Right after I was done with my graphic design bachelor degree, I proactively applied for a junior art director position at Ogilvy & Mather Düsseldorf. After two weeks I got an email from the HR department with bad news – they currently had no available spot for me. The reply didn’t hit me that badly. “Well, I’ll just start small, gather some experience and hit up big fishes again later” I decided. A week later, as I already started working as a freelancer in a small web design agency, I got another E-Mail from Ogilvy & Mather which stated that there is now an available position for me.
The interview was on March 12th. It was a horribly cold day with a snow storm, which is actually not typical for Germany. I was also extremely sensitive to the cold because I recently got back from California, where I studied abroad for 1,5 years. I was seriously considering to cancel the interview. But I put on my warmest clothes and my snowboarding jacket and bravely went out into the cold. The interview went well – in the end I chatted with a creative director about snowboarding more than my portfolio. After the interview he told me he will notify me about the final decision soon.
A couple days later, on Sunday evening I suddenly got a call from an unknown number. It was the HR Department of Ogilvy & Mather. They called to tell me they want to hire me. We’ve set up a date for my first day and before they hung up, they added “No worries, we don’t always work on Sundays”. Couple of weeks later I figured out that they really don’t always work on Sundays. Just every second Sunday ;-P
As soon as I started, I was thrown the deep end – in a pitch. After my graphic design study I didn’t even knew what pitch means! During my first weeks at Ogilvy I realized that university wasn’t really preparing us for the real world.
A study at a university was like a world full of unicorns and rainbows.
Over there we didn’t have to worry about budget limitations or any style guidelines and client wishes. We were wild and free. Later I learned though that style guides are interface designer’s best friends. They really make your life easier.
I also learned a lot of useful techniques and strategies at Ogilvy. For example, as I was working on the Philips Click & Style project, I learned and applied methodologies of agile working. In contrast to other projects, which are usually completed by a waterfall model, developers here started coding and testing parts of the layout as soon as I was done with some key elements. We didn’t wait for final layout approvals from the client to start working. Thanks to these agile principles we established a flexible process and were able to constantly improve usability of the landing page. We were working in Scrum sessions, which was very productive thanks to daily stand ups. The team met for 10 minutes each morning for updates on what they accomplished in the previous day and to discuss any impediments.
When the project was finished, the landing page was translated into different languages - Turkish, French, English, German, Danish, Swedish… and Russian. As I heard the russian version, I had to laugh out loud - the voiceover actor was the same guy who did voiceover for the TV show “How I met your mother” and many other TV shows in russian. His voice is my favourite comedian voice!
I have to say, as I started as a junior art director at Ogilvy & Mather I was lucky to have a creative director who has been a great supervisor and supporter. He told me about LEAN principles and recommended the book LEAN UX. I got excited about the workstyle described in the book.
Soon after I finished reading the book, I was lucky to be assigned to a project where I could implement my knowledge of LEAN methodologies. It was a digital campaign for BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world. BASF addressed the Ogilvy & Mather team in Düsseldorf because they were experiencing a lack of job applications from young specialists and college graduates. Our team came up with a digital campaign idea to show how being a BASF employee can help one to make the world a better place.
Our film production department developed a video campaign that consisted of three stories about BASF employees who managed to bring to life a product that has a positive impact either on the environment, economy or in sports.
I was the leading Art Director on the landing pages. I had to dig deep into storytelling, because the campaign videos were telling a story of an employee reversed. They began with his final achievement or a released product, following the process of succes back to the very beginning - a job application he sent to BASF. My challenge was not to design another informative landing page, but to design a story.
Our team was working on this project in our usual agile manner. As soon as I prepared the first rough design, developers started with coding. When all three landing pages were programmed and functioning, we gave it to an external agency for user testings. After we got the results of the user testing, we had time to make significant changes to the user interface and adapt it to user needs. We implemented the principles of LEAN UX and followed the LEAN Loop “Build – Measure – Learn”.
Thanks to projects of another client, Allianz, the insurance services company, I learned how to build personas and customer experience maps. These methods helped us understand the target audience and create a consistent digital strategy for Allianz Switzerland.
One day a project manager came to me and a senior art director and surprised us with a sudden meeting with the client next morning. It was going to be a three-day workshop with the client, during which we would work closely on personas and customer experience maps to get them done quickly. The workshop was going to be held in Switzland so we had to catch an early flight.
