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Illustrator and designer Agata Kubiak: ‘I don’t like to be literal when I create something’

Agata Kubiak is a designer from Gdańsk, Poland. Besides web design and development, she has a passion for graphic design, branding, illustrations, drawings and paintings.
Digital portrait of Katherine Langford by Agata Kubiak
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I am a designer and illustrator based in the beautiful city of Gdańsk, Poland. I currently work as a UX/UI designer which I find very exciting and challenging. However, I’m always open to any other kind of creative work—I do branding, illustrations, paintings, and it all brings a lot of joy to my life.

As a designer, I create interfaces which are not only aesthetic and visually catching, but also based on user experience. I love minimalism, flat design, and simple but effective solutions according to the rule that less is more.

How did your career start?

I always knew that I wanted to design and create something, but at the very beginning I had no idea what exactly it should be. After graduating from high school, I started studying architecture and urban planning at the university. I learned a lot and it was a great experience, but also in that moment I realised that architecture wasn’t my passion.

My brother encouraged me to learn front-end development and become the designer who codes—so I did! In my first ‘serious’ company I worked as a junior front-end developer and designer, and by having the opportunity of working with the digital products, I started to fall more and more in love with UX and UI. As a result, I focused only on the design—the field that my heart belongs to.

“My brother encouraged me to learn front-end development and become the designer who codes—so I did!”

Did you encounter any problems in the beginning?

To be honest, I don’t think I did. Programming sometimes was problematic for me (respect to all the programmers that understand JavaScript), but never the design. I treat every new project as a challenge, and I am excited for every new feature that we introduce to our product. As a designer, I need to be close to people and it’s my job to help them and make their life easier.

How long did it take you to understand JavaScript?

To be honest I don’t think I have ever understood JavaScript. I was able to do some easy tasks, but the more complex features scared me. The biggest problem for me was the logic in this language, but it’s probably because I didn’t take enough time to deepen my knowledge on that topic. I remember I felt really frustrated when something wasn’t working, and I couldn’t find the solution.

I’ve finally decided to leave programming for those who have the patience for it.

As well as a UX/UI designer, you also do graphic design, branding, illustrations, drawings and paintings. What would you say is your favourite type of project and why?

It’s almost impossible for me to choose because I like the variety that creative work has. I really enjoy my work as a UX/UI designer, but in my free time I rather focus on making illustrations as they help me to express my feelings. Also, I draw whenever I want to—there are no deadlines so it’s always a pleasure. Branding on the other hand is something that I’m really enthusiastic about because in most cases I start with a blank page—I build the whole identity from scratch (having in mind that for my client it’s one of the most crucial things regarding marketing success). Taking part in such initiatives is an awesome experience.

Tell us a bit more about the tools you use for your UX/UI designs.

In my daily work, I use Sketch for creating the designs, Marvel for prototyping and Zeplin which is a cool tool for designers and developers. I like Sketch, but I’m not as fast working in it yet as I am with Affinity Designer. Also, I always switch to Affinity when I have some graphics to do because I find this app better for creating illustrations.

One cool thing that Sketch has and Affinity doesn’t is the integration with Zeplin. I really wish Affinity had this feature because it makes the work for developers much more convenient. They can read practically everything from the design which is also facilitation for me as I don’t have to prepare additional guidelines and explainers.

Your illustration, ‘Elfin’, is stunning and incredibly detailed! How long did it take you to complete?

Thank you so much! I think it took me around three or four hours in total.

Briefly explain your process.

My illustration style is a mixture of traditional and digital art, so the first thing I do is grab a pencil and some paper and begin to sketch. Then I scan the sketch and do the rest in Affinity Photo. The rest in this case is colouring, improving sketch proportions, rotating and adding extra elements. There were some moments when I had a strict vision of the illustration output, but I changed the direction during the process. The result looked completely different compared to what I had imagined earlier, however, I was still satisfied with the result.

When I do vector graphics, I often skip the sketching part and immediately build the illustrations from shapes as it’s a lot faster.

What brushes do you use for your illustrations?

I just stick to the default brushes that are already in the Affinity app. I have three favourite categories—painting, drawing and texture.

Do you work both digitally and traditionally?

Yes, I do both.

They both have their pros, that’s why I often mix them. My personal illustration style consists of the main part (sketch) done traditionally, and the colouring/effects done digitally. I like the full control that I have when I draw on paper, but I don’t have such flow with the digital sketches. On the other hand, digital tools give me a fast and effective way of finishing, or sometimes even redesigning my concept. I assume that if I’d done all my illustrations traditionally it would take much more time and effort (which would be tiring for me as I like to have things done quickly).

