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The Freelancer Q&A: Designer Zhenia Vasiliev Talks Creating Infographics for Contently Clients

By Julia Kupper September 22nd, 2015

One of the biggest misconceptions about Contently is that we only help writers get work. Journalists are crucial to the success of our clients, but over the last few years, other creatives like videographers, photographers, designers, and illustrators have become increasingly important with multimedia content on the rise.

For the second installment in our Q&A series with Contently contributors, we reached out to Zhenia Vasiliev, a designer with many talents. Zhenia lives in London, but he’s also worked all over the world in places like Moscow, Dubai, and Istanbul. He now balances a full-time job at a data visualization agency with freelance design gigs. Since he started freelancing for Contently last year, he’s completed more than 20 infographics for five clients.

We spoke to Zhenia about why he got into infographics, how he avoids client pushback, and the most interesting project he’s worked on for Contently.

What came first, design or illustration?

First came the writing. I studied journalism in St. Petersburg and often provided cartoons or small comic strips along with my articles to the magazines and newspapers I worked with. After graduation, I was more interested in the visual side of mass media and got a job as a graphic designer to get some more hands-on skills. Later on, I got back to illustration, which is currently my preferred means of expression, although I’m considering starting to write again at some point in my career.

When did infographic projects really kick off for you?

I have started marketing myself as an information designer right after finishing my illustration M.A. in London in 2010. That was the logical step for me to do because by then, I already had experience both in writing and graphic design, and having done the degree in illustration, I saw infographics as the medium that would tie all of my skills together. I also knew, of course, that this was a rapidly growing field.

After two years of freelancing in London, I had an opportunity to join the information design department at the Guardian, where I worked for two years. I’m still with the same team now—we’ve formed a standalone agency called Graphic, and provide pretty much the same data visualization service.

How did you hear about Contently and how did you get your first assignment with us?

I used to work with one of the Contently founders, Shane Snow, back in 2011 on a few infographic projects outside of Contently. Later on, he passed my details to the Contently staff, and we’ve started steadily producing infographics since November 2014.

Ninety percent of your freelance work currently comes from Contently. How many assignments do you have per month?

My freelance availability is limited because I work full-time at the agency, but I think so far I’ve had enough time to do a couple of infographics per month on average.

How many different clients do you work for with Contently?

Five different clients so far, and all of them are brilliant.

What was your most interesting project with us so far?

I loved working on a series of infographics for a Spanish bank, BBVA. While doing those, I actually learned a lot about personal banking myself, as these graphics are targeted to the general public and are quite informative. A recent project for IBM Watson was also fun because of their cutting-edge, high-tech subject matter. I enjoy working on projects where I have a chance to create an interesting story as well as represent the facts.

How much do you get paid for one Contently infographic?

Clients often approach me asking how much infographics cost, and the most reasonable answer is: It depends. Since there are so many different types of infographics, and the clients have so many different requirements, it is always necessary to examine the data sets, visual preferences, intent of use, and deadlines before coming up with a quote.

How do you stay true to your style but still satisfy what the client wants?

So far, I have been lucky enough to be approached by the clients who like my style and required me to do work in my usual manner. In cases where a preliminary assessment of a project shows that the client requires an approach different from mine, I would normally advise them to seek another illustrator who specializes in what they need, but that’s never happened yet.

If there are issues after a first pass, how do you deal with potentially tricky situations?

My best way of avoiding tricky situations is by getting the client to approve a paper sketch before I sit down with my design software. Paper sketches are really quick to do, and at the same time, they are visual enough to give the client an idea of what a finished piece is going to look like. They are also important because they show how much text can fit, how many icons or illustrations will be needed, and what the headings and subheadings are going to be.

Once the paper sketch is approved, there are normally no further issues. Again, this may be a matter of me being a lucky man, but every time a client does come up with any additional changes, I usually find them logical.

In any job, I believe that the client is the expert in what their infographic is about. For example, when the client is a bank, they will most likely know more about nuances of banking than me. I don’t hesitate to ask them for advice in their field and share my data visualization experience with them in return. This way. creating infographics is fun and is always a collaboration, something that I wouldn’t come up with working on my own.

What is the biggest difference between working full time and freelancing? What do you prefer?

I like to do both—that’s why I’m doing both at the moment. I like the flexibility of freelance work, but I also like to be around my colleagues at the agency where I work full time. It would be too hard for me to sit in my studio alone all day long.

You’ve lived all over the place. What was the most challenging job and why?

The most challenging jobs are the current ones, because the completed ones are no longer a challenge to me. It is true that I used to live in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Dubai, and Istanbul, before moving to London, but I guess I was more of a junior worker back then, and the work wasn’t too challenging in its nature. My current project at Graphic is probably one of the most complex ones I’ve done in technical terms, since it includes illustration, scrollable HTML functionality, responsiveness to different devices, and elements of animation. It is still a work in progress, although the main body of illustration work has been completed.

Lastly, do you think it’s important to have side projects like your drawing blog?

Side projects are important and they differ from one graphic artist to another. Some people draw, others do screen prints, sculpture, street art, or even furniture. Many others choose something completely different such as cooking or composing music.

I chose drawing because it helps me to learn more about the technical side of illustration routine and also provides a great field for experimentation while still being a relatively quick and an easy thing to do and store. I am, in fact, a big enthusiast of drawing and would advise anyone, regardless of their profession, to draw on a daily basis. It is a great hobby, which can be both a workout and a way to relax.

Image by Zhenia Vasiliev
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