About Anastasia Smyslova

Anastasia Smyslova is the founder of A.BRNDING Studio, an international award-winning designer and jury member at international design competitions. She specializes in Branding, Graphics and Packaging Design. The wide range of studio services includes also Web Design & Development, Illustration, Lettering, etc. She believes that brands deliver their core values to the audience through visual identity and great brand identity is about minimal obstacles for the brand message on the way to the audience. She creates MEANINGFUL brands based on deep research, analysis, and brilliant strategies. Her design aesthetic is MINIMALIST, ELEGANT and SOPHISTICATED.

Interview with Anastasia Smyslova

Anastasia Smyslova ("AS") interviewed on Wednesday, 28 March.

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?

AS : After graduating from the University with a degree in graphic design, I worked first as a packaging designer for a confectionery manufacturer and then as a print and graphic designer for a printing company. I developed interest in business during these years and subsequently gained a master’s degree in management. Post-graduation, I worked as a marketing manager for various companies, building my career to the level of marketing director. Having gained extensive experience in both marketing and design, I decided to focus on my true passion – branding. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of branding. Well designed and thought through brands make consumer experiences more exciting and help navigating in the myriad of choices. I was fortunate to witness this power at work in many national and cultural contexts. My past and current clients are spread all over the world and represent wide range of industries. For example, my portfolio includes packaging design for an Italian brand of cosmetics, developing personal brand for a client in Amsterdam, and designing brand and packaging for premium vodka in Russia.

How did you become a designer?

AS : As a little girl, I was obsessed with fashion and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. I did not think long which way to go after school as fashion design seemed a logical choice at a time. However, it quickly became apparent that my dreams had little resonance with reality. I kept fashion as a hobby and pursued graphic design as a profession instead. I realised I was at my best when I had more control over the creative process and that opening my own studio was the way forward for me. Management education was a necessary step towards my more mature dream. It was during my postgraduate course that I discovered marketing as a discipline and fell in love with it. Formal education at a postgraduate level proved very useful for developing more structured and critical grounding for my new passion. Discovering marketing and branding felt like finally finding a home for my many interests. I find working with brands incredibly satisfying as it allows me to fully exploit my skills as both a designer and as a marketing professional.

What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?

AS : I believe all brilliant brands are brilliant because they mean something to their audience. This is why I focus on creating meaningful brands. To uncover and build this special meaning, the foundation of future strong brand loyalty, I always start design process with thorough research and analysis. The key values that the client wants a brand to communicate to consumers, how likely these values are to strike a chord with the target audience, any competitors already on the market and likely crossover with the values they communicate – all of this and much more has to be understood and taken into account before what we usually understand as design even begins. The second challenge that needs resolving on the journey towards brand’s success is how to communicate core values of the brand to the audience. This is where visual identity and removing all, however minor, obstacles to delivering the message across come to the fore. Three words could characterise my design aesthetic: minimalism, elegance and sophistication. I always begin new project with hand drawn sketches on a piece of paper as this allows maximum freedom for my creativity. The fewer barriers there are for new ideas, for the excitement and urgency that come with embarking on the new adventure, the better is the result.

Which emotions do you feel when designing?

AS : This is the easy question and my answer is simple – total happiness. As a human being and as a designer I strive to make the world a better place. When I progress through the design process, I often feel like I am touching the divine. There is definitely a magic feeling associated with creating something important and meaningful out of just some ideas.

What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?

AS : I think this would be my take on intuition. I believe intuition is an ability we develop rather than something that just comes naturally and without any effort. We learn to excel in being intuitive by practicing observation skills, learning how to analyse, select what is the most important, combine new things and nurture courage to not be afraid of making mistakes. All of this definitely helped in my journey to success as a designer.

What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?

AS : Definitely, to move forward! I plan to grow and expand my business. We live in extremely exciting times. I am fascinated to observe how communication technologies shape and alter our reality, how they make our lives more efficient, free up more time for creativity and engagement with each other. Design is at the core of these new developments. I don’t allow myself a temptation to assume I have reached expert level and should stop learning. I am constantly learning something new, both for my professional practice and for my general life interests.

What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?

AS : My main advice would be to observe, to analyse, to draw, then go back to observing, analysing and drawing. Good design cannot exist without good observation and thorough analysis. Keep searching for your own direction, as this is what gives us happiness in work. I like this quote, attributed to Confucius: “Choose the work you love and you won’t be working a day in your life”.

You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?

AS : To follow up on my previous answer, I think it is very important to observe and analyse the creations of all designers, both famous and distinguished, and those less known or average. To learn, to keep going, and to seek out professional recognition. This definitely gives wings and more even more importantly, provides grounding. The likes and dislikes from clients are not what should define your self-image as a good or bad designer. A caveat, this advice is only for those who truly want to become exceptional. I know I do.

