The Designers: Studio Yukiko’s Tonia Kozlova details her unconventional route into a design career

Poppy Thaxter
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The Designers: Studio Yukiko’s Tonia Kozlova details her unconventional route into a design career

Our interview series The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For the landmark thirtieth entry into our series, we caught up with Studio Yukiko’s Tonia Kozlova about her initial foray into design and the story behind joining the Berlin-based creative agency.

PT Hi Tonia! How are you? 

TK Hi Poppy, I’m doing well thank you!

PT When did you first realise that you wanted to work in design? What was it about design as a career choice that appealed to you?

TK Somehow I was always attracted to design as a career, even before I knew what design actually was. And I was heading down that path when I was little. I really liked to draw and attended an art school. But then my parents were not very happy about that career choice. Design didn’t seem as stable or prestigious for them as engineering or finance. They pressured me a lot and I gave in to their doubts. I went to study for a bachelor's in economics. I did fine there, passed all the exams and everything. But it just never felt right.

Until I took a one-year design course during the last year of my bachelor's. It was the first step towards what I really wanted. And I never regretted it since. I see the world through images and frames. Being a graphic designer just really makes sense to me. I always think that if I didn’t have this job I would still be designing things for fun.

Nobody really knows everything, no matter their education.

PT You had a bit of an unconventional route into design. Can you tell us a bit about what led you to pursue an MA in Integrated Design? 

TK After changing my career path from economics to design I constantly felt like I was lacking formal education. I decided to combine the goal of getting a master's degree in design and moving to Europe. It was not an easy task, as normally you couldn’t apply for a master's without having a bachelor's degree in the same discipline. MA in Integrated Design is at the crossroads of various disciplines, so it offered me this opportunity.

PT Did you ever feel like you had to ‘catch up’ to other designers who studied graphic design at university?

TK All the time! It was definitely motivating me to learn as fast as I could to catch up. And in this sense, I guess it was good. But psychologically it was challenging. It took time to realise that nobody really knows everything, no matter their education.

PT Is there an opportunity or experience that you consider to be the catalyst for your career? 

TK I can’t say that there was one single experience that really made a difference. I think all my courses, internships and jobs played a part. And I learned from them all. Even bad experiences were good in the end, you know what to stay away from.

PT How did you start working with Studio Yukiko? What about them stood out to you?

TK I love bold design with a humorous touch. So I’d been a huge fan of Yukiko long before I started working there. What I love most about them is that they always have a really strong conceptual base to their design and at the same time manage to create very unconventional and witty solutions. Like the theatre branding proposal for Münchner Kammerspiele that is based on street signs, mostly used by small shop owners on the periphery of Munich. From what I understand they didn’t win that pitch, as the proposal was so far off from what you normally see in theatre branding. I decided that I really want to be part of the team that creates something unordinary at the cost of losing a pitch.

The story of joining Yukiko was a bit ironic. After the pandemic hit I moved from Berlin to Leipzig to live with my boyfriend. At that time everybody was working from home, so it was possible to work remotely. After half a year or so I received an email from Michelle and Johannes about joining Yukiko. It still works quite well. And sometimes I go to Berlin to work from the office for a few days and see everyone in person.

PT And what led you to join them permanently? 

TK I started out as a freelancer. And I really loved the vibe of the studio. Everybody jokes around a lot and really helps each other out. So I was really happy to stay working at Yukiko full-time. Freelance life has its benefits, but now I'm enjoying the stability.

PT How would you describe the studio culture?

TK I think Yukiko create a very welcoming atmosphere, where we can be creative and also can make mistakes. There’s time to goof around and to work hard. I think it’s a perfect balance.

The Designers: Studio Yukiko’s Tonia Kozlova details her unconventional route into a design career

PT What is your typical work setup? 

TK I mostly work from my living room. The room is very sunny and I have lots of plants. My dog Shelly is always there. Sometimes she comes to disrupt my Zoom calls. But mostly I just see her sleeping (sometimes in really strange positions). On a stressful day, it really helps to see her so relaxed. It puts things in perspective. 

PT Where do you go for creative inspiration? 

TK We always start each project by gathering as many references and starting points as possible. Non-design images are usually there to help us find ground for a concept. And of course, we also look for typography and layout examples to help us get into the right mood. 

Design is never a linear process. When I get really stuck I take a walk with Shelly, my dog. Sometimes it helps to take my mind off the task at hand to come up with new ideas.

The Designers: Studio Yukiko’s Tonia Kozlova details her unconventional route into a design career

There are always more things that I want to learn.

PT Out of all the projects you’ve worked on, which are you proudest of? 

TK I’m going to go with Secret Menu. A magazine about food culture in LA that we did for DoorDash. It was my first editorial job and a really fun one too. So I both learned a lot and really enjoyed it! Translating LA cuisine into a visual language allowed for some very colourful and playful solutions. And we got to work with some wonderful photographers and illustrators. A few of my designs made it into the final print so I’m very happy. 

PT If you could only work with one typeface, one colour, and one format for the rest of your career, what would they be? 

TK I will go with the most basic things like A4, black and Arial. So that I could reinvent it every time.

PT Do you have any goals or plans in mind for 2023? 

TK There are always more things that I want to learn. I was thinking that I could try my hand at illustration and improve my 3D and animation skills. I think a good resolution would be to go see more art exhibitions and travel more.

Graphic Design

Tonia Kozlova
Studio Yukiko