The winter has come to Tyumen, and last week we had ground and trees covered with snow as the photo above depicts. However during the second half of the week the weather switched completely: on Thursday it was raining(sic), and by now all that show has melted or turned into ice crust on the sidewalks.
This kind of weather swings is not common for our latitudes. As for me I prefer a good decent frost rather that this melting mush on the ground. But here’s a lesson I learnt from the weather—as long as you can’t change that take it as is.
I realized that long ago, and since that I’ve never cared about the weather more than necessary. Sure, I put on a winter jacket if it’s -30°C, but I never complain about it. There’s no avail in that.
If it’s raining I put on a raincoat or take an umbrella with me(even though I hate umbrellas). That’s just how the weather is today and all I can do is to be prepared. The same goes for all the unpredictability and chaos in life. You can’t foresee all of problems and issues coming your way, but you can be ready to handle them and withstand the heat or the cold when it’s necessary.
So don’t go gentle. Go for a walk when it’s raining, snowing or when it’s a Mexican desert heat outside. Don’t postpone life just because something is not the way you’ve expected it to be. Harshness is necessary to handle discomfort and unpredictability down the road.
So don’t go gentle, take what’s out there and work with it.
In the middle of September we had our second studio camp. The first one took place in May, back then we kept it simple: took a walk around the old city center of Tyumen, visited the Japanese garden and had a picnic in Zatyumensky Park. This time we gathered the whole team together, rented a country house and spent three days together in the forest.
What camp is about
Camp is a corporate party but with a different spin. Instead of getting drunk and taking part in stupid contests we reinvented the way we hang out with teammates.
Camp is more like gatherings with good friends on a barbecue day when you talk about work, life, hobbies, share your favorite jokes and memes, watch movies together and play board games afterwards.
Camp is about everything that you usually don’t do with your teammates at work. Especially if you’re a fully remote or hybrid team.
When we did the first camp we weren’t sure if everything would go smoothly, so we set several rules and constraints:
The camp is a project and it has to be managed like any other project.
You have to prepare for the camp in advance. The bigger your team is, the earlier you should start preparing. There are only five of us, and yet we started planning our camp a month before the event.
The camp lasts three days. This way you’ll avoid the feeling of tightness and get just enough time out of work with your teammates. More can be overwhelming and tiresome.
The camp takes place on weekends so that everyone can make time or come from another city.
Participation in the camp is not obligatory. Anyone can refuse and use this time for their own good.
The camp has a schedule, but it is ultimate. You can flex it as you go like a scope on any other project.
How we came up with this camp idea
This year our studio turned six years old, and we realized that we had never come together in one place. So we decided to fix it.
We work remotely and live in different cities: Tyumen, Ufa, Saratov. All those cities are very distant from each other, so it is logistically difficult to get us together too often. It was important for us to get to know each other and take a break from work. But we wanted to spend time with ease, without a banquet and the CEO of the company making toasts.
We didn’t want to do it the way big companies do it. We wanted to do it our way.
For us, the camp is also a rare opportunity to discuss working moments and strategy in person, talk about dos and don’ts, listen to each other, share ideas, and raise important questions.
How we used Basecamp to prepare for the camp
We decided to spend the second camp outside the city. It was much harder to organize it than the first one when we simply had a picnic in the park and a short tour around the historical city center. We had a lot of things to deal with.
First, we created a new project in our Basecamp, outlined tasks and deadlines, and distributed responsibilities among the team. Everyone was in charge of something: Nastya and Misha came up with the camp schedule and a list of things to bring with us, Anna made a list of products and the camp menu, I managed the production of the studio merch, booking a house and shopping for groceries.
It took us a month to prepare for the camp. But what I like about it is that there was no rush. We kept our pace. As they say, “Slow and steady wins the race.”
We designed the studio merch
For this camp we decided to make our own merch. We collected examples of hoodies we liked, and every team member came up with a phrase or a motto for embroidery.
With that, we came to Gyunel, the founder of KIKA clothes brand, and a good old client of ours. Gyunel helped us choose the fabric and design a fit of the hoodies. We agreed that it would be black hoodies of thick 100% cotton with matte threads embroidery.
