour the world to do design reviews and critiques, create some music or launch limited edition clothing line. There is plenty of options for expressing myself, so I want to select the most interesting ones and do them one at a time in the upcoming years.
Thanks to my experience, connections, and environment, today, I’m in a position that allows me to go and do some of the stuff I mentioned. I sometimes joke that these things are not dreams or wishes, but things that I’m actually going to do anyway. I’m so grateful for having an option to think about it this way. I have worked my ass off to get here.
If they made a movie about your design work, what would it be called?
It would be called “Never Stop Creating”. A true story about how I just can not stop creating and exploring new things. Honestly, I do not know where this ends, and it worries me a little, cause I sometimes have a hard time to rest. You may say I do it for the others to be always “inspiring”. But the truth is I do it for myself because there is something inside me that is never satisfied. Always looks for a new thing to explore or create.
Have a suggestion for an exciting designer or front-end developer we should interview? Hit me up at [email protected].