Alexander Vilinskyy, designer


What’s your relationship to visual design?

I’ve been in design since ~2008 and I’ve witnessed several rises and declines in attention to visual design. I’ve designed in multiple “styles”, which allows me to reflect on why I used certain techniques, why they were “modern” at every point in time.

The lowest point was when one of my past managers gave me honest feedback, that my visual design quality limits my ideas. That if I want to sell better, if I want to build better products, I need to level it up. It was years ago. Since then I’ve established different practices and habits to train it like a muscle—religiously, every day.

Why do you think attention to visual design rises and falls?

I think visual design is still looking for its place in the product. Sometimes it’s a driver of a higher consumer price, and sometimes it’s just table stakes for a certain category. Usually the attention rises when the core value is beginning to be a commodity, the market begins to saturate, and products collect new ways to differentiate or increase “perception of value”. In my opinion visual design is great at serving that purpose. If I remember 2008–2022, all technologies started with bad design and visual design always applied during the n-th iteration on a consumer market.

When you want to use a style that will feel modern, how do you approach that?

I think it will be fair to say, that it can’t start with a task like that. One should have a background and look at hundreds of modern things before they can do something “modern”. So I can sing long poems about inspiration, trending ideas, practicing craft, but the most honest answer will be—cultivate your taste for years before a task like that will come up in the backlog, and then trust your taste.

In a practical sense—you usually have to feel the “vibe of the time”, scrupulously analyse approaches and techniques designers use, redraw them to understand how people got to that point, and how easy it is to spoil it by making the wrong decisions. I think most software is a remix of some kind. We haven’t seen many innovations in visual design, but it also doesn’t need it. It’s interesting to analyse if we want to connect “modern” with “innovative” in the sense of visual design.

Do you have any advice for designers who want to use modern styles, but stand out at the same time?

That’s a good question, because using modern styles automatically makes you less visible, but more in a “dress-code”, you know? Let’s make parallels with the basics of fashion: you go to a party and everyone expects casual styles. An evening suit or Met Gala dress would be very visible, but probably inappropriate. So you stand out by being the weirdest.

But there are people, who can select a shirt or boots, that add colour and generate interest. The same should be done in visual design—add new, experimental, contrasting elements to existing standards. It’s very hard to do with taste, especially for more junior designers or designers without a lot of creative practice—you naturally will lean into making “everything shine” or “everything standard”.

Are there any style decisions you always seem to make in the same way?

Interesting. I think I always rely on basic structures like “big headings, smaller body” and black-and-white design, because they are almost always are giving the best result in terms of semantics. That’s what I’m trying to break, and use more colour to express meaning or make the whole page with one font size and weight, to see if I can translate the desired readability in new ways.

And are there any common style choices that you actively avoid?

I avoid super large typography. I see enough of large typography on the streets and on the advertising banners, that I always try to be as minimal as possible. I also always try to add some “depth” into simple elements. You will never see a flat button from me. There will always be an unnoticeable-to-everyone “micro-gradient” or stroke.

What do you think of the idea of good visual design for its own sake?

I think it’s not only essential, but it’s also inevitable for human nature. The reason we might see bad visual design is not because people did it on purpose, but rather because it was always an “important, but not urgent” task.

That’s why it’s important to raise its urgency to improve the quality of life for every observer. And it’s part of the “silent” requirements for designers—to care.

Is there anything I haven’t covered about visual design that you’d like to share?

The only thing that comes to mind is that I’m grateful we’re talking about it. There are so many conditions set “against” attention to visual design and I’m glad we’re finding a new place for it. Or rather rediscovering existent ones.