Martin Güntert

30 May – 28 September 2007
School of Art and Design, Kassel

I know this company is famous in Russia and getting more so in Europe, but, pardon my ignorance, I am not a blog-reader, I had not heard of them, before that email from Timour came. He had seen my portfolio on the web and asked me to apply for an internship at Art. Lebedev Studio, which, after some research, seemed the perfect place to both improve my skills and polish up my CV. So I applied spontaneously. And it turned out to be a very good decision.

Getting into Russia was as complicated as I expected. Yes, visa procedure is quite a strain. I picked the studio, not the city it is located in, but Moscow was an enticing bonus and it is worth a trip for anyone. No need for safety concerns more than in Berlin, London or Paris. In Moscow there is more police than villains on the street. Quite a lot of both, though. Anyway, I felt pretty safe everywhere. It is a very expensive place and there is just no end to this city. After one month I exchanged my neat flat in the outskirts, 50 minutes away from the studio, for a shared flat: I should say a shared rat hole, 5 minutes walk from my work desk. Although excessively expensive due to the location, it might still have been the right decision, because it enabled me to experience the Moscow nightlife at its best and much more often. I have lost so much money on clubbing here, even triple my salary (which I shall not complain about at all) would not have covered this trip.

To get to the main issue: The studio. Work environment is great. Very laid back atmosphere, very nice people. And the staff gets pampered with several leisure activities, food twice a day (“Butterbrot”. And thanks to Kate, Tanya and Dima for the daily menu translation!) and a very flexible working time. As long as you get the job done, you can even work night only. Very handy! Apropos time: Getting adjusted to the Russian way of time management took me a few weeks. I might be very German that way, meeting deadlines and sticking to briefings, but I learned to expect the unexpected in project work. Meetings are likely to be held in Russian (I still do not have more than 20 Russian words, sorry!) and/or interrupted and/or postponed, but in the end, you get things done. It is advisable to do better in Russian than me to work here, but it is manageable with just English.

A great deal is the “brain” and the weekly homework on any design subject. Idea exchange is important at Art. Lebedev and that way they are building up a huge pool of fresh ideas, some of which turn into a project and finally a product.

What did I learn? I thought I knew my way around injection moulding, but while working at Art. Lebedev I learned so much more. I also was able to refresh and improve my drawing skills, although I could not quite get on with the big Wacom tablet, that I was given. Working mainly for the Russian market was interesting as well, because in some aspects it is very different from the one I know, and this is only to be learned from inside. And the extreme specialization of the department’s crew (management, modeling, rendering, engineering, design) made an intense design work possible for me. A new experience, coming from university and freelance work. Thanks, guys!

A word on the boss: Spontaneous design philosophy lectures, a playful approach on serious issues, unpredictable and sometimes provocative comments, but always in a productive way. This man can be your kind of art director, if you have reasons for what you put up on the wall and are not afraid of straight forward criticism. Exactly my thing. DO lots of variants to avoid running back and forth. DO NOT tell him, he is a design punk.;)

For those young designers, who consider applying here, I can tell you now, why you should: The good thing about the studio is: They need you. The department would hardly be able to do the amount of jobs it does without interns. And this is not about exploiting undergrads for cheap design work. It is about being accepted and seriously involved. And still the company is constantly expanding.

And another advice: In Russia, everything is about knowing people. Russians might sometimes seem rude and impolite to middle Europeans, especially shop and bar staff can be a nightmare, but as soon as you know them, the Russians are welcoming, friendly, interesting, cool people. And it was quite easy to get to know them.

Many thanks to the whole crew at Promdesign, especially “Steelman” Timour and “Super Attraktion” Lelic for the advice and help.

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