Electric Red’s Svyat Vishnyakov on the challenges and rewards of starting a studio in a new country
Russian-born but New York-based, Electric Red is the graphic design studio of Svyat Vishnyakov and Nastya Vishnyakova; from which they work with clients from both countries and beyond on visual identities, art direction, typography and editorial design. Having featured several of their projects over the years, we checked in with Syvat to lift the lid on their background, work and process, as well as his teaching role at Bang Bang Education.
EM Why did you and Nastya decide to start a studio together in New York?
SV What a good question! It hid three questions at once: why with Nastya, why we launched a studio and why in New York.
Nastya and I worked in different companies and simultaneously worked on personal projects. At some point, it was time to combine all common projects into one studio portfolio. We have announced the launch of Electric Red. The opening of the studio coincided with our move to the USA. Why New York? It is a melting pot, Babylon, a city of museums, exhibitions, friends, a city of stunning architecture and childhood dreams. It is also the hometown of design studios, with which you want to be friends and what you want to be equal to.
EM What challenges did you face in getting the studio started?
SV The first challenge in a new country (after we found the cover overhead and connected to the internet) is to join the local professional community and make the customers know about you. The second is communication. American studios structure their work differently and present concepts. The third is language. In Russian, I can convincingly and fluently talk about an idea, answer questions, argue, accurately formulate thoughts and present arguments. It’s much more difficult to do this in English so far.
EM What is the most rewarding part of running your own business?
SV The main reward is seeing your design in the real world. We are a little old-fashioned and love printed stuff, something we can touch. It is a great joy and pride to hold in your hands the book for which you designed, or to see your poster in the city.
But when you find an ingenious solution, you feel joy.
EM How about the most challenging part?
SV The most difficult and most incomprehensible thing is that simultaneously with the work of a designer, you need to deal with the organisation of the process, workflow, estimates, taxes and all these adult matters. Even writing these words in Russian makes us feel uncomfortable. Dealing with these issues in a new country in a new language is additional stress and pain. Of course, we try to delegate, but even finding a person who will help you deal with these issues is a separate job.
If we talk about the creative part: а challenge is always at the centre of our profession. You always need to come up with something new, surprise, try to jump over your head. It is very tedious and difficult, but it is part of the job. But when you find an ingenious solution, you feel joy.
EM How do you tend to find your clients?
SV We usually don’t look for clients. As a rule, they either saw our projects themselves and they loved our approach, or they came on a recommendation from our former customers. Sometimes we are contacted after public lectures or on the advice of fellow designers.
This has not always been the case. At the beginning of our professional career, we simply wrote to various cultural institutions and publishers with which we would like to cooperate.
EM Do you prefer to work with clients from any specific industries?
SV One of the cool things about our profession is that you can work with people from different industries. Today it can be a small coffee shop, tomorrow it will be an IT corporation, and the day after tomorrow it will be a film festival. One of our favourite areas is education. Our portfolio includes projects for Strelka Institute, AA (Architectural Association School of Architecture), Future London Academy, Bang Bang Education. We also like to support various non-profit projects and independent media.
EM What is the deconstructed flag on the homepage of your site all about?
SV When we first arrived in the States, we had to talk on a daily basis about how we received a visa, what documents were collected, how we managed to cross the Atlantic at the height of the pandemic. To answer everyone’s questions, we held an online lecture and used this flag on a poster. The flags of Russia and the USA are white-blue-red, we made a remix of them. This intro on the site is about the absence of borders between different cultures, about dialogue and the fact that you can always and everywhere find common ground and something in common.
We remember it from childhood.
EM Which project do you think best represents the future direction you’d like the studio to go in?
SV We really like one of the most recent projects on the site – the Golden Mask theatre festival. This is the largest Russian theatre festival, which has been held for 27 years. We remember it from childhood and it is a great honour to touch such a large-scale cultural event. We are currently working on the design of the festival in 2022. It is very joyful and exciting.
We recently made a small project for the Russian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Our task was to come up with a pavilion flag for the current weird times. We made a website that provides anyone with an opportunity to influence the final look of the flag. This work is no longer quite a design, but a certain author’s statement.
EM Your website mentions that you also do some teaching, do you find that has any impact on your commercial work?
SV That’s a very good question. I hadn’t thought about it before. It would seem that teaching is a one-way transfer of knowledge and the teacher gives, not receives. Teaching definitely helped me hone my rhetorical skills. I have learned to be more convincing, more precise, more consistent, I can always quickly answer a tricky question. All of these skills are very useful during concept presentations. Teaching also makes you stay in good shape, remember thousands of references and keep abreast of new projects of colleagues in the shop.
EM How do the creative cultures differ between Moscow and New York?
SV There are insanely talented hardworking designers in Russia, but they do not have such a developed industry, customers do not know how to give feedback and are not ready to wait long for the result and spend money on a long search for a solution. The Russian designer is always in a hurry. In the US, creative workers have more time to research, iterate and reflect.
EM What would you like to do as a studio that you haven’t been able to yet?
SV It would probably be cool to do something that didn’t exist before. Design for a colony of humanity on Mars, a music festival on the moon, but to design a thick book with an unlimited print budget also works good.