“We value people. So we create websites that help our clients achieve their goals and speak to their audience.”
This is Red Collar, a full-cycle, international digital agency based in Voronezh, Russia. Launched in 2011, they’ve already racked up a stellar reputation with a showcase of Russian and international web design awards, including two CSSDA’s Agency of the Year awards and a Webby. Recently they've expanded to the USA, opening an office in New York.
Red Collar’s approach goes well beyond web design, aiming to create striking brand identities that defy convention. They are creators that believe in the beauty of innovation and harnessing the power of design to connect with the world—both intellectually and emotionally.
We sat down with Denis Lomov, Red Collar CEO and Creative Director, for a discussion on web design inspirations, the dark side of success and future visions for his agency.
Q&A with Denis Lomov, CEO and Creative Director of Red Collar Digital
Q: Who are the people behind Red Collar?
A: Today, we’re a team of more than 30 people. We’re at a unique place where there are enough employees to take on a big complex project, but we’re still able to gather for a creative brainstorm or get away for a barbecue. Because of this intimate atmosphere, we’re able to create some really cool projects.
For us, it’s essential that the projects we take on bring satisfaction. We try and provide each employee with tasks that are most interesting to them. It might be something they can do well, something they like, or something completely wild. We encourage and support self-growth and continual learning. Projects are always a combination of analytics and aesthetics—or data-informed design. We’re keenly aware of how important analytics is for our business, particularly when it comes to building a better UI.
In short, we value people. So we create websites that help our clients achieve their goals and speak to their audience.
The end-user’s emotions are critical to our design process, because it’s the associations people have when interacting with a website that makes them want to come back time and again.
Q: When did you realize you wanted to be a web developer/designer?
A: I got my first computer late, when I was 14 years old. It sparked a huge interest in me. At first, I read some books on operational systems, like Windows 95 and Windows 2000. I read texts on basic functions and how to create tags. And then I thought, new programs are constantly emerging, which means someone somewhere was creating them. Then and there I decided that I would work with computers, like writing games or programs. On top of that, I was quite good at math in school. By the time I entered college, I chose to study backend development. When I finished backend, I picked up front-end and worked with that as well.
Currently, I have two roles in the agency: one as a director who oversees creative development (from strategy to internal processes), the other as a design lead responsible for the technology we use and where it takes us.
Q: What motivated you to start your own agency?
A: While I was studying, I worked at a place with conditions far from comfortable. Eight hours a day bell-to-bell, strict breaks, monotonous tasks, no growth prospects and a corporate Nokia that rang day and night. Evaluations didn’t depend on project results, but how you sat through work hours—the more the better. If someone came up with an out-of-the-box idea for a task and accomplished it faster than planned, it wasn’t celebrated. In fact quite the opposite, it was criticized. The work wasn’t motivating or enjoyable.
I wanted to create my own comfortable place where people would get a thrill from the work they did.
So considering my educational background and skills, my friend and I created a full-cycle, in-house digital agency.
Q: Share a success story that makes you proud.
A: Save Whales. It was a non-commercial project created by our own team’s initiative. From a random brainstorm session, an idea was born to create a statement website supporting endangered whale species.
We all hear it: the IT industry is changing the world. But in truth, there are very few companies that have real impact on a global scale. With this project, we wanted to showcase how people can use their professional skills to make a positive contribution to a worldwide problem.
Our task, design a project as fast as we could—14 days fast. And we achieved it. Save Whales got big coverage. In the first two weeks after we launched, the link was shared on social media by over two hundred people. When the link was published on international award platforms, the site got over 30K visits. Ecological and web design periodicals from all over the world asked us for an interview and published content related to the project. We were a 2020 Webby nominee in the Green category (breathing down NASA’s neck in public votes), won awards and got people’s attention on an issue that would help shape the global eco-agenda.
Q: Tell us about a failure and how you grew from it.
A: I used to believe that expanding a team had nothing to do with revenue. I thought we could design fewer projects and sell them for more. That the more awards we got, the higher the price tag would become. This gave us a lot of one-time successes, while many orders just passed us by. There are clients out there that don’t care about your agency awards. They don’t see your awards as an obvious advantage and aren’t ready to pay more for it, so they turn to your competitors.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Inspiring talks online and offline (when I get a chance to attend a conference). Not so long ago, I gave a talk at the Awwwards Conference in Amsterdam. It was a pleasure to listen to other speakers there.
I also get inspired by new websites and services. I always have international award platforms, like Awwwards, CSS Design Awards, FWA and my Facebook feed with posts from my friends and various agencies open in my browser. I need to know who released what and what new sites are out there.
Q: Walk us through your typical work day.
A: The thing is, my tasks are impossible to plan. 90% of my working hours are spent discussing tenders and sales. I need to make decisions, share what we’re currently doing and plan for the right thing to do next. Or, it’ll be specific questions about current projects. There might be something a client isn’t getting right. They could be making complaints that need to be managed. Plus, it’s looking at designs and projects to see how they’re going. Also, public speaking. Often I travel and give talks. Most of my time is spent like this. It hardly ever happens that I can spend 1.5 hours quietly.
Q: If you weren’t in this field, what do you think you’d be doing?
A: Law. I fancy legal studies. It’s interesting and similar to what I do now.
You need to have an analytical mindset, plan your approach well in advance and look for solutions—even when it seems that there’s no way out.
Q: What’s one of your go-to resources?
A: There’s no one-fits-all approach. That would mean all agency owners get inspired from the same websites and read the same books. There’s no perfect recipe for managing an agency, or any other profession for that matter. It’s all quite specific, for me and here at Red Collar. The main thing I look for is that info is useful and clear.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A: This doesn’t come from any particular person, but it’s a common idea that I share: fall in love with your job and make it comfortable for you. That way, you don’t have to work a day in your life. I like what I’m doing. I don’t feel any discomfort or tension from it. My job never feels like work, not in the traditional sense.
Q: What’s the vision for your agency moving forward?
A: To become the biggest, full-cycle, international digital agency. We want to work with major international brands and offer the maximum variety of services clients need.
Q: Give us some pearls of wisdom.
A: Do your job well. While obvious, most turn a deaf ear to it. “Well” doesn’t mean “fairly well”. “Well” means to strive and create projects better than the ones that inspired you.
Nothing works if quality is overlooked.
If you stick to that one goal, work will become a pleasure, you’ll get more leads and bigger, more interesting projects.
To learn more about Red Collar, visit their website.