We addressed our order to Gyunel a month before the camp and did the right thing: the fabric we wanted for the merch was not available at the time, so Gyunel had to order a new batch from Moscow just for us. While the fabric was on its way to Tyumen, Gyunel designed a pattern for our hoodies, and we did the prepress files for the embroidery.
The merch was finished right on the eve of the camp. Perfect timing!
Four hoodies made of 100% cotton with a large embroidery cost us just about $230, about $56 per item.
We a rented a house in the forest
I was responsible for the search for booking a country house. We were looking for a house that fitted the following criteria:
With an independent heating system. September in Tyumen is usually warm, but the nights and mornings are chilly. So we rejected the idea of sleeping in a glamping house, without a heating system and a shower.
There is something to do. We immediately discarded daily rent houses as we would have to entertain ourselves. We wanted a place that would offer options for rest and fun.
There’s an equipped BBQ spot. We didn’t want to carry a bunch of utensils like a grill with us for just two days, so we were looking for a place where we would have everything we needed for a bonfire and a grill for roasting meat.
I narrowed the choice down to three options, and we discussed them asynchronously in the studio Basecamp. As a result, we chose a house named after Leo Tolstoy in Kuliga Park. The place looked great, beside there was a rope park, sports grounds, and a small restaurant so we could dine there if we were short on food.
Renting a house for two nights cost us $200 which is a great price for the weekend. Just for comparison, renting a private house in the outskirts of the city would cost us twice as much, about $360−400.
We made a menu and went for groceries
Our designer Anna was responsible for the camp menu. The task was to come up with something simple that would not be time-consuming. In addition, there was no stove in the house, so we had to adjust the menu on the go.
Anna shaped out the meals and then specified what dishes and snacks we would have. Others dropped their preferences in the comments on Basecamp, and Anna gathered them all in a final Google Docs.
We made a list of groceries from the menu. On the eve of the camp I went for groceries to a huge hypermarket called Lenta, which is like Walmart in the US. It cost us $100 to get enough food for four people for the whole weekend.
We made a schedule and a list of things to bring with us
Nastya and Misha were responsible for the camp schedule and sports equipment. They make an approximate list of to-dos with timeframes, rather in order to gather together ideas of what we could do during the day than to actually follow this plan. It helped us to be at ease and not to think what to do—we opened the list and chose the activity we felt like doing at the moment.
Take a look at our schedule:
A couple of days before the trip, we made a checklist of things and clothes to take with you and downloaded movies in case wi-fi would be out of order. We bothered like hell to make everyone feel at home. We thought through everything in advance, so that we could relax and not worry about things on the spot. And it was totally worth it!
How did it go? Awesome!
We got lucky with the weather—all three days were sunny and warm, +20−22°C.
On the first day we moved into the house, had coffee with waffle rolls with a boiled condensed milk—an immutable attribute of the camp—had a walk in the forest and played frisbee.
We started the second day with birdwatching. We happened to see a woodpecker, a nuthatch, tits, magpies and a finch. Birds are awesome!
After lunch we played badminton, played a card game called “Strangers: Office Edition” and designed for teammates. We shared our work experience in other companies, discussed our approach to design and our focus for the next three months.
On the third day we returned to the city. The key goal of the day was to prepare for the launch of our new product. We gathered in our favorite coffee shop, polished some things in the backend here and there and launched our first paid service called “Okoshki”, a service for small makers who work alone and deliver services by appointment.
In Russian “okoshki” literally means windows but it’s the word people use when they have a free time slot to receive a client. A maker often says, “I have okoshko for 5 pm. Does it work for you?”
Impressions of the camp from our team
Most of all, I liked that there were many activities at the camp. It’s harder to do in the city as it’s harder to make time and it can be windy. During the camp we got lucky, the weather was perfect, and it was an ideal moment to play such games like frisbee and badminton. Well, it’s always nice to just eat in the open air.
Misha Vorobyev, CTO
We have a great team, the second camp was very cool and comfortable — even for me, as I am an introvert. Although we are all united mainly by work, we had a lot of fun at birdwatching, watching “Treasure Island”, and playing badminton.
Nastya Fyodorova, writer
The coolest thing at the camp for me is the forest and the great company of my coworkers. It was great to sit at the bonfire in the evening, take a walk in the forest in the morning, listen to the birds singing, look at them through binoculars and determine what kind of bird it is.