As the senior art director moaned not willing to leave his family for a long time, my eyes light up. I hit up my friends in Switzerland, then asked my agency to book my return flight on Sunday, not on Friday. As soon as my work was over, I rushed into a snowboard store fifteen minutes before it closed and told an astonished shop assistant that I needed a snowboard. The next day I walked into the clean and formal Allianz Switzerland headquarters wearing a suit and carrying a snowboard on my back.
One of my favourite projects that I was working on at Ogilvy is SmartBowl. Our team proactively developed this product for the client Fressnapf, Europe’s largest pet food supplier. SmartBowl is a mecosystem that consists of a hi-tech food bowl, a collar that measures dog’s activity and helps calculate the right amount of food for the dog, and an App that gives dog owners an overview of their dog’s health to automatically order a new food package when you are about to run out.
As we developed this product, we were orienting ourselves on the principles of Design Thinking, a methodology for successful creative problem solving. This methodology is used at Hasso-Plattner-Institut in Germany and at Stanford University in U.S.A., where a degree program in Design Thinking is offered.
We applied the following Design Thinking rules while working on the SmartBowl project:
“Place people at the center of all things.“
We developed this product based on an insight of dog owners. Our creative director once run out of dog food on a Sunday evening, when all the stores are closed in Germany. He had to drive to a gas station to buy some low quality dog food. As he was driving he got an idea for a bowl for dogs that would automatically order dog food as soon as you are about to run out of it. The next day he introduced the idea to our team and we got excited about the project.
“Show me, don’t tell me.”
After we refined the idea and the concept, we started off with a product prototype. We developed it in a cooperation with an external product design agency. We wanted the bowl to look premium and be a nice decorative element for any kitchen, so we decided against plastic and chose wood and porcelain as main materials. We used soft leather for the collar.
“For innovation you have to have no fear.”
We presented the SmartBowl prototype to the client and he got excited about the idea. He directly recognized the potential of sales growth, so we started with the mass production planning. We also submitted the project to Cannes Innovation Lions Award and got onto the shortlist.
I am now ready to start a new chapter in my life. I want to explore new horizons, so I would be happy to relocate. I am also interested in remote working both as a freelancer and as a full time employee.
If you want to know what I did before Ogilvy & Mather and how I managed to impress them with my resume, keep scrolling.
Before I got my first job as a junior art director at Ogilvy & Mather Düsseldorf, I was studying graphic design at a university in Krefeld, Germany. I was enrolled to the university and I have to say, I was satisfied with my study and my average life as an average girl. Until one day on my usual route from the dorms to the university I suddenly realized that I am bored to death of the same routine every morning, same classrooms, same classmates. I needed a change.
As I walked in into the university that day, a huge poster has welcomed me at the entrance:
“Go study abroad” said the poster.
“Okay” I said and I investigated with partner schools. From 22 schools, I picked the most distant one – Woodbury University, USA, California. I shipped my portfolio over there and nervously waited to hear from them. I will never forget that first line of the acceptance letter: “Dear Ms. Belova. I am pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the Graphic Design program at Woodbury University”.
As I crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the plane for the first time, I became a different person without noticing it. I always thought I was a shy person but on my first day at Woodbury University I was as outgoing and opened-minded as I was never before. Woodbury welcomed me warmly and very soon I became a part of the small, cosy family of this private university.
Will I surprise anyone if I say the study abroad was the best time of my life?
I won’t be original if I say that every student should use the opportunity and study abroad for a semester or two. I became a lot more confident, met friends for life from everywhere around the world and drastically improved my english and design skills.
At Woodbury University we were working on projects hands-on, by accomplishing a lot of practical exercises. At the german university we often had to write long concept papers without getting to the practical part at all. At Woodbury University I also learned that discussing a project in a small group together with classmates is more efficient than only getting feedback from a professor, as it was usually the case at my german university.
One of my favourite courses at Woodbury University was web design. Since I already knew HTML and CSS, and was way ahead of the others, the teacher offered me intermediate exercises. That’s when I learned about responsive design and got excited about it.
Since the responsive approach was not yet commonly used in Germany, I promised myself to become a responsive design ninja and fight for it when I go back.
After six exciting months my exchange program was coming to an end. I didn’t want to leave but I could only extend my stay if I would pay a full semester tuition fee: $25.000. It sounded insane to me in comparison to 400€ I was paying for a semester at Germany. I lost hope but luckily one of my friends convinced me to talk to the chair of graphic design about my will to stay. The graphic design chair listened to me and set up a meeting with the president of the university for me.
