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Mentor Spotlight: Yotam Kellner

The future of the creative industry / How to plan your own future work, career

My favorite project:

Af Magazine 2010-2014

A self-published pocket print magazine I designed as part of a group project with friends. At the time, I was a student in Jerusalem and later on a designer in Tel Aviv. I set the format and the grid of the magazine and designed the ads for indie bars and organizations in Jerusalem that supported the print of the magazine. We crowd-curated the art in the magazine. Each month was a different topic and we also organized events and parties.

Tell us about your work: what is your current professional status?

My main focus right now is design education, teaching students from all over the US and Europe how to transition to digital design and web design. It can be anything from 1-hour workshop interactions at schools like SVA, Pratt, MICA, and The New School, up to a 5-week intense course we call “The Wix Playground Academy” where I am the lead mentor. I mentor the students as well as a team of other mentors from the Wix Studio.

What skills/assets did you learn in college that you felt ended up rewarding you the most in finding your first position?

Definitely my branding and typography skills, and also composition and concept development. Since my first job was at a small branding studio, I sometimes led projects from creating a brand’s name, logo, and all branding assets to the final results while working closely with the client.

When you got into the “real world” what did you look back on in your education and found lacking?

When I graduated from the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem in 2011, web and digital design was very basic and just starting to be a main part of the industry replacing print. So most of the things we learned were print-based. We even had to print and hang our work on the walls, and now, looking back at it seems so absurd in such a digital/virtual post-covid world. Another thing was working with clients. Since we never had a chance during school to experience that, the feedback that you get from clients compared to the feedback from your professors and teachers is so different and it is shocking at first. Then you grow and you learn to talk and present your work. You also understand that it is a process as they taught you in school, but the industry will want to skip that to save time and money.

And what’s the most important thing to have/show in a portfolio?

That wonderful combination of personality and talent. The interviewers would love to see how talented you are and to know you really did that project. To distinguish yourself from others and be memorable they need to know your personality, it’s a must. Go with your gut always, and with what makes you feel good. Other people will pick up on that energy. It’s easier said than done, but c'mon - just do it!

How do you usually start working on a project?

I always start by asking myself what am I doing and why am I doing it. It really depends on the project but it helps to do very deep market research, visual research, looking into competitors or similar things out there. For a classic visual design project I'll start with a Miro board or a Pinterest board to collect all of my inspirations.

Professional expertise is something that you know you’re just naturally great at. It isn’t necessarily what you love but what you’re good at. How did you find your own professional expertise?

That’s a tough one, but one thing I’m sure of is that if you don’t try, you won’t know. Like in the design process, if you want to explore something, try a different approach, different composition, and so on. If it stays in your head as a thought, you’ll never know the answer. Keep exploring and get your hands dirty. Was I sure I was going to be a design teacher or a mentor? Of course not, until I tried it and failed along the way. I’m still failing and exploring new things. I started as a brand, and print designer and moved to the motion industry and did some post-production work. Then I started at Wix as a template designer and grew from there. My tip will be: don’t fixate on one thing, try to do a few things and see which direction you are more attracted to.

The first year after school can be a confusing time. What was it like for you?

I see school as a greenhouse for design students that nurture and treat us very gently and carefully. It can be a big shock for a lot of young designers to start their career diving into the deep waters needing to learn how to swim on their own, depending on what position or job they start. I was lucky to have already started working for a design studio in the second year of my studies. Since it was a really small branding studio with 2 designers it wasn't overwhelming to start there. What I was missing was of course more feedback from other peers and also working with bigger clients, but it’s always safe to start with small steps and figure out your way around falling and getting back up on your feet as you go. I don’t like to have this dichotomous distinction between schools and the industry, since the teachers in schools are also working in the industry. I’d like to be optimistic and refer to design students as designers already, only without experience, but the talent and motivation are already there, so that shouldn’t be scary at all.

What's the best advice you've received (and from whom)?

Oh, this is a hard one. I got so much good advice in my design career. I think the one big piece of advice I got from my high school art teacher, Haim. He told me one time: Just do, don’t think, even if you’ll fail (referring to starting a painting). He said each action we do will lead to the next action, but if we never start anything will happen. I use his advice all the time!

What are you working on now?

My main focus now is education. I’m learning a lot of new things. I’m focusing on Wix’s new product, Editor X, and perfecting my skills with it. I'm learning management skills and code. We’re trying to refresh our materials and classes for the design schools in the US so the students are engaged and also enjoying classes.

What do you find most useful in your work (research, visuals, software, etc.)?

What we teach our students at the Wix Playground Academy is to “trust the process” and I really feel that is useful advice also for me. The process of design thinking is really working and I would encourage everyone to use it.

​​Any projects past, present, or future you’d like to share here?

One of my favorite projects of all time that I did back in my design school days was a printed magazine I worked on with my best friends. I think this passion project really defined and shaped my design career. The magazine was a way of life for me, it was called Af (nose in Hebrew) Magazine and it was a tiny A6 format printed pocket magazine we printed in 10,000 copies each month. I was designing the layout and ads for it and we created a huge loyal community of readers and creatives around it.

When you feel stuck, where do you turn for inspiration?

Going outside for a walk in NYC is always inspiring (when the weather allows of course), a subway train ride, galleries on the Lower east side, and museums like the Met, New Museum, and Dia: Beacon. Awesome designers (like Zipeng Zhu for example) and design studios (like zeitguised) I follow on IG and cool articles and visuals in blogs like This is colossal , Juxtapoz Magazine, and more. And sometimes the best thing is just stopping, moving to something else, and coming back refreshed!

Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced in your creative career, and how you overcame it.

Being a designer and a creative person means challenges on a daily basis, so it's hard to choose just one. I think it took me a while to say No. I’m definitely a pleaser in my personality and want everyone around me to feel nice, so if I reflect back to the beginning of my career, I never said no to a graphic design project and found myself overwhelmed easily. As time passed I learned to refuse and choose my projects according to what I liked better or felt good about. It wasn’t easy but I definitely grew from that.



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