It was the first time I went to another city to visit my colleagues. I’m a cautious person, and for me the camp was a way out of my comfort zone. But everyone was so nice I forgot about everything.
Anna Borisova, designer
Camp is the best internal project of our studio. Managing rest and fun is the hardest thing to do and we nailed it! Time passed unnoticed, and the intensity of events was so high that I got the feeling that the camp lasted not three days, but at least a week. We will definitely do it over again, but now somewhere else!
Evgeny Lepekhin, editor
How much does it cost to organize a camp?
The first camp cost us almost nothing. The only expenses we had were the purchase of the game “Strangers” and dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the last day.
The budget of the second camp was about $500, but we went a little beyond it and spent $570. The camp could have been even cheaper if we didn’t make the studio merch.
Hey! We’re a design studio of five from Tyumen, Russia. It’s the first city founded in Siberia.
We were an unusual studio from the start and underdogs in the design world by any measure. Despite our small size and living 2,000 km away from Moscow we work with clients from all over the world and various time zones.
Here are five facts about us that have helped us to benefit from being an underdog:
Text-oriented. Most studios are founded by designers. They believe that glowing and bouncing animation will solve a client’s problem. It won’t. But a good and succinct, thoughtful text might. Our founder is an editor, not a designer. We spend most of our time writing. Every project starts with a longread describing what we’re going to do. That’s why our websites and interfaces are well-structured. Words are important, and we’re the most fastidious people when it comes to picking the right ones.
Local identity as a foundation. Most studios bashfully conceal the fact they’re not from the capital. Not us. We talk about it at every corner. We’re proud of being Siberians. We promote Tyumen as a great place for living and creating. We turned patterns of the Tyumen carpet into a sticker pack and designed beautiful postcards with the most beautiful sightseeings of the city. In fact, many clients choose us because we’re more real than our bigger competitors.
Remote & async. Most design studios try to get a fancy and expensive office when they start out. Not us. We started at the end of 2017 and we were remote from the first day of work. Thanks to that we had clients from Moscow, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, and even Toronto. We had people working on our team from Singapore, Turkey, and Hong Kong. Could that be possible if we limited our market to one city? Barely.
Without managers. Most studios have managers who loiter and disturb others by asking stupid questions like, “Is it done?” every ten minutes. We don’t do that. We write long posts and discuss things asynchronously. That compensates for our size and boosts efficiency. Thanks to that we have recently launched our first paid product within four months and only around $5,000 spent. Big companies can’t even imagine this kind of budget for a product that works!
The most dependable. Most design studios spend tons of money on advertising to convince people to buy from them and assure they’re the best in business. But that’s a lie. You can’t be the best at design as design is a very subjective matter. We don’t say such a bogus. We claim the title of the most dependable design team and do everything possible to make it real. We’re never late for a meeting. We send meeting notes within an hour after a call. We finish 95% of our projects on the date we promised.
“Tomorrow begins my intensive one-week course on machine learning. I just realized I’m not used to make notes, but it would be great to revise this material later. Any tips for making notes for technical subjects and coding?”
I came across her tweet and gave a piece of advice on making notes during meetings and lectures. Here’s my perspective:
I don’t think there are any special tips for machine learning. No matter what subject you’re learning, techniques are pretty much the same. There’re dos and don’ts.
Take notes not during the lecture, but in the first 30 min after it. This way you’ll be able to focus on listening and absorbing new information.
Sketch anything that requires visual explanation. Images work better than abrupt and incoherent notes.
Record a memo of the class to go back to something you’ve missed later.
Don’t make screenshots or photos of the teacher’s slides. No one ever gets back to review them.
Don’t try to remember and catch every minute detail. Pay attention to what brings novelty into your work, not what you already know.
Don’t be afraid of asking questions like. “Why” is the best tool of gaining knowledge. Use it as more as you can.
We’re overdosed with knowledge. The worst thing is that we’ve decided that we’re obliged to know everything and be always aware. We are voluntarily agreed to have our attentional filters overwhelmed on a regular basis. We should leave some mental space for just being, instead. As we used to do 30−50 years ago.
I remember that even in my childhood that took place in 1990s we didn’t have this problem. On the contrary, people had to make a lot of effort to gain some knowledge, to get some information. To read up for exams you have to go to the library or ask a friend who had a PC to visit him so you could search something on the internet. You had to be creative to get information.
