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Workplaces: Ilya Grishin, senior designer at VKontakte
Workplaces: Ilya Grishin, senior designer at VKontakte

About finding a way at 14, moving to a big city and creative confusion.

Workplaces: Ilya Grishin, senior designer at VKontakte
Workplaces: Ilya Grishin, senior designer at VKontakte

Instead of walking with friends, I spent almost three weeks coming up with a website design on a braking computer

You got into the VKontakte social network at the age of 18. Usually, at this age, they are just beginning their path to the profession and enter the university. Why did it turn out differently?

- When I was 14 years old, the VKontakte team organized a community in order to improve the visual appearance of the social network together with third-party designers. A competition was held in the group: by the end of the year, it was necessary to regularly offer options on how to make the site better. Victory was promised to the one who comes up with as many ideas as possible that will be given light.

I had a very weak computer, but I decided that I still want to participate, and at the same time get better at interface design. More often than not, I tried to solve problems that pissed me off: redrawing details that looked crooked, or thinking about how to make it easier to send emoticons in messages. As a result, a couple of hours before the New Year, I was informed that I had won the iPad mini. The parents were very surprised and believed to the end only at the moment when he was brought home.

After that, I took part in VK Designers contests for two more years in a row. From time to time I won, sometimes I lost, but this only pushed me to keep learning.

When I was 16, the guys got together to dramatically change the design of VKontakte and announced a competition again. I decided to drop everything and participate, so instead of walking with friends for almost three weeks I came up with a new website design and tried to draw it on a slow computer. Before that, I have never worked with web interfaces. When I finished, I didn't count on much - I thought that the opponents were much stronger than me.

A few days after the submission was completed, the community tagged me in a post. I open and see myself among the five winners, each of whom will be presented with a MacBook Pro, a trip to San Francisco to the designers' conference and the opportunity to work in the VKontakte team. I literally got a tear from my eye when I saw all this. There was only one thought in my head: "Did it really happen?" I never went to California, but I got cool technique to draw even cooler interfaces and not spoil my eyes. And that's how it all began.

After the victory, did you immediately go to the VKontakte office and start working?

- No, first I graduated from school. However, the team stayed in touch: a few months before my 17th birthday, they asked me if I wanted to try to draw the VKontakte desktop messenger for Windows - an application that allows you to communicate without opening a browser. I agreed, got some guidelines, and rendered everything in just two weeks.

The team liked it, and I continued to work on the messenger until it was time for the exam. I had to write to the operational director, Andrey Rogozov, that I had to stop for a while to pass the exams. He understood me, wished me luck and invited me to the office to chat as soon as I graduate from school.

After graduation, I planned to enter the university in St. Petersburg. When I was in the city, I was invited to the office to find out what I intend to do in the next five years. I said that I wanted to enter and graduate from the university, and I was offered to become a part of the team.

VKontakte designer Ilya Grishin: on the difficulties of combining work with study
VKontakte designer Ilya Grishin: on the difficulties of combining work with study

So, instead of a university, you chose a job on VKontakte?

- No, I started combining work with studies to become an electrical engineer, but after the first year I realized that living in such a regime is physically painful: you have to keep up with classes, do homework and continue working. It was important for me to study well, because I graduated from school with a gold medal and did not want to lower the bar, but it was not easy to combine university and VKontakte. Then I decided to change my priorities, transferred to the correspondence department with a degree in Automation Systems Programmer, and for three years now I have been fully working in the VKontakte team.

What were the first days of your job in the company?

- I had no work experience in large companies, so it was hard to get used to it. This is no longer freelancing, but a completely different pace of work and approaches to it. The guys helped me a lot: I started with small tasks to understand how to interact with the interface on VKontakte, learned to think about the product and user problems, and only then they taught me color theory and other important skills that a designer should have.

How did your friends react to the fact that you are now working on VKontakte? Did you write messages from the category "Ilya, return the wall"?

- They asked how I got here and why I am not studying at the university. I replied that I combine everything, and they were very surprised.

Basically, questions start when friends want to get an answer here and now, and not go to support. Then they write to me and ask how to send votes or gift stickers. It looks funny, but I'm actually interested in helping them. This is how I understand what people face when they use our interface. Based on the problems my friends come to me with, I make decisions about what can be improved to make the life of users better. In my opinion, this is very cool!

