I first met Maksim Karalevich when I was working with the Strelka Institute in Moscow. We shared a meal at the wonderfully bizarre Дом ученых, which translates to “House of Scientists”. After walking through a gate guarded by marble lions, we entered the building, and were asked to check our coats before wandering through an endless maze of hallways. Around one corner, we heard someone playing the piano in a dark room. Around another, we saw a group of elderly couples dancing. Around another, we found a restaurant that was frozen in time – only serving dishes from the soviet era. With no English menu available, Maksim patiently walked me through my options. Our food quickly arrived, and as I cut into my mayonnaise-and-melted-cheese-covered pork, we talked all about design, and Maksim’s interest in San Francisco (the city I grew up in). Over one year later, I’m excited to continue that conversation, here on HOW.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Maksim, I am a freelance digital designer and art director currently based in San Francisco.
I lived in Minsk and danced professionally for 13 years. In 2010 I made a couple of posters for dance events and then found myself in my first agency. Just a bit later, I moved into the digital world and was astonished by the possibilities of the web. In 2013, I moved to Moscow to work for ONY, and a year later I got a job at the Strelka Institute. Last year, I applied for a freelance working visa and moved to San Francisco.
What kinds of projects are you working on right now?
Currently, I have two projects: one is a website for an e-gallery of young contemporary artists from Russia and another is a UX and design system for a video game distributor. I like both traditional visual design and product design tasks.
I’m fascinated by the City of Norilsk, the Northern-most city in the world (and one of the coldest!). Can you tell our readers a bit about that community, and the web documentary you made about the town?
Thanks! The Norilsk Project was done at ONY. It was a huge work that took us one year to complete. The video production team traveled a couple of times to Norilsk to capture local heroes and their stories, as well as nature and factories. There was a lot of content and we spent some time figuring out which direction to choose.
After months of prototyping, we decided to divide the website into two parts: Past and Present. In the Past, you travel through time and see the evolution of the city. In the Present, you dive into local life with 360° videos.
In Norilsk, sometimes you can’t go to school because there is a big snow wall on your way or it’s below -50°C. However, from what I discovered after all the field trips and discussions is that, despite the severe climate and unhealthy environment, people are happy there.
Minsk has been on my bucket-list for a while. What is your favorite place in Eastern Europe to visit, and why?
Minsk is the city definitely worth visiting. It looks like time stopped there and that you are in the Soviet 80’s. You can find co-working spaces and cool modern cafes to sit with a laptop.
What designers or design firms working today are you most excited about?
I try to discover new designers from time to time. I am currently following digital projects of International Magic,Random Studio, Folder Studio, moving images by More and More, decentralized tools by John-Kyle, typographic experiments of Mirko Borsche studio andDavid Rudnic, to name a few. I also like to read Nielsen Norman Group‘s articles regarding UX research.
A lot of the work you did with the Strelka Institute in Moscow was centered around promoting urban design and hybrid urbanism. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The institute tries to update current professional fields with the city’s features in mind. Strelka is more a think-tank rather than a school. It gathers young professionals together and gives an environment to create things. As a result, researchers produce unpredictable projects.
As a digital art director, I was responsible for the promotion of educational programmes and helping student projects reach the intended audience. Because of the project topics, general wisdom in design implementation and a cool production team, the websites for Strelka were often featured in well-known design collectors.
I see that you worked on a digital magazine that shows how changes in digital culture affect Russian society. What are some exciting trends in contemporary Russian graphic or interaction design?
I can see a growing community of talented graphic designers thanks to young professionals who decided to spend some time teaching. There are just a few schools in the whole country where you can go and study modern graphic design, especially interaction design. So it’s a good tendency and I hope it will touch more disciplines in the future.
Favorite Russian dish?
It is not a dish, but you should definitely try glazed syrok.
You’re living in San Francisco now. Do you find any similarities between that community, and Moscow?
It is too early for me to speak about the local community just yet. That said, there are a lot of people who worked at Strelka live here. Sometimes it feels like San Francisco is just another subway station in Moscow.