Name: Artiom Dashinsky
Location: Berlin, Germany
Designation: Product Designer & Maker
Associated with: WeWork, SketchKeys, VeggieMat
Over the past few years, I’ve been leaning towards the indie makers lifestyle. Looking for similar folks for inspiration and collaboration. Trying to learn from them and their products. That’s when I found Artiom. Artiom is an incredible maker and known for his side projects like SketchKeys, Retinize It, EmojiKey and more…
I got the opportunity to catch up with Artiom in Berlin on my recent trip to Europe. We met over lunch at a Vegan restaurant. The conversation took many different routes but I enjoyed it to the fullest. It was so humbling to finally see him in person after knowing him for a couple of years on the internet.
Let’s dive into his head and learn more about his story.
Hey Artiom, how’re you doing? How would you introduce yourself?
Artiom: I’m a product designer who recently moved from working in tech to work on my own products.
I like using the term ‘Maker’ when describing myself, but it’s impractical since it usually requires a follow-up explanation. In addition, the last product I shipped was a book, which also makes me a writer, so I just introduce myself as a ‘Product Designer’ to make things easier 😊
From the day-to-day perspective, the closest profession to what I do is being an ‘Entrepreneur’. Although the dictionary definition of an entrepreneur is someone who “sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”. The last part isn’t true for everything I do — I also invest time in things that I believe are important to be existing and I enjoy creating and which are not necessarily planned to be profitable.
You’re born in Belarus and moved to Israel when you were 16. What kind of impact did the early shift have on you as a child?
Artiom: I think that it was a single decision that impacted my life the most. The shift from a close-minded society under a dictatorship with no place for innovation and no opportunities for new ideas and businesses to a country that is a big startup itself allowed me to get where I’m today.
Tel Aviv’s startup ecosystem is ranked second only to Silicon Valley by startups density, performance, amounts of funding, talent, etc. After living in Tel Aviv and seeing so many new ideas and ventures around me, I felt that founding a business is not something marginal but a norm. Working in such environment helped me to get the confidence to do it myself at some point.
From a lifestyle perspective, the differences are also huge. The average life expectancy in Israel is about 10 years higher than in Belarus. Spending my childhood in the latter constantly provides me a perspective on the Western lifestyle and makes me appreciate it much more than people who surround me, even my friends, who take it for granted.
You’ve moved to Berlin very recently, what inspired the move? How has the city been treating you so far?
Artiom: As much as Tel Aviv provides opportunities for building a business, I felt that the life there is fast-paced and pressured in an unjustified manner for me personally at this point in life. I believe that if I’d conclude a daily agenda of a person in Tel Aviv, it would be a more capitalistic and constant chase after the next thing. When in Berlin, it’s a more slow-paced “How do I improve my life?”.
The latter also comes with an understanding that money is only one way to do that and only until a certain point. And I believe that such an approach is a more healthy environment I want to be in right now.
There is a trend of tech companies moving to Berlin right now, which some citizens (sometimes successfully) protest against. As someone who moved away from a society run heavily by the tech industry, I find it a bit concerning. Such a trend would bring more wealthy people to the city rising the prices with a questionable positive long-term effect.
You’ve been working with WeWork for close to 2 years now. How did you get hired by them in the first place?
Artiom: In 2015, after my startup had failed, as a fall-back I naturally came back to the consulting work which I used to do before. I’ve been doing it while moving between different countries every couple of months, which gave me some drive, but eventually, I wasn’t fulfilled with the work I did since I didn’t really choose to do consulting again.
At this point, WeWork was opening an R&D center in Israel. I was approached by the well-known, previously successful entrepreneur who was responsible for managing the R&D center. In my first reply, I said that I’m not interested in a full-time job, but I still wanted to meet this brilliant guy and also to know more about WeWork.
After I learned more about WeWork’s vision, I understood that it’s building the world I wanted for myself — being able to work on what you’re passionate about, be free to move around, own less and be surrounded by like-minded people. I understood that if there is one company in the world where I should consider joining, it should be WeWork.
Back then, I was still traveling so for me working for WeWork also meant going back to Israel and settling there. I remember that at one of our meetings I asked the R&D center manager: “So what you’re basically suggesting is to give up on the life WeWork is promising to build that I’m already having right now and to join you in helping others to have it?” He sincerely said ‘Yes’ and shortly after I decided to join also bringing along my startup’s co-founder.
Your recently published book “Solving Product Design Exercises: Questions & Answers” is aimed towards teaching how to solve and present design exercises in interviews. How did it come to be?
Artiom: While working at WeWork, I interviewed dozens of designers and saw more than 100 portfolios at different levels of seniority. One of the main issues we had with candidates was their failure to understand the designer’s role in the context of the business, and beyond aesthetics.