On friday morning, a day before my flight back to Germany, I had a meeting with the president of Woodbury. He welcomed me warmly and said the chair of graphic design noticed a positive development in my design skills since I started my study at Woodbury and recommended to extend my program. The president agreed with it and allowed me to stay for one more semester without paying the full tuition fee. I just had to pay for my german university, as I did previously.
I couldn’t believe my ears. After thanking the president, I run as fast as I’d ever ran in my life to the dorms, burst into the bathroom while my roommate was showering and screamed insanely that I am staying.
During my second semester at Woodbury I took a course called Entertainment Design. Both professors were working full time at an entertainment design agency BLT Communications and gave classes at Woodbury after 6 PM. BLT Communications produced movie posters for worldwide blockbusters such as Terminator Genisys, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, Avatar and many more. The main focus of the Entertainment Design course was movie posters, but I also volunteered to build a website for a movie as a part of my final project.
As I found out later, BLT Communication had a partnership with Woodbury University so the Entertainment Design course also allowed the professors to scout for talent and future employees. As I was worrying if I could get an internship there or not because I was an exchange student, one of the teachers came up to me and asked, if I would be interested in an internship. Hell yeah I was!
I created another round of paper chaos as I told my german university that I am staying at Woodbury for one more semester in order to accomplish an internship.
If anyone would tell me two years earlier that I would walk everyday on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and have an internship at an agency that promotes the most successful, famous movies… I would have laughed.
But there I was, on the seventh floor at 6430 Sunset Boulevard, enjoying the view of the Hollywood Sign out of my window.
At BLT Communications I learned to work fast and accurately. My supervisor could notice one pixel offset from a five meters away. Thanks to her I also learned that networking and connections are essential. One day she asked me if I had time to do some photo retouching for her sister’s photoshoot. I had nothing against it. Her sister has recently started a fashion line so she was happy to hear that I am a graphic designer with web design experience. She asked me if I could set up an online shop for her. Of course I could. It was my first freelance project and over the time it grew into a long-term collaboration. I designed a logo, corporate identity and an online shop for the fashion line, Blue Lotus, and kept working remotely on this project even after I returned to Germany.
Since I stayed longer at Woodbury University because of the internship at BLT Communications, I had to start working on my bachelor project. Officially, I was in the last semester of my graphic design program. Luckily my german professors allowed me to work on my bachelor project at Woodbury and just show up for the final presentation in Germany .
My initial idea was to design an ebook that would fit with student learning purposes. Thanks to my supervising professor, the idea developed into a concept of a student portal for a new generation. Its aim was to simplify the communication between students and teachers, by minimizing the paperwork and speeding up the processes at a university.
After defending my project at the final presentation in front of the entire graphic design department of Woodbury University, I was happy to get my A and finally be done with the study. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the fun careless student days but I was also excited about the next step and new challenges. I was ready to go back to Germany and present my bachelor project over there to get my official degree. I knew that my heart and my mind will forever stay in California, so I promised myself that I will come back.
Shortly before my farewell party the chair of graphic design contacted me and asked if I would present my bachelor degree project to the Information Technology staff of Woodbury University. I was surprised and pleased by the attention. After a short presentation in front of IT, one of the staff members asked me if I was going to bring my project to life. “Of course,” I replied confidently. I got couple of sceptical looks but then someone said quietly “Well, Facebook was also launched by one student”.
If you are interested in how I decided to dedicate my life to graphic design, keep scrolling.
Looking back I realise that I am the kind of person who can’t stay at one place for a long time. As easily as I took the decision to go to another continent, to study abroad in California where I had no acquaintances, I easily moved from my homeland Estonia to Germany to start studying here.
I always enjoyed expressing myself visually. As it was time to decide on my future specialisation, I started looking for a way to combine the desire for sharing my vision and my interest in computers. That’s why I started researching Graphic Design programs.
Where could I get better knowledge of design than in the home country of Bauhaus, Dieter Rams, and Porsche Design?
I decided to move to Germany. The only problem was… I didn’t know German. So I didn’t go to my prom and went to Germany right after exams to start intensively learning the language there.
After learning German to a satisfying level, I applied to universities and got accepted into the University of Applied Sciences Hochschule Niederrhein in Krefeld. During the study at the University I got to know something very important – what I didn’t want to do in my life: graphic design for print. Every time I tried to print something, everything went wrong. I was pretty sure printers have a conspiracy against me. Web design was my relief. In every project I was taking over the web part and by the end of the study I was considered by my classmates as a web expert, they didn’t even bother to give a web design job to anyone else.
