MUSE interview with Zgraya’s CEO Valentin Ilchuk & art director Michael Babenko: on creativity, invigorating stress and award-winning deliverables
A short while ago one of our design works — a website we did for Arkade to promote their hyper-mega cool blaster — became the winner of the 2020 Vega Awards, got Gold at MUSE Creative Awards and Platinum at NYX Awards.
Shortly after that, MUSE grabbed our guys for an interview. We’re republishing their text, unedited so that you can enjoy it in full.
“There is no place for predictability in an idea, it’s a word more about art. Design is another thing, Dieter Rams said everything about it.”
Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your creative background.
Well, there are two of us, and neither are supposed to be deemed really creative by the virtue of our education.
Val: My name is Valentin Ilchuk, and I am Zgraya’s CEO. I have a degree from the University of Richmond in Business Administration with a concentration in International Business. For most of my life, I worked in corporate sales and finances, which is as creative as you make it to be really, but is really far from your traditional art-related talent pools.
Michael Babenko here, our Art Director, with his degree in biophysics, could totally become more of a Big Bang Theory-type character. But the stars aligned and he’s become an amazing digital designer.
What made you become/why did you choose to become a creative?
Val: Friends, opportunism, 9 dramatic days of unemployment, and a wild chance really. I was in between projects when my ex-partner approached me and suggested that I bring some of that international corporate experience to get her studio to another level. My initial input was mostly operations, sales, finance, and general development strategy. But one cannot run a creative business without diving in and getting creative himself. So, soon I found myself taking over our copy, commenting on designs, generating ideas, and coming up with new creative product solutions for projects with companies like Mercedes AMG 🙂 Now I get my hands creatively dirty pretty much every day and I love it.
Michael: Mum’s upbringing, the America and Elle France magazines in the early 90s (then it looked like an expensive gloss), Grandfather’s camera, art school, and zero tolerance for imitating important work in science. And deception in creativity is only welcome. Any more or less creative activity denies stability, which by definition is boring.
Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.
Val: I am the founder and the CEO of Zgraya Digital. We are an all-around digital agency that operates in (as we like to put it) the holy trinity of digital – design, development and marketing. Basically, at this point, we evolved from being simply a design gig into a digital powerhouse that uses its skills to solve more complex problems. The term has been used and abused, however, it is what we do – we digitally transform businesses taking them to another level of digital efficiency.
My role here is fairly diverse. Within the scope of one day alone I can be taking care of the mundane (finances, legal issues, administrative tasks), strategising on how to help a new client, fighting over copy intricacies with our copywriter, commenting on the designs and solutions, and motivating the team.
Michael: Every designer must be able to cure, fuck, forge, and solder. Such a versatile soldier. Mix, but not shake.
What does “creativity” mean to you?
Val: It is an ability to build and combine, creating something that was not there before. It is fun and it is magic.
Michael: it is simply an antonym for craftsmanship.
To you, what makes a “creative” idea and/or design?
Val: It is a combination of uniqueness and efficiency. Creativity that achieves nothing and touches no one is not creativity.
Michael: I am confused by the phrase “creative idea”. In my vocabulary these are synonyms. There is no place for predictability in an idea, it’s a word more about art. Design is another thing, Dieter Rams said everything about it.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process and why?
Val: This one is definitely for our Art Director to tackle.
Michael: Personally, I like the fact that gradually the question “for whom?” has become more important than “how?”. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get a result that’s different from what you did before. Plus, it will be the same as a customer request.
Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.
Michael: Trying to test the harmony of algebra.
“For a career, the main thing is to stand on a pedestal for 2 minutes, then everything starts from scratch”
Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your creativity process?
Val: I think it does. But what helps more is the ability to take in something new – new cultures, new styles, new techniques. Cultural heritage shapes us at first. But to be truly free, one must learn how to use all the instruments available.
Michael: It is pleasant that the young generation has paid attention to worthy examples of design in the post-Soviet space. In my opinion, this movement started from the outside in the capital when the West paid attention to various aspects of our visual culture, and then the indecent constraint of our own identity disappeared. Previously, only Kharkiv and Lviv loved their roots. The rest tried to imitate someone else’s cultural code. Well done.
