Moscow’s Modest and Inspiring Digital Agency, m—2—h
Moscow, April 22, 2016.
Upon viewing the website of m—2—h, it’s apparent that this Moscow-based team is not just another digital agency. The colors, the design, and the particular word selection immediately inform visitors that details matter, and that each decision is well thought-out. This becomes increasingly evident after visiting the agency’s Behance and Dribbble accounts. Numbers aren’t everything, but it must be noted that this group of talent has developed quite the following in the design community. Between the m—2—h accounts and the staff member’s accounts, they have over 3,500 followers on Dribbble and a combined total of over 1.8 million views and 26,000 followers on Behance.
Design m—2—h is just one component of the multi-faceted agency. The team at m—2—h likes to refer to themselves as digital doctors, diagnosing and solving the problems of their clients. They understand that without purpose, a design serves no use. They meld together what the client wants with the design and development concepts, to ultimately solve digital difficulties. Everything is done with purpose and has a strategy behind it. The team believes that design should not overcomplicate the brand, but rather it should help the user to understand the content.
To learn more about m—2—h, we talked to Managing Director, Alexei Rezvanov, and UI/UX Designer, Alexander Laguta. Humble and friendly, both these talented men share the company’s history and how each of them ended up in the field. Not only do they discuss some of their current projects, but also they offer an interesting lens into what it means to be a digital creator in Russia.
Passionate is a buzzword, but it is an especially fitting one to describe both Alexei and Alexander. They love what they do, and it shows. Passion for solving digital problems is the overarching theme throughout their work, one that makes them so successful.
What adjectives would you chose to describe m—2—h?
Alexei & Alexander: Simplicity, emotional touch, transparency & scalability.
What is m—2—h at its core?
Alexei: We do all stages of digital projects, trying to focus ourselves on web, mobile, and brand identity. m—2—h was created in 2015 and aims to be a different agency from the regular ones. We are a small team, currently comprised of eight full-time staff, but we offer a wealth of experience in traditional advertising, journalism, and start-up companies that contribute to our growth.
Does m—2—h primarily work with clients in Russia, Europe, or all over the world?
Alexei: Currently, mostly outside of Russia. In the past, we had more Russian clients, but due to the crisis, the Russian market dropped significantly. We have some clients in Europe, US, and China. This makes us very disappointed and it can be troublesome when political factors influence things like this. However, we try to stay positive and appreciate the competitive advantages in what has happened. Because of the dollar rate difference, the cost of production now in Russia is much cheaper, while the quality of production remains quite high. This puts us, along with other Russian agencies, at a good advantage. Historically Russia has always been very powerful in IT, producing high quality. There are Russians working in Silicon Valley, but we also have many that stay in the country to work in IT. This reputation is good for us and we see opportunities to expand more globally in the future, despite the fact that Russia has becoming less trusty to send money to in order to get some work done due to all this political stuff.
What is a challenge working in this field?
Alexei: It’s not about particular projects being difficult, but when the client comes, he/she usually references our previous works. The client sees what already is working and being successful, but a solution for one brand cannot fit the same for another.
To make something new and really noticeable, you need to make something that breaks the barriers. And the client must be willing to take these risks. Too often, the client is scared of innovations. When the client participates, he sees the work everyday, beginning to question the design motives and why things are a certain way. It can be difficult and tiring to defend.
Another challenge is the time it takes to finish high-quality projects. Normally the production of a project takes several months. The process is lengthy. From the time when the client approaches us to its completion, it can be anywhere from 8 months to a year, and this allows too much time for the client to start to doubt the design and strategy.
Alexander: From a design perspective, we saw many clients taking our designs. This is a win for us. But after that, they thought they had everything, and combined our uniquely crafted design with cheap front-end development that led to creating awful combinations that simply didn’t work … We all cried, especially me.
An example was our work for the Ulta Music Festival website. They took this design of ours, but then they turned it with their own forces. I felt a pain seeing it, and still do.
The biggest problem is to understand that we work on one side with the client, and we do our job, but that’s where it ends sometimes. We are one section in a chain, and all sections must be connected. We do our part and guide brands along the way, but we can never complete projects fully and this can lead to problems in cohesiveness and miscommunicated brand identity.
What is a campaign you worked on that was especially successful and why?
Alexei: We are most proud of the projects in which the client comes to us, takes our work, and then makes his own work. All these web projects and mobile applications are the frame for the painting. The client has to draw the painting, and fill in the content that inspires the frame.
“Music Story” is a project we worked on for a music school in Moscow. We took the job on one promise; that the brand would invest in the content, taking professional photos and images for the site. In the end, they would created and curated the content to the same quality of the design we provided them, making a cohesive and impressive site. When this happens from our clients, we are particularly delighted to see the hard work pay off and come together in harmony.
Which countries excite you most in terms of digital creativity?
Alexei: There are nice things happening in the UK. We like that they even more structural in their projects. As an industry, the British are very expensive, but their techniques include some fantastic things we want to introduce here at m—2—h. The Brits take the client’s brief as a diagnosis, and develop a solution from there.
Alexander: For me, I find the designs of the UK, Sweden, Holland and Germany to be particularly good.
How do you each define creativity?
Alexei: I believe that we are not trying to be creative. Creativity is for artists, we don’t judge ourselves to be artists. We are not for art, but rather we are for crafting digital ideas that make sense. We are the digital doctors with problems and we have the appropriate solutions for them. The instrument used is design, while the final target is to make something which works for the particular case of the client.
Alexander: I agree with Alexei. I both an old frame or modern frame, this type of design is about finding design solutions to an existing issue. I try to believe that we are not so creative, but instead think of ourselves as problem solvers.
How did you each become interested in digital media and marketing? At a young age or at the university level?
Alexei: My career began in journalism. For a while I worked in foreign media and eventually started creating my own media on the internet. I also started doing work as a start-up investor, which has allowed me to be involved in all stages of the production process. Through my interest in startup world I became connected with m—2—h and it fell into place from there.
Alexander: I graduated in 2002 as a programmer, but took interest in the self-study of design. I started working in 2002 as an assistant designer. I worked a lot, maybe six years, without rest, 6-7 days a week. But I like my job, and I’m really proud of it. I have experience with some famous Russian agencies, but ultimately moved to freelance work for the money and freedom. While design is what I do now, I am always grateful for my education in programming. It gives me a good base and helps me to do my job by understand the world of code. This combined with my 5-6 yrs of working as an Art Director, allows me to talk with clients or colleagues about many aspects of digital design and website development.
Alexei: To follow up that point, I am personally proud of managing the projects he does. The projects are so good because there is harmony in the work he creates. When he makes the design as a programmer he thinks about many different facets. Together we think about the problem of the client, and a solution is determined.
What would tell a young person aspiring to work in this field?
Alexander: To grow in any field, you must spend more time than your competitors and you have to love your work. Try to understand what kind of work or direction you like, and work on it. Work on it everyday and let it consume you. This is fairly simple advice, but not so many people understand this.
With time and dedication, you will begin to create a unique style and then the money will come. You have to love it, and the process of creation. Dedication is also crucial. Every job has good and bad moments but main thing is do what you like, and you will find ways to overcome the obstacles. Passion will come through in your work and ultimately make you successful.