I approach any problem as an equation, but it never gets solved on the first try

When did you realize that it is interesting for you to be engaged in design, and not to chase the ball with the guys in the yard?

- Unlike modern children, I got a computer quite late - at the age of 13. Then I became interested in Photoshop and registered on VKontakte. There I began to create various thematic communities, the first of which was the Zenita fan club. I expected that crowds of people would immediately run into the group, but this did not happen. However, the public still needed to be decorated, so I started to develop my design skills.

Embodying creative ideas in the community, I became interested in how the site is being updated. As a result, he also created a group about VKontakte updates - he tried to follow the work of the team and inform subscribers as quickly as possible about changes in the social network. To publish one post, you had to take a screenshot, decorate the picture in Photoshop, and then write the text. This is how design skills began to emerge.

I was hooked that I can imagine something in my head, draw and see my own idea right on the screen. I also liked to realize that with the help of my skills I can solve other people's problems. All this fascinated me, so I began to think about connecting my career with design. In the end, it happened.

How did you develop your skill? Have you watched YouTube videos or read books?

- Oddly enough, I have not watched any training videos. After all, this is the same as writing off a solution from a classmate when you were asked to find it yourself. In general, not my way.

My main way to learn new things is the poke method, which still helps. So I figured out most of the tools that are needed to work with interfaces. In addition, before starting to create my own interfaces, I redraw other people's icons and adopted good techniques in order to repeat them later. I wanted to understand how designers think better than me in order to solve a complex problem.

VKontakte designer Ilya Grishin: I wanted to understand how designers think better than me in order to solve a difficult problem
VKontakte designer Ilya Grishin: I wanted to understand how designers think better than me in order to solve a difficult problem

The concept of beauty is very subjective: one will find the design cool, while the other will find a million reasons to zait it. How do you know if a job is done well?

- It seems to me that the job is done well when it solves a user problem - it is with its detection that most changes within VKontakte begin. As a rule, feedback comes through support, from friends or the employees themselves. If you manage to fix the problem and make the interaction of the user with the interface easier and more enjoyable, then the result of the work can be called good. And beauty is very difficult to measure. If the image on the screen matches the visual style and is liked by many, then most likely it can be called beautiful.

Does a designer need inspiration to work, or is it more an excuse not to do anything?

- You can't go far without inspiration. At first, you can and should look for examples when a problem similar to yours was better solved. I am often impressed by the guys from the studio of Artemy Lebedev. One of the most recent examples: they combined the images that characterize the Russian people and created talismans for the Olympic Games. The result is a tumbler bear and a cat with earflaps. They combined simple things from offline and put them into digital. It turned out very cool - I dream of doing the same, but it's still ahead.

Who do you follow in your field, who do you look up to?

- VKontakte is that rare case when you can be inspired by the team in which you work. It seems to me that people are new oil. They can teach you something at any time: while you are just talking or working on a new project.

If you single out people from other companies, then recently I have been inspired by Danila Kovchiy, the art director of Yandex. He had a cool article on "" on how he interacts with interfaces.

I also like the way the company's design team works. They recently updated the visual style - it turned out quite specific, but at the same time beautiful.

“We pursue the same values as under Pavel Durov, but we strive to constantly improve them”

You are from the small town of Efremov, where there are only 35,000 inhabitants, but for the sake of study and work you moved to St. Petersburg. How did you adjust to the new rhythm and learn to live in a new way?

- Like most young guys, until the age of 18 I lived with my parents, so it was unusual to be in a large city all alone. They say that St. Petersburg is depressed, and at the very beginning of the move, I felt it well. People and my favorite work helped me to adapt. The desire to constantly learn something, communicate and find new experiences helped to cope. In the end, I just got used to what was happening around me.

Designer "VKontakte" Ilya Grishin: workplace in the office
Designer "VKontakte" Ilya Grishin: workplace in the office

What was the hardest part of the move?

- Oddly enough, the move itself. To get from Efremov to St. Petersburg, you need to overcome a difficult path: first 400 kilometers to Moscow, then by metro to the center, then Aeroexpress, and then another flight to St. Petersburg. At first it all seemed like some kind of hell, but gradually I got used to it and such movements became commonplace.