So much we didn’t know back then! And we couldn’t care less that we don’t. We didn’t consider whether it was a lack of knowledge or we were uneducated. We simply didn’t give a fuck about that. We were much more easy-going and didn’t put a pressure on us for not knowing. Things are different today, bad different.
So when I hear people say:
— Oh, there this ChatGPT thing. I have to learn more about it…
— Oh, there’s this Barbie thing, I should create a pic of me as a Barbie doll
… Oh. there’s a new program language I should learn to code in…
I think to myself, “Jeez, I am lucky not to know!” Because no matter how hard I try to filter the incoming flow of information, people still will bring it up and post it anyway. There’s literally nowhere to hide from it these days.
I prefer not to overload my brain with that information. I prefer not to know. 'Cause let’s be honest, 99% of news and information on our feeds is a complete bogus. It’s useless. So why bother? Why waste our energy, motivation, and attention on it? Why please interests of those who will not care back?
You don’t need to know everything that is out there. It’s hard to be good at one thing, and yet people try to be good at plenty. Instead of stuffing your brain with another new technique do what you already do well and perfect your routine. And choose wisely and thoroughly what you want to see on your feed, what you’d like to draw your attention on.
Know your drill. Keep your focus clear and steady. Prefer not to know.
For six years of writing I used to believe the more platforms I post on, the better. It wasn’t a very effective strategy.
Yesterday I deleted my Twitter and Instagram accounts, and soon my Telegram channel will be closed. Starting from today I will keep writing only on these three platforms: this website, Substack, and Mastodon.
The less platforms I have to maintain, the more attention I can pay to the writing and not the distribution.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, seek an opportunity to reduce the amount of projects, errands, and tasks you’re dealing with. Keep three the most important to-dos you have on your list, start with them and drop everything else. You’ll get back to it later after you’ve handled the essentials.
If three is too much for you right now, cut it to one to-do. The less, the better:
Doing three projects? Take a break in two, and finish the one with higher priority.
Reading three books, none is finished? Pick one, finish it, then move to the next one.
Repair works are stuck and it’s all a mess? Stop everything and choose one, for example, fix a kitchen door that’s been out of order for weeks.
When life pushes hard, don’t try to bear it all on your shoulders. Reduce the number of options, select the most important thing to focus on, and after it’s done move to the next most important thing on your list.
One-thing-at-a-time strategy always works, plenty-things-at-a-time strategy—not so often. The less, the better.
Marketing is everywhere. Someone’s ad is targeted at you when you’re taking shit. Someone is trying to sell you their stuff right now while you’re reading this post. Brands have gone too far playing this marketing game. It stopped being funny. It has become more of a burden.
People are tired of marketing. Badly. Especially of the one that teaches how to live your life, treat your kids, or become a better version of yourself. They say, “You're imperfect. Do this and you’ll become that. Buy this thing and it’ll empower you to do those cool things.” All kind of bullshit like this is ubiquitous. It’s all over the place.
Brands keep selling magic pills when people know it’s a myth. Fuck them.
No surprise we’re so tired of marketing. No one likes to be taken for a fool. People have learned most of the marketing tricks they used to fall prey to. They don’t fall for them anymore. But most marketers are too short-sighted to see that. So they keep pushing.
People don’t want to be manipulated or be taken advantage of anymore. They seek respect, trust, and care. They look for help, support, and understanding. They have always been looking for those things, long before marketing was invented. People want to see they’re heard.
To put it simply, marketing is any communication between a brand and a customer. However, most of the time you don’t even know you’re a customer. Brands simply push something towards you without asking: an email, a message, a call, an advertisement.
You’re no longer taking an active part in this play. You’re an impersonal audience they sell to. You are to watch and choose between Y and N buttons. That’s your role when it comes to marketing today. No one give a shit what you need.
But marketing is not about selling by force. It’s about selling to the right people by fitting their needs and solving their problems the way they expect.
Marketing is not about bombarding people with calls and emails. It’s about talking to the right person as if it was a private meaningful conversation with a friend which is in need right now.
Marketing is not about deciding what is the best color for the CTA-button or if it should have an outline and a shadow. It’s about finding the right words and images to convey your message, to make others feel they belong.