What is your day to day look like?

AS : I begin my day with a compulsory cup of coffee. I make my favourite aromatic drink, get cosy in front of my panoramic window facing a distant horizon line and greet every day as the best day of my life, full of hopes for new and exciting challenges it will bring. I know many people start a day with a jog or another kind of vigorous exercise, but I need to feel relaxed as I am catching up with my emails, social media news and various podcasts I am subscribed to. I usually just scan through, but stop and read if I come across interesting reviews of the design trends or just stumble upon something inspirational. I need this quiet time to get in the zone.

How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?

AS : I follow my own style in design, but stay tuned in with the latest design trends. I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive. Individual style makes you unique, while familiarity with trends assures my ideas and creations fit with the mood and spirit of the time. I believe design should be modern or even preempt future demands of my clients.

How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?

AS : For me good design encompasses both functionality and aesthetic. I always look for innovation or uniqueness as this is what distinguishes exceptional design from a good one.

How do you decide if your design is ready?

AS : As a minimalist, I consider design complete when there is nothing else left to take away. I aim for sufficient quality. Knowing when to stop and not overworking the design is a challenge many designers would be familiar with. Design has to be both beautiful and functional. I always keep purpose in focus to not get carried away too far with the creative process. There is an invisible boundary beyond which any further work on the project becomes meaningless. This is of course assuming all starting points remain the same, i.e. no new information about the project comes to light. I cannot think of an example from my practice when I had to return and rework my previous design and I would not want to face such challenge. I prefer starting from scratch and it is more effective and efficient for the end result.

What is your biggest design work?

AS : I am not sure if it’s the biggest, but the project of developing a premium vodka brand Kasatka is definitely my favourite. It was my second alcohol brand project from scratch, but for the first time I felt I was able to fully realise my talent. My ideas of weaving in inspiration from the depth of national culture and bringing in my love of embroidery as an art form resonated really well with the clients’ expectations. In addition, minimalist approach to design was ideally suited to the premium character of the brand. The second project I would single out is my work on developing personal brand for a talented philosopher and photographer with the Russian origins. I was able to transfer my experience of working with product brands to working with an individual and get exceptional results. The challenge was to distance my client from the competitor with the identical name and to help her gain recognition and popularity amongst English speaking clients. This is why we had to start with a completely different name, and finding the right name for an adult is much more difficult than for a child, I must tell you. I had to draw upon my knowledge of human psychology and my life experiences, to excel in both listening to the client and in being heard.

Who is your favourite designer?

AS : Karim Rashid is a genius. I adore the scale of his personality and his generosity in sharing it with the world. Zaha Hadid remains an inspiration for all designers and for women in particular. I cannot find words to describe my admiration for her genius without sounding trivial. I cried when I heard she passed away.

Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?

AS : Although my roots are in Russia, I travel a lot and find inspiration in other cultures. European cities each move me in different ways. I love coming to Paris to breathe art, in Rome I feel tearful from the expanse of beauty gathered in one place and Amsterdam makes me feel liberated.

Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?

AS : I follow the same mantra in life and in my work on branding – discover your personality. My philosophy is to follow my own path, listen to my heart and understand my values – this is what my clients say makes working with me unique. My values are my Ariadne thread in life. Fortunately, I seem to radiate the right energy and attract my kind of people. Many people who came to me first as clients, later became my friends and it brings me comfort and happiness.

What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?

AS : From time to time I complete projects pro bono or charge bare minimum. For example I recently came across a group on social media, that unites women who immigrated to another country and thus are starting their career or business in a new place. I had such experience myself and can emphasise with the challenges they face, so I offered to help them with branding free of charge. Several amazing women responded to my invitation and I am looking forward to being a part of their success story.

What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?

AS : Participation in competitions tests my level of professionalism. Winning such competitions sustains my confidence, but also gives my clients assurance of the quality they can expect from me. It also helps my clients understand the prices I charge for my professional services. Undoubtedly, the jury’s decision consists of the amalgamation of individual opinions, but each of these opinions is grounded in the professional criteria, and not just likes and dislikes. Achieving recognition as a Designer of the Day gives me happiness and motivates to carry on.

Anastasia Smyslova Profile

Kasatka Vodka

Kasatka Vodka design by Anastasia Smyslova

PetitAna Brand Identity

PetitAna Brand Identity design by Anastasia Smyslova

Katharina Mikhrin Photography Branding

Katharina Mikhrin Photography Branding design by Anastasia Smyslova


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