How did your parents react to the fact that now you live far from them?

- They miss, so I try to come to Efremov periodically. But at the same time, they are very happy. Not everyone is able to completely break away from their parents, find a job at the age of 18 and at the same time study well. My mom and dad themselves would like to move to a big city, but they did not have the opportunity to do this, so they are happy that everything is fine with me.

There are legends about the VKontakte office: it is compared to the workspaces of Yandex and Google, and they keep repeating how cool it is. Did he make the same impression on you?

- When I arrived for the first time, a colleague immediately gave me a tour of the office. Before that, I thoroughly studied it in photographs and knew everything up and down. I remember my heart was pounding very hard, because I ended up where I always dreamed of being. In addition, they took me to the dome, and I saw St. Petersburg from a very great height. I think that about every resident of the city would like to visit there. It would be cool to relive this day again, because in three years I have already climbed 20 times into the dome again and I am already calmer about everything.

What do you like the most about the office?

- Naturally, all important matters are decided in the kitchen. We have five of them: four small and one large. Even before my employment in VKontakte, a legend was born: when developers gather in the kitchen, they solve a very important problem. Sometimes the best ideas really come over a cup of coffee, so then all you have to do is go and do it. In addition, there are always fresh fruits, yoghurts, cheese curds, fish, a lot of juices and water - you can not deny yourself anything.

We also have a beautiful recreation room called "Leninskaya". There is a large TV and a sofa, so we often get together in a large company and watch some kind of conference - for example, from Apple developers. In addition, the office even had a pool of balls, but now it has been moved to the coworking space, where our support agents and moderators work.

What does your workplace look like?

- Employees themselves choose where they want to be located - in the office or in the common space. However, no matter what we choose, everyone has a table, chair, computer and access to electricity. Now the office has 5 floors and everyone is located by department, but the design team has its own office.

My workplace is a creative mess. In addition to a computer and a large monitor, there are four phones on the table: two iPhones and two Android phones. They are needed to test your own interfaces and understand the context in which users live. There are also a couple of sheets with sketches and a notebook in which I write down urgent tasks or just my thoughts. And also a small glass cube with Hogwarts inside, which I bought in London.

Users often remember VKontakte with the words: "But with Durov!" Do you have such conversations in the office too?

- Some of the employees from the old team are still working in the company, but I came much later. In my opinion, we share the same values as under Pavel Durov, but we strive to constantly improve and supplement them. I cannot assess whether the work process has somehow changed after his departure, but I am sure that VKontakte is only getting better and does not change that time at all.

What do you do when you have a free minute?

- I play PlayStation, walk and take pictures on iPhone. Sometimes I come up with homework and solve them. For example, every time I left the house, I turned on music on my smartphone, but all the covers of the playlists looked about the same.

VKontakte designer Ilya Grishin: I collected the faces of the performers from animoji, and then supplemented the images with patterns and gradients
VKontakte designer Ilya Grishin: I collected the faces of the performers from animoji, and then supplemented the images with patterns and gradients

I wanted to solve this problem so that I could easily distinguish between the performers in the morning, so I assembled their faces from Animoji and then augmented the images with patterns and gradients.

Life hacking from Ilya Grishin


From the latter, I was impressed by the book "". It was written by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmell. I've always wanted to understand how a company that makes such great cartoons works - and thanks to this book, I did it.

I also love the tutorial "", which talks about how to simplify the workflow. The publication is complex and large, but I hope that I will finish reading it to the end in due course.


I am an ordinary spectator, so I don't watch anything specific. I would like to mention the series "Black Mirror", because it delights me with the plot. One of the coolest episodes, in my opinion, is about how all the inhabitants of the world got a rating. You meet a colleague in the elevator, talk to him, and then you can evaluate each other. Based on this, your social position is formed. It looks creepy, but it's interesting to observe such a reality.

I also love the TV series "News Service". He talks about the life of a news agency: what departments exist in it and how they interact with each other.

Blogs and Websites

On Telegram, I read Kostya Gorsky and his channel. He writes about what interests him, but more often it turns out to be interesting to me too. I am also subscribed to the channel hosted by Sergei Surganov, and I always watch "" from Yuri Vetrov. I don't know where he got so much time from, but from time to time he pulls out links that I would never have found on my own. His digests are often very useful.

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