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Meet Marina Saitova

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marina Saitova.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’m a Creative Director and a Graphic Designer with a focus on branding and visual communication. My passion is for colourful and expressive design.

I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia. As a child, I really liked drawing and crafting and was very lucky to have an amazing Art teacher at the primary school. At her classes, we all would experiment with different media — painting on a wet paper, making ceramics or creating a free form cut-out collective cardboard sculpture. It was mind-blowing how much freedom I felt creating art and I just absolutely loved the process itself. It eventually led me to applying for an Art School.

Starting my studies there provided me with a strong foundation in classic drawing and painting techniques. My favorite classes were Composition and Art History, but my deeper passion was delving into the underlying story of each painting or sculpture and learning about authentic elements of different cultures.

Later on I learned the term ‘Graphic Design’ from my friends and it seemed fascinating how it combined art and function. I loved ideas behind pictures, the design way of thinking — inventory, creative yet very practical. I studied everything I could get my hands on: grids and layouts, HTML, photo manipulation, vector drawing, and read every bit of information on design that I could find on the web.

When I got my first job at a publishing house as a designer and illustrator, I faced first creative challenges: deadlines, edits, critique from the creative director. It also felt great to make illustrations and see my work printed, as well as being part of a team. As I continued my career as Manager of Creative Projects at an international communication agency, I was able to design for major international brands like VISA, Facebook, IKEA and many others. Constantly searching for new opportunities and expanding my skills as a designer, I began exploring brand identities, guidelines, event branding, and set design.

After seven years in the agency, and taking on a Creative Director role, I felt less and less satisfied with working on corporate projects that made no sense to me, more and more tired and out of creative energy. I strove to discover what really inspired me about design. I constantly felt under pressure and being not good enough for myself. It took me a while to make this decision but eventually, I took a leap of faith into freelance that later on proved to be one of the best decisions in my creative life.

Freelance let me focus on helping smaller brands and having a wider variety of projects. I could now choose to work on projects that meant something to me personally — as well as make first steps towards a dream of my own boutique design studio.

I discovered that my passion as a designer was to educate people about important things and initiatives and promote sustainable and healthy lifestyle through my design as well as with my own example. I strongly support businesses owned and run by women and give a share of my time to pro bono work for charity projects. I love working with startups driven by the passion and energy of their founders because I know how hard it is to say ‘no’ to one’s fears and change your life pursuing your dream business.

Since moving to Los Angeles, I have found a thriving and supportive creative community that has allowed me to further explore my identity as an artist and has given me amazing opportunities to design for good causes. After all the stress of settling in the new country I feel more free and creative than ever. LA itself is a fascinating city that just bursts with different visual styles. From street art to architecture, from nature to every district’s own special vibe – it’s the endless source of inspiration to me.

Apart from design, I am a singer/songwriter and a huge fan of outdoors: riding my Harley, snowboarding, surfing, hiking, backpacking, rollerblading and traveling as much as I can.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Throughout my career, I have found it is often the challenges that provide the most valuable experiences and help us define the motivation that drives our work.

The first challenge I faced as a creative director, was the persistent need to present my work to CEOs and Managing Directors of big corporations that didn’t take me seriously as a woman and a young designer. Over the time I was able to gain their trust and learned that with enough confidence and skills I can reach any professional level. Good work proves itself with back up of data and a good presentation.

Another major challenge was questioning the ethical side of my work. I feel it is my responsibility as a designer to choose more sustainable and honest brands. This is how we can help a really great product or service stand out and compete with big corporations. Although sometimes with limited resources and on smaller budgets, but this is our way to make a positive impact.

I recently faced a major burnout that led to a depression. It made me realize that I need to sort out my priorities and work/life balance. I started turning down projects with unrealistic deadlines which was scary — what if projects will stop coming in? Spoiler: they didn’t. Fear made me take work that didn’t inspire me but there was no real need to do it. What I really needed was regain confidence and identify myself as a professional designer and creative, which felt great (and still does).

My main recipe to fight the struggles of a creative career is being self-aware, giving yourself enough rest and time to recharge, tracking and admiring your own progress, as well as always allowing time for personal projects and hobbies (I know it’s a hard one). I perceive design process as a game where I make my own rules and allow myself to be playful and free. When something doesn’t go smooth with a project instead of beating myself up about it I start with a long walk in the nature — my main source of inspiration. After that, I’m usually ready to fly a dragon and change the world one step at a time.

Marina Saitova Design – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
My main area of expertise is branding. I’m absolutely in love with the process of finding out more about the brand and people behind it and help communicating it to the customers. I believe in design as a very powerful instrument and it fascinates me how it improves the quality of our everyday lives and helps us make good choices. In my work I try to balance function and aesthetics. I don’t believe in having one particular visual style as a designer and rather try to fulfill the needs and expectations of brands and their customers. I’m proactive in my work and think that sometimes it’s great to go beyond the brief if I see better opportunities for a project using a different creative approach.

Another big part of my work is animation and motion design. I’m lucky to work with a wonderful team of eight people — illustrators, developers, animators and 3D-modellers. Teamwork is something that is necessary for any complex project. Not only you have all the diverse skills, but also different perspectives that help make better choices along the way and achieve the best result. In a team, I take on a role of a creative director and project manager making stylistic choices, creating keyframes and working directly with clients’ marketing and advertising teams.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I feel the best when I get feedback from clients that my design actually made a difference. A charity foundation was able to raise more funds, children loved the book that I designed, schoolkids became aware of ways to recycle batteries from the educational video me and my team made. I loved working on a project for Pedigree that helped children learn more on how to be a good dog parent. Ultimately it makes me feel good and an active member of our society.

I’m grateful to myself that I had courage to move past just making money on corporate design. Doing meaningful work and being honest is the most rewarding and satisfying thing and at the end of the day, it’s totally worth the effort.

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