This is the mindset which most successful companies require their designers to have, although we’re lacking the learning resources to practice it. Design schools, employers and overly visual-centric design communities aren’t providing the appropriate tools to do so.
I thought that a book would be the right medium to transfer the knowledge I acquired during my career to the community. I’m still amazed by the fact that it took me just 4.5 months from the day I started working on the book until the launch, half of which was dedicated to things that are not writing — building the website, setting up payments and invoicing, designing the cover, setting up the printing, etc.
How has the response been so far from the book?
Artiom: I receive such great feedback — people emailing me about how much I helped them to become better designers and how my book helped them to get jobs of their dreams. It is read by students, designers who already work in the industry and managers. I believe that this book was the most impactful thing I did in my life so far.
In addition, thanks to the book’s success, I’m lucky to be able to sustain myself financially with its sales, which allows me to continue to build things and provide more value to the world.
You’ve created some stellar and beloved side projects like SketchKeys, EmojiKey, Retinize It, Designer News Statistics, etc. What’s the impact these side projects have had on your primary work function as a Designer?
Artiom: I believe that side-projects help to get a more holistic perspective on products and learn about aspects like sales, marketing, customer support and so on.
By knowing more about these aspects and understanding the full cycle of product building, you’re guaranteed to become a better designer — understand better the business goals your design is supposed to achieve, what drives different stakeholders inside the organization and how to communicate with them more effectively, etc.
For me personally, in the long term, the success of side-projects helped me to have the confidence of moving to work on my own projects full time.
If your goal is to build your own business one day, side projects are a great way to start.
Related story: The impact of Side Projects on primary work function.
What are your thoughts on building a couple of products and growing them over building a number of products and not working towards their growth?
Artiom: I don’t believe that I built enough products to give a piece of solid advice but I can tell how I see it. I’d make this question more focused — should you build one product and try to grow it or build several products.
I believe that it depends on your goals. If there is one problem you’re really passionate to solve, build one company and try to grow it as much as possible. If your goal is to acquire big wealth, build one product as well.
If currently, you don’t see a problem you’d like to be working on for the next 5 years, build several products, learn about different markets and what are you most passionate about and where do you have the biggest potential and focus on it then.
The great part about working on several products is that you can always go back to one of them and try to grow it. I know an entrepreneur who built a side-project several years ago and since then moved on to work on other things. At some point he went back to this project and tried to grow it, today it makes $30M in sales annually.
When taking a look at the job applications for a product design position, what are some obvious but critical mistakes that you can point out?
Artiom: Not mentioning what was your part in the project, especially if you designed it only partially. I had a case when I saw the same work in portfolios of three different designers who applied.
You’ve always been a believer in the idea of giving back to the community. What infused this idea in you and how do you go about implementing it?
Artiom: What has been always driving me is helping people. It’s something that guides me for both commercial and non-commercial projects I build. When I founded a small boutique studio with my 2 partners several years ago, we defined our vision “to help people have a more creative, productive and healthy life”. When I think about now, I think all three are still relevant to all I do today.
Helping the community you’re a part of is relatively easy because you understand really well their problems by experiencing them yourself or hearing others mentioning it. Also as a designer, you can use your skills to hack these solutions yourself.
Such an approach also had a positive side-effect — since I was very involved in the design community and knew which struggles others are going through, it was easier for me to build commercial products like my book.
Currently, I’m working on products that are targeting a non-tech audience and it’s much more challenging since it’s harder for me to empathize with them.
What piece of advice would you give to the up-and-coming designers?
Artiom: Designers are lucky to be in a spot in the organizations in which they interact with and could be helpful for almost all the stakeholders in the company.
Take advantage of it and learn more about how a business operates — how different departments work, what are their needs and incentives. Make friends in other departments and learn about their role and work.
All of it will make you a better designer and will set you up for higher chances for a promotion in the longer run.
Rapid Fire Round
You miss Israel for its _______.
Food, hummus in particular 🤤
You like Berlin for its ______.
In a sentence or two, describe the current design scene in Berlin.
I wish I knew it better, but from what I saw so far — it’s big in advertising and digital communications, less big in product design.
If Artiom wasn’t a designer, he would probably be______.
A doctor 👨⚕️
Your idea of an ideal date?
Having a drink is an ideal one for the first date. Physical activity like tennis or golf for the next 🏒
A book that has had the most impact on you both as a designer and as a person?
I recently read ‘Factfullness’ which I’d really recommend to everyone.
If Dribbble is ______, Behance is ________.
Both should be stopped being used as a benchmark for what product design is. Dribbble and Behance are tricking students, practicing designers, employers to think that product design is all about aesthetics. Visuals are a part of product design, but today the whole industry is over-obsessed by it and these two played a big part in getting us here.
Darshan is _______.
The man 💪
I thank Artiom on behalf of the readers of this blog for being a part of the Conversations and sharing his inspiring stories.