15 November, 2007 11 February, 2008
You’re reading the Art. Lebedev Studio’s website, so you’re probably intrigued about what happens there. I know I was. As an industrial design student, I just loved the idea of an irreverent, multitalented Russian design studio with a superb sense of humor and adventure. I first became aware of “Tyoma” Lebedev through his photo series of North Korea, and began following his studio’s work years ago after reading about the Optimus Maximus concept. When it became time for me to find an internship, I secretly put his studio on the top of my list, sadly aware that it would never become reality. Right?
Well, not really, just remember that every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. First, warm yourself to the idea of staying in Russia for a few months. Ignore all the misguided advice from your parents and friends about forgetting the whole thing, just keep in mind that Russia is fascinating, for better and for worse. I, for one, found it lots of fun and absolutely survivable. Then take the plunge and mail your portfolio to the studio. Wait a few days in anxious anticipation. If they accept you, you need to get all your documents and find a place to stay, but that’s all basically a patience game. Once you’re all set and on Russian soil, it’s a smooth ride. If it’s not, you can always sleep on the office couches…
The studio is located in the center of Moscow, literally on a five minutes’ walk from the Kremlin, on the fifth floor of a grand old ex-theater. Its center is the large open hall where the webdesign department designs its websites, but there’s also the kitchen, the famous four toilets, the ping pong table, and way down the hall, the room where the industrial design department (or “promdesign” in studio parlance) resides. There’s a section of the studio that’s lined with old Soviet tech, and there are also old but playable Russian arcade machines on loan. It’s a big integrated maze of rooms and departments, with little glimpses of new projects everywhere. My tip is to make good use of your studio pass and keep track of what they’re doing in web-design, typography and graphic design. It’s really good for your inspiration and contacts.
Promdesign is one of the smaller departments here, with three designers, two world—class solid modelers, an intern or two, and Dima who’s responsible for the astounding renders. Hang around these guys and look over their shoulders, you’ll learn a thing or two. All the other departments are open for support and help. If you have technical questions, go to the technical guys; if you need graphics, write a ticket for the graphic design department; if you want discount merchandise, go to Sales.
A large part of your day will consist of visualisation; trying to come up with cool shapes, fresh ideas and interesting forms. Consequently, you need to be good with pen and paper. Being good with computer sketches is even better, because they’re much encouraged. Timur is a big fan of them and a very good artist himself. If you’re unsure about your skills, ask him to show you the basics. There’s a drawing tablet on your desk; befriend it! Should you start seeing the need for a 3D model, you can fire up your favourite 3D package, or do it the old-fashioned way with clay or cardboard. Choosing the computer model means you could get Dima to make a great render for you.
The rest of the day, apart from the ping-pong, movie and lunch breaks, will consist of things like manufacturability trials, colour and material sampling, making prototypes, organizing your files on the intranet system, and so on. I imagine it’s not all that different from other design agencies. Days can sometimes drag on a bit, definitely if your project is not coming along nicely, but there are plenty of ways to vent some steam: ping-pong, visiting other departments, watching movies. It’s part of studio culture to have some planned downtime.
The projects you work on can vary from internal projects stemming from the online idea pool called the “Brain”, to actual client work. You get some internal studio projects that are just fun to work on, some sidetracked projects to revive, and client stuff. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to work on “the next big studio project” and really make your name. You’ll start to understand something about the way Russian corporate clients approach design, which is interesting since the Russians are only recently picking up on the added value of everyday design.
One important thing about doing an internship here is that you need to be able to handle the freedom. They take you seriously and don’t babysit you at all. You’ll get a short brief on new projects, and then they’re yours. For me that was occasionally a bit much, because as an intern I just didn’t have the routine yet. However, when in doubt, you can get as many opinions as you want; just remember to ask. Occasionally Tyoma himself will pop in and tell you in a straightforward but fair manner what he thinks about your ideas. Sometimes you can take your fancy concepts back to the drawing board, but he’ll praise you equally if he likes your work.
The perks of working here? Free daily “biznes lansh” in Vietcafe, rearranging the fridge magnets, unlimited cappuccino, snacks at seven pm, a deejay in the main hall every Tuesday and Friday, your own computer with drawing tablet and pro headphones, access to the multimedia server, interesting and cool colleagues, working hours from twelve till ten, learning lots of Russian “Mat”", occasional visits from TV journalists, and the list goes on and on. It’s a lot of fun to work here, which you probably already guessed from this site…
Apart from your time in the studio, there’s also your time in the wild outdoors of the town called Moscow. Try to fit in. When in Rome, do as the Muscovites do. Many people speak some basic English, but you’ll need to learn at least the Cyrillic alphabet and the basic phrases to break your isolation. Everything more is a bonus if you want to catch the office in-jokes. Most of the staff here speak fine English, and the ones who don’t are a constant reminder that, well, you should keep up the habit of reading your grammar book. If you’re here for a few months, and you try, you’ll definitely learn basic conversational Russian. There you go, another perk.
In Russia, there’s always something crazy going on in the corner of your eye. If you’re lucky and turn around fast enough, you might even catch it. I’ve seen people making movies on the street, I’ve talked to Moldovan drifters who had just been beaten up, I’ve seen girls on horseback in the middle of Moscow, I’ve been to night forest parties in Zelenograd, and once I even found myself inside an oligarch’s Rublyovka palace! Russians are very open and nice people once you get to know them, I found them to be very honest and frank. Ignore all stereotypes, they’re exactly that.
The best time to come is probably in spring, but every season has its charm. If you come in summer, take light clothes and good shoes. If you come in winter, take warm clothes and even better shoes. Really, the shoes are important. Try to make the best of your stay by traveling as far and wide as possible in the weekends, or dive into the awesome nightlife, your choice.
All in all I had a wonderful three months here and learnt an awful lot about an awful lot, and not just work-related. Once you take a sip of Russia, you’ll want the whole bowl. I’ll definitely be back!
Last but not least, lots of thanks to Timur, Lelic, Kostya, Bronwen, Sanya, Dima, Akim, Tema, Irina, Olaf, Andrey, Anya, Vitalik, the whole darn studio, the doormen, the crew at McDonalds, and everybody else I forgot to mention. I’m indebted to all of you for making my internship a great experience.
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