Do you ever have a creative block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Of course I do! The solution that I recommend is to stop working on a particular task for a while and get back to it later with a fresh mind. Sometimes I need more inspiration, so I look for it by browsing other people’s work. After some time, I am so driven for creative work that nothing’s going to stop me.

How do you plan your designs before you start drafting them?

It all depends on the particular design task. Each one looks different depending on whether it’s a logo design, landing page or web app design. In general, I do some research and gather inspiration first, then I usually sketch using a pencil and paper. Sometimes this process is long and detailed, especially when it comes to web applications.

In regard to my own personal illustrations, I don’t tend to plan them, they all just come from an idea that’s in my head. Often the idea comes out of nowhere—I just suddenly see an image and turn it into a drawing later on.

When the illustration is for work purposes, I like to think of an idea in a more abstract way, so for example, when I was doing a blog post cover about database views in Rails with Scenic, I read the whole article first. As you can imagine this topic itself was quite abstract for me, so I decided to present it as a visual metaphor—I drew three groups of Lego bricks and one building combined of the bricks from each group. It refers to the subject but not in a literal way. I don’t like to be literal when I create something, I prefer to use those metaphors because then the result is more fetching.

Personal website design by Agata Kubiak
Is there anyone or anything in particular that inspires you?

As I mentioned before, I like to look at other people’s work but not only on the web. The things that surround me are also the inspiration. Sometimes I’d like to stare for hours at the well-designed items in the shopping store—this concerns mostly branding, package designs, and their aesthetic exposition.

For my illustrations, I get the inspiration from almost everything—music, movies, books, all different situations that happen to me, or even my dreams.

How did you find your style? Has it changed much since you first started?

It has changed a lot and I’m pretty sure that it will also change in the future. The more I draw and design the better and more open-minded I am. I first started with the very natural looking pencil made drawings, but after some time I decided to draw in a more ‘doodle and sketch’ way. I like it because it gives me more freedom and allows my artworks to be less literal.

When it comes to designing the digital products, I like the minimalism in everything which I always try to reflect in my work. I would describe my style as a commercial minimalism because I keep my designs simple and aesthetic, but at the same time I think they’re pleasant to look at and they’re easy for people to understand. Sometimes I come across websites that are designed in such a minimalistic and original way that I would consider them more as an art. However, my user experience on these websites is often poor because they’re more artistic than intuitive.

I tried to design this way from the beginning of my journey, but as I observe and learn more about the elements composition, colours, typography etc., I think that my designs are better and more consistent compared to the old ones.

“The more I draw and design the better and more open-minded I am.”

Tell us a little bit more about your symmetrical vector owl.

I guess that was my first ‘serious’ illustration that I created in Affinity Designer—I wanted to test some features and learn something new (my vector illustration skills were pretty weak at the time). The inspiration came from two amazing artworks that Affinity had on the welcome screen—Aztec Bull and Geo Totem. I wanted to do something similar, so I started with the owl and thought it would be a nice match with the tribal geometric style. I made a quick sketch on a piece of paper, but I didn’t quite finish it—I only sketched half of the owl as I knew that I would mirror it in the process (yes, I’m lazy).

I came up with the idea to record everything and decided to make a speed painting video which is now the most viewed video on my YouTube channel. I was really surprised by the increasing number of views!

The whole thing in total didn’t take too long to complete—I guess I was drawing for around two to three hours (including the sketch). Now of course, as my skills have improved, I would probably do it a little bit better.

Symmetrical vector owl by Agata Kubiak
We can see you sell your designs on Redbubble. How do you go about getting your work ready to sell?

It’s really easy because I don’t have to do anything besides uploading my artworks on to the Redbubble website and adjusting them so they fit well on every project, and that’s it—done! There’s someone who takes care of the items production and shipping which is really cool because that means I don’t have to do everything by myself.

Selection of Agata’s designs sold on Redbubble
What’s your greatest accomplishment so far?

I feel like the greatest accomplishment for me is when people like my work, when they appreciate it, or knowing I’ve helped them somehow through my designs. It really motivates and inspires me to create further work.

You do a lot of commission work. What would you say has been your favourite commission and why?

One of my favourite projects is the one that I’ve done for DGTMARKET—it’s a Polish company that develops the cryptocurrency exchange platform, and I was redesigning the landing page for them. This process took us a while, but I really liked that they were pushing me for a better solution, and in the end, we ended up with a project that we were both proud of.

Landing page by Agata Kubiak for Polish company, DGTMARKET
How did you hear about Affinity apps, and what made you want to use them?

I heard about the apps from my brother—I was in the process of switching to a Mac system at that time, so I thought I would install Affinity Photo beta version and Affinity Designer trial. I did, and I fell in love immediately. The interface seemed much more intuitive compared to the programs that I was using before.

I use different software for my daily work, but Affinity is still one of my favourites.

You can find more of Agata’s work here.