Marketing is not about a bouncing popup-window that appears when you’ve just opened the website. It’s about letting people look through your page and make an informed decision on their own.
We need to remarket marketing. We need to have a clear and honest conversation with people we’d like to see as our customers and clients. That would be a great start.
No one likes taking part in a dull, predictable conversation. No one likes watching boring interviews. But all of us enjoy interviews that accidentally turn into an argument or that make us feel good about ourselves. The best way to do that is to ask thought-provoking and insightful questions such as:
What did you feel when your father passed away? How would you describe that feeling?
Why you didn’t leave the country after those events? What impact did this decision have on you?
What’s your attitude to those who thinks this way? Do you agree they should be…
You got the idea. Thought-provoking questions are necessary if you want your interview to be engaging and memorable both for your guest and your audience. Here’s how they contribute to that.
Help you stand out among other interviewers.
May lead to a series of questions and topics you didn’t expect to arise.
Make the interviewee look good or put them on the spot instead.
These types of questions spice things up and put your interviewee on a spot. It shouldn’t necessarily be an open conflict, but it should be provocative and hard to answer right away. Easy questions have no challenge for the interviewee. So this is one way to use those questions: create a small conflict and push the buttons that may lead to a debate.
Though there’s another way to use thought-provoking questions. Put the interviewee in a spot where they can express their opinion and prove their expertise and status. Give them the green light to show their best side. That’s why people do interviews: to build their media platform, to share their ideas with a new audience, and to feed their ego.
It’s totally fine to use insightful questions to make your hero look good in the eyes of their followers. Their answers will also make their audience feel smart, valued, and honored.
Writers and designers are afraid of ChatGPT and other AI services popping up all over the place. They shouldn’t be. It won’t leave you out of work unless you do one thing: keep moving.
TV didn’t kill theater. The internet didn’t kill TV. Remote work didn’t kill offices. Those things changed the game, but didn’t kill prior technologies. They just kept going. Nobody likes change, but it’s not death.
AI is yet another tool to your arsenal. It won’t replace you, because it can’t feel and reflect. It runs algorithms designed by… humans. It was designed to replicate and repeat ideas invented by humans. And most of the work today can’t be trusted to AI. Not without a human supervision.
ChatGPT can write a good summary, give some ideas, and spur your imagination. But it can’t create new meanings. Humans exceed AI in innovation. And I don’t think AI will ever come any close to what we are capable of when it comes to creating new paradigms, concepts, and ideas.
Don’t panic. It’s a long-term run. A marathon, not a sprint. Keep your pace and stay in the game as long as you can by bringing new meanings and ideas to the people you serve. It never goes out of fashion.
For the past three years I’ve worked with and for various product and SaaS teams. They were from different industries. But all of them had one common problem—bad focus.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen small teams and products initially aimed at a certain audience transformed in the minds of their founders into humongous, rigid structures. Simply because founders lost their focus.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard these words: “We need to get attention of everyone on our product. Our product should be universal. Our goal is to corner the market and beat those big guys!”
Really? I believe your starting plan was to create a better user experience for a certain segment of the market, rather than corner it. But appetite comes with eating. This rising appetite blinds people and makes them lose the way.
Knowing your focus and saying no to other things is the most important lesson I’ve ever learned.
The lack of focus erodes ability to flex and accomplish your initial goals. In 99% of the cases the focus shifts to money, and here’s why.
Startups are hungry and it’s a good thing. Business should stay hungry. Hunger keeps the mind clear and the focus precise. However, you have to control your hunger and not let it become a starvation. Have a bite once in a while. Starving businesses lose their focus easily.
It’s not long before they start eating anything that comes their way, just to beat this sick feeling at the pit of a stomach. Side projects, little opportunities to make some money on the side, new feature that your customers want to see, a darn dark theme, or a mobile app. That’s how it always starts. The end is never that fun though.
You probably wouldn’t like the idea of feeding your body with crap like chips and coke. To stay healthy, efficient and strong you have to eat proteins, slow carbons, greens, and drink a lot of water, not soda. The same goes for business. You should be cautious about what you’re feeding your product with. The businesses feed with ideas, hypothesis and guesses you take. Take one and go with it. Don’t squander.
Control your hunger and know your focus. Otherwise you’ll end up creating a product that has no market, no demand, and no unfair advantage. All of that is simply because of a bad focus.