Congratulations! As the winner of the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?
It means a world, really. It means that we do things right. It means that our designs are able to reach out to people out there while delivering the results to our clients. It means that we have a crazy good team. And getting this international approval actually drives us to create evermore.
Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2020 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?
Val: We decided to go big this year, and we actually nominated 3 absolutely different projects that we are really proud of.
Arkade games – is a single-brand eCommerce website that aims to present and to sell to the world a grand gaming invention – Arkade Blaster. In short, it is literally a blaster that connects to your mobile devices and it’s motion detectors and allows you to have a unique immersive 3D gaming experience. The product itself was so cool that we decided to go all out and came up with an interactive 3D centerpiece that is surrounded by all the traditional elements and styling of the gaming world.
Encredibox is an innovative product for learning and personal development, but what is really cool is the way our client wanted to present it to the world. From day one, he was set to have interactive boxes that the users will be able to properly open. The boxes come each with its own set of multimedia materials to help users to attain a specific task or goal. We were very proud of the general styling and animations, so for us, it was a no-brainer.
The project that got us Platinum was a corporate site for Burfa Capital – an Estonian tech holding. This one was Michael’s own baby, as he created the concept, pushed the idea through, and tried himself as a photo-shoot director at the same time. The reason we nominated this one is simple – we came up with a cool way to show the dualistic nature of our client’s business and on top of that produced a really cool interactive visual centerpiece for it.
What was the biggest challenge with this project?
Michael: as in any good project – do not allow yourself to be done mediocrely.
How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?
Michael: for a career, the main thing is to stand on a pedestal for 2 minutes, then everything starts from scratch.
What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?
Val: Infinite development possibilities – the world of digital is huge and is growing non-stop.
Creative freedom – for the most part, we ask our clients which goals do they want to achieve and pitch them the solution we see the most effective. Leaving a trace – today’s digital is so fast and fluid that one can see the impact he/she makes pretty much immediately.
Michael: Absence of boredom, invigorating stress, and, in contrast to Leaving A Trace, an opportunity to stop taking yourself seriously more quickly.
“We will follow the technologies really. Wherever the user will be – we will follow”
What makes your country specifically, unique in the creative industry?
Val: This is another no-brainer – creative bravery and tons of skill combined with a great price tag the local economy puts on it.
Michael: We are just like that, the children of the east and west. The more different the genotypes of our parents, the more new competitive features our descendants will receive.
Where do you see the evolution of creative industry going over the next 5-10 years?
Val: We will follow the technologies really. Wherever the user will be – we will follow. I am thinking that the entertainment industry will become more and more interactive. E-commerce will be integrated into everything. Eventually, we should be able to discover, view, and ultimately purchase in just a couple of clicks everything we see in the movies, read about online, or see in our Facebook friends’ pictures. And this will open the path for thousands of new user flows and millions of new user experiences.
Michael: Forecasts are a strange thing. They are made here and now, taking into account the technology of the current period. Where is the guarantee that tomorrow something will not appear, good or bad, that will turn everything in a completely new direction? For me, the forecast is a retouched version today.
If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Creative Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?
Michael: The slogan on Galliano’s website in his golden days was “Don’t wait”.
What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the creative industry?
Michael: recharge your internal resource. Choose your own proportions in the classic triple “sport, sleep, sex”.
Tell us something you have never told anyone else.
Val: I’ve got nothing 🙂
Michael: The above is a lie. And I love doing big pieces of work listening to the tasteless pop with Spotify private mode on.
Who has inspired you in your life and why?
Val: People that change the world around them for the better. People who are not afraid to dream big and who refuse to take no for an answer pushing on no matter what the public may think.
Michael: Musicians and those I am in love with now. Very often music is an irreversible form of love.
What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?
Val: Never give up. Keep pushing. Stay true to yourself and to your ideals. Remember that there are no obstacles one cannot overcome. Yet, there are no shortcuts. And as long as you keep following your goal while being ok with your reflection in the mirror – you will win.
Michael: do your favorite thing in a company of like-minded people and earn enough for you, but do not become a hostage of your own fortune.