They say that a Russian designer and architect abroad who successfully realizes himself in the profession is something from the realm of myths and legends. The Hodey’s team spoke with designer Natalie Kneidinger, who easily refutes this with her own example.
Please tell us how you ended up in Switzerland and how did you start your design career abroad?
– I have been living in Switzerland with my family for 2 years. Up to this point, we have lived in Vienna and Milan. My European career began when I was a student in Italy. According to the rules of the university, I could not work full-time. The only opportunity was an internship for 25 hours a week.
Finding an interior designer job in Milan is not an easy task: there is a lot of competition and high demands. I sent my CVs to many design firms, and within a couple of days the answers came. I was interested in the Bertone Design Milano studio, where an interior designer with knowledge of the Russian language was required, since many projects were located in Russia. The very next day after the interview, I got down to work. After 2 internships in this studio, I was hired. It was a great experience: international projects, business trips, exhibitions, speaking at conferences. Honestly, I was sad to leave the studio, but I no longer wanted to work online from Vienna.
In Vienna, I devoted time to learning German. A little later my husband and I moved to Switzerland. Finding a job in a new place was much more difficult, because the main requirement was the German language! I continued my studies and soon was able to get an A2 certificate, and this was already enough for normal communication. However, no vacancies were found. Time passed, circumstances changed, I simply could not sit around any longer and changed my tactics: I opened my own company, became an individual entrepreneur. I started submitting my portfolios and resumes as an independent expert. One large design studio in Liechtenstein became interested in my skills (3D visualization, illustration, presentation making, knowledge of programs). They sent me a test task. After passing the test, I began to cooperate with them on an ongoing basis. Before quarantine, I often stopped by the studio office for presentations and meetings with clients. Now, in the context of a pandemic, everything has been transferred online. This is ideal for me as I work from home and can spend a lot of time with my family.
How difficult was it to find customers compared to the Russian market? What differences in approach to design between Russia and Switzerland (and Europe in general) can you highlight?
– At the moment, I rarely find clients myself: the studio with which I cooperate helps me. This is the best option for a young designer, since looking for clients in Switzerland requires a lot of experience and a good reputation for a personal brand. Here is a completely different approach: customers absolutely do not care about your Instagram or publications in magazines. The most important thing is the recommendations of friends, relatives, colleagues. A couple of successful projects, and they will talk about you, the word-of-mouth effect is the most effective here. In Russia, everything is completely different, a completely different rhythm. Huge competition dictates its own rules. In my opinion, just being a good designer is no longer enough: the image on social media must also meet expectations. A client in Russia is very privileged, he always waits for the completion of tasks in the shortest possible time and understands that there are no irreplaceable specialists. And this is partly true. From this, such a tough and uncompromising labor market has developed. In Milan, the situation is very similar. But while living in Switzerland, I plunged into a completely different philosophy of life. You work a lot here, but there is no such strong tension and competition. Everything proceeds calmly and organically.
Tell us about your favorite project abroad.
– My favorite project abroad is a design concept for an apartment in Paris. This project was carried out for the Bertone design Milano studio. The client is an elite real estate agency Coldwell Banker that sells apartments in historic buildings.
It was important for a potential buyer to see how the apartment he had chosen could look like in a new renovation. The location of the apartment is on Avenue Montaigne, directly opposite the legendary Plaza Athénée hotel. There were no restrictions in the project, complete freedom of creativity. I have a special weakness for Parisian apartments, so the project became the brightest and most memorable for me, despite the fact that this is just a concept without further implementation.
What kind of specialized education abroad can you recommend for novice designers, students of specialized universities (and, perhaps, even those who are just planning to get higher education)? What do they need to know to improve their chances of passing the competition?
– For novice designers, I can safely recommend the institute where I studied in Milan – Politecnico di Milano, Interior Design course. It is suitable for those who already have a master’s degree in design in absolutely any direction – environmental design, furniture design, architecture.
You will have to prepare for admission in advance: you need to prepare documents, a language certificate (English or Italian, depending on the course), a creative portfolio, a motivation letter and a resume. To pass the competition, you must show by all means how important it is for you to study at this particular university. And for this it is worthwhile to study well the activities of the university, communicate with students, see projects, perhaps even go to Milan and attend open lectures. All this is needed in order to demonstrate how important this choice is to you and that your candidacy is ideal.
How much does studying abroad differ from Russian specialized universities and design schools? Are there any fundamental differences in the approach to presenting material and working with students?
– There really are differences, I will combine them in the top 5:
- Submission of projects. In Russia (and I studied at the Stieglitz Academy of Art and Industry), all submissions were in the form of large printed or drawn posters with images of the designed interiors, mood boards and a small note on the creation of the project. In Italy, these have always been pdf presentations with speeches. Only occasionally did we print them on banners, although the presentation has always remained the most important point in protecting the project.
- Individualism VS teamwork. In Russia, all student projects were individual. In Italy, all projects, except for the thesis (although in this case, if you wish, you can work in pairs), took place in groups. Very often the groups were formed by the teachers themselves by random selection. This wonderful experience allowed me to learn how to work with different people and correctly distribute my responsibilities in the team.
- Oratory. During 6 years of study at a Russian university, we performed very little in public. It all boiled down to a modest story about the project, which usually few people listened carefully. Therefore, the defense of the diploma turned out to be a huge test for the entire course. In Italy, from the very beginning of your studies, you are forced to step out of your comfort zone, and every time you defend your ideas in front of the entire course. It wasn’t easy for an introvert like me. But it was worth it! The fear was left behind, and confident performances helped me in the future to show profitably both my own and team projects.
- Knowledge of the programms. In Russia, there is a very high level of proficiency in design programs among students. Almost everyone works great in 3D Max, AutoCAD, Adobe Indesign and Photoshop. In Italy, during my studies, I very rarely met students who know these programs. Very often, they made do with hand sketches and the Sketch Up program.
- Conceptual thinking out of the box. In Russia, we rarely used the word “concept” in projects. Rather, it was the general style of the project and the artistic technique. In Italy, everything is built solely on the concept. If the idea is strong and convincing, then the quality of the picture may be more abstract. That is, the main task is to logically bring your project history to the final presentation and show the creation process itself. In this regard, you are absolutely free to express yourself. If you need a mini-clip or art performance to show your interior, this is only welcome.
What advice can you give to both beginners and experienced designers who dealt only with Russian clients and projects in Russia for working with foreign customers?
– It so happened that I practically did not work with Russian clients. Almost all projects in which I participated were in Europe. I don’t think there is much difference in the business approach. I always adhere to the following rules:
- Be polite, conduct business correspondence by mail, very rarely – in instant messengers;
- Never send emails or make calls on weekends / holidays. It is very important to distinguish between life and work;
- Be punctual in everything;
- Always come to meetings with clients in a business dress code;
- Never criticize the work of a previous designer with a client, because the design could have been made by the client himself or his friend;
- Remember that with very rare exceptions, the client is always right;
- Make no more than three concepts for a project;
- Always keep your distance when communicating with the client. All communication is purely business-like, small talk is encouraged according to the situation.
I was happy to share my story, I hope it was helpful. I’ll add on my own: do not stop dreaming, setting goals, building your own path and visualizing!