I want to say, one of the most important lessons I carried out of the graphic design school – a presentation is your only way to sell your idea.
You only get one shot. Do not miss your chance.
In one class we had an assignment to create an advertising TV spot storyboard. We were free to choose any product to make an ad for it, so I chose my mobile phone. It was an old model but it was undestroyable, like the famous Nokia 3310. In my storyboard the main character was mistreating his phone on any occasion – throwing it into a wall because of an alarm early in the morning or angrily throwing it on the floor after receiving a text message with bad news. At the end of the ad the mobile phone was still working and had no scratch on it.
As I was walking to the university on the day of project’s presentation, an interesting idea came to my mind. I got curious to try it out. As it was my turn to present my storyboard and I walked to the front of the classroom, classmates started chatting. They were expecting that it will take some time till I connect my computer to a projector. The professor also got distracted and was checking his phone. I’ve put my phone on a desk next to my computer, connected the computer to a projector and then looked at the phone as if I would receive a message. “Don’t text me, I am busy!” I yelled and smashed the phone into a wall. Needless to say, all the attention was on me. At the end of my presentation the professor started laughing and applauding.
Parallel to the study I was working as a student assistant at a web design agency De-Media. I am very thankful to the team for everything I learned there. That’s where I mastered my Photoshop skills, learned Flash (RIP, my old friend!), boosted my programming skills and improved my German. Once I had to develop a Flash animation that would show the functionality of a power station. It was a challenging but an interesting job..
My choice of a degree program in graphic design was dictated by my early interest in computers and first experiences in web development during primary school. If you are curious to know why I started HTML programming when I was seven years old, keep reading.
It all started on a sunday morning when one bright, colourful action-packed cartoon catched my attention on one of the TV channels. It was new, thrilling and touching – something that I’ve never seen before.
As I was sitting in front of a crappy old TV at my grandma’s house in the late 1996, I had no idea that at that very moment I was hooked for the rest of my life.
You can guess what my first search query was when I went online for the first time: “Sailor Moon”.
One can say that Estonia – my home country, a small Baltic state in Northern Europe – wasn't very hi-tech back in those days. The country recently regained its independence from the Soviet Union and started to adopt the technologies of the western world. I was one of the first and lucky kids at my school whose parents bought a PC.
The internet connection was very slow and its cost was high in the daytime, so my sister and I had to stay up late and fight with sleep until 12 AM to get online and start downloading images of Sailor Moon characters, which became our obsession.
My sister Milla was old enough to attend informatic classes at school. While her other classmates were still struggling with excel tables, she started learning HTML basics. At home she passed her knowledge to me and pretty soon we coded our first web page where we proudly shared some information and images of our favourite Sailor Moon characters.
Thanks to the passion in a cartoon I learned basic HTML and CSS when I was seven years old.
Nights and days passed, our webpage constantly grew as we added more and more content to it. One day our father looked over our shoulders as we were spending another weekend working on the website and threw an idea at us: “Why won’t you let other people publish content on your webpage? You could make it a united platform for all Sailor Moon fans where everyone can share information they found...” If only he knew that the same approach will be used a year later by Wikipedia!
At first my sister and I were doubtful. Who would like to spend their time working on our website, which was just another Sailor Moon website? We contacted some large and popular websites and offered them to transform their websites into a unique information storage platform. They all rejected the idea.
“No one will be interested in it” they said.
So we decided to make our own unique information storage platform.
Fifteen years later none of those gigantic websites that rejected us exist anymore. Our website "Sailor Galaxy" is still up and running. I have to admit that we wouldn’t make it so far without help and support from the passionate fan community that developed around the webpage. Already as kids, my sister and I intuitively were outsourcing, which is now recognized as a powerful, successful way of achieving more in less time. Many restless Sailor Moon fans, who became our editors, kept working on the website, adding new content and writing research essays.
Thanks to our Sailor Galaxy forum I met friends for life and we still keep in contact and occasionally meet in different countries all over the world. I know that a lot of other users still find good friends at our forum and that this place became an important part of their life. For example, two years ago the whole forum celebrated a wedding of two users who got to know each other there.
So tell me about customer engagement and user generated content! ;-)
Just now I realize how much this unserious und innocent hobby affected my life path. My precious child Sailor Galaxy which developed from couple of basic HTML lines into the biggest russian fan community was a great inspiration for me throughout my whole career path.
It was my story, if you are interested in writing a new chapter with me,