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Meet Alisa Olinova of Verynice in Downtown Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alisa Olinova.

Alisa, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My mom and dad moved to the U.S. from Russia when I was a baby in the early 90’s with my five year old sister. My parents went from having careers in the cultural and musical arts to opening (and closing) their own businesses, working in salons, being drivers, and working security day and night. I was lucky enough to grow up in Santa Monica, a lovely childhood, American in every way. I was best friends with my cousin who lived next door, played tennis, roller-bladed, experienced some obligatory middle school bullying, made art, had lots of pets, and watched a lot of cartoons. I never noticed the canned foods, the expertly sifted Salvation Army picks (thanks Mom), or the jimmy-rigged handy work around the apartment (thanks Dad). 

I didn’t know graphic design was a thing for a while. My closest encounter was watching Helen Hunt in What Women Want, which really helped me make my decision when switching majors at Santa Monica College. I transferred to Cal State Long Beach for their graphic design BFA program. Although I got some killer socializing skills working in restaurants since I was 16, I loved design and never looked back. For two years, I took on freelance graphic design and illustration jobs and worked as an Assistant Graphic Designer for CSULB’s College of Continuing and Professional Education. Shout out to those that supported me and taught me so much during that time.

After college, I made a list. I wrote down and researched everything that I thought was interesting, anything that could move me in a direction. On that list was verynice. I went to a talk that the founder, Matthew was giving for AIGA and felt strongly that “design for good” was a direction for me. The time was right. I went to a Design for Non-Profits event and “happened” to be in Matthew’s group. When I noticed they were hiring interns, I applied and got the position. Long story short. I made myself useful. I became the Junior Designer, Designer, Art Director, and Design Director at verynice. I spent nearly 6 years at verynice, working on amazing projects spanning branding, user experience, data visualization, and more. I co-hosted and moderated a quarterly Women’s Design Salon event, mentored students in almost every So-Cal design program, and taught a class on Design Thinking for UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. I was able to experience such a large variety of challenges in a short amount of time and work with great co-workers, clients, and non-profits.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I feel lucky for the opportunities that I’ve received and challenges that I’ve conquered. Sometimes it feels like I’m just climbing higher and higher toward the summit of whatever I’m looking for. That said, there are many times where I’ve felt like I don’t know what I’m doing, or that I’m not good enough. It’s like I’m pushing a boulder up a hill or running downhill so fast that I can’t look around. Work can feel overwhelming or ideas too far away, with many late nights and stress from wanting everything to be just right. Being passionate about work makes it hard to balance time and stay open to the bigger picture. Truthfully, this has caused ups and downs for me, feelings of “what if”, and changes in my habits or relationships. It’s a struggle to remain confident along the way, but I’m incredibly proud of the outcome of my hard work. It’s important to believe that I am doing the right thing and believe in myself and in my story as I expand my capacity and explore how my foundation can be applied in new environments.

verynice – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
verynice is a design and strategy consultancy. We help businesses, non-profits, and governments expand their capacity for impact through brand strategy and creative facilitation. We provide hands-on strategic consulting and design services, facilitate workshop sessions, and publish a variety of open-source design methodologies. We’ve worked with 500+ brands, including the American Heart Association, Heal the Bay, City of Los Angeles, Clean Power Alliance, UNICEF, and Google. We’re well known for our unique “give-half” business model where we give half of our work away for free to non-profits through pro-bono and sliding scale work. We have a network of over 700 professionals around the world that serve as volunteers for our pro-bono projects and freelancers for our paid engagements. As an Art and Design Director, I create brand experiences large and small, focusing on impactful designs and experiences that have a connection to a larger idea or concept.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I want to feel good about the work that I do. I want others to feel good about the work I do. Success to me is about being in a good enough place in my own life that I am able to give back and help or inspire others. I feel successful when my work has affected my environment positively. I like when people are excited by our collaboration. It makes me excited! In that sense, I feel that I have a lot of success. It’s the kind of thing that makes my parents proud. Hopefully, I can give back to them someday. It’s the kind of thing that gives me the depth to share stories with others, stories that make me feel well rounded and adventurous. I’ll never stop improving my story. Success is all about the journey.

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