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Luben Iliev: I believe in self-conviction and programming goals in your head

Lubo Graphic Designer

I am inspired by people with entrepreneurial skills and strong business acumen

Lubo is a part of our Graphic Design team and his skills always steal the show. His designs have travelled around the world and he is proud that employees, partners, and clients of Google, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi are living their lives in his masterpieces. Lubo is super kind, extremely friendly, and always ready to dive into new adventures when creating exceptional illustrations. He is a graphic designer with a poetic soul. Let’s get to meet him better.

Lubo, was there a specific moment in your life when you realized that Graphic Design was your passion? How did you discover you want to do that for a living?

My story is quite an unusual one. There was a time when I thought the pressure of applying for a place at another school after 7th grade* was unnecessary. I didn’t feel like I needed that drastic change. I thought it was way too stressful to try to find my path in a totally new environment. I decided to take that step after I finish 8th grade. I needed to dive into the world of computers.

But then I found out that the Professional High School of Industrial Technology “Atanas Tsonev Burov” in Ruse was allowing young people to study Graphic Design. I decided to take an orientation tour around the school and decide if I wanted to apply or not. The teachers completely enchanted me with the way they talked. They showed us the modeling hall, and the painting hall, and I was quite impressed. I told myself: This is the place.

I have always known what I need to do and where I need to be. There has always been this desire that navigated my every move. That feeling has never pushed me in the wrong direction.

So I started studying there. Every year students from our school could travel to Germany, Italy, or Spain on a month-long practical training within the Leonardo da Vinci program. When I was in 9th grade I applied to go to Italy. They took about 20 students that were involved in graphic design. We were transferred to different companies in groups of 2 or 3 people. I didn’t know anything about graphic design programs, I couldn’t work with them. I started observing everyone else. They were not very good at it but at least they were trying. And I asked myself: How can they do it and I can’t? I went back home a month later and started creating editorials on Photoshop all summer long. I returned to school in September and I knew more than anyone else. That’s called motivation.

When I was in 10th grade, my teacher – Vladimir Bonev, some other students and I went to a graphic design studio in Ruse called PRIMAX. At that point, I already knew I want to continue studying Graphic Design at the university but I said to myself: If I have to start working somewhere after I graduate, it would be here.

Later I learned that there were only 2 graphic design studios that stood out from the rest. In fact, Muki – Kingly’s other graphic designer – has worked for one of them, I have worked for the other one. (laughs)

Shortly after that, I was off to study at the university. There was this very respected professor – he passed away earlier this year – who recommended me to the studio. That is how I become an intern there after only 2 years at the university. Later, they offered me a full-time job. I really like the fact that we were creating some really cool projects for the Opera house.

Once my previous employer and I went to a printing house called Ruse Press. We needed to print some posters for the Opera house. I was really impressed because besides the machines and the atmosphere, I had the chance to see the offices – everything was on a completely different level. It was obvious that there was more money invested in the firm, and there were more people working there. I thought that they were probably getting better salaries and it seemed like a more prestigious job. And then – again – I told myself: If I ever need to start working somewhere else, it would be in that firm. 2 years later I started working there.

That obviously means that you set very specific goals and you manage to achieve them. That is an awesome quality. What other skills – besides your creativity – do you have that drive Kingly’s success?

I believe that self-conviction, self-motivation, and programming your goals in your head are very important.

I also think loyalty is the best quality you could have. And to take a stand when you see something is unjust. Even when you are at risk of everyone turning against you. The bottom line is that we have to be professional.

Another interesting thing is that I actually met Rob at Ruse Press. He just said “Hi” and shook my hand but my first thought was that there is something about him. I felt that he has really strong business acumen. And that was not because he knew how to talk to people. Yes, he worked his own magic but that was not it. I cannot even explain it. But I saw him and I said to myself: If I ever need to work for someone else, it would be for an international employer. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would necessarily work for him. However, Muki – who at some point also worked at Ruse Press – recommended me for an opening for a graphic designer at Kingly, and that’s how I ended up working for the company.

Now that you are working with Rob, is there something specific that inspires you in terms of leadership and company values?

I was inspired by his entrepreneurial skills – that is what I initially liked about him. It all comes down to this:

I see myself as a tool. I have my own skills but I am not business savvy. I am good at making things happen.

If he navigates me and tells me what I need to do, I will do it. He only needs to find clients; Muki and I will do the job when it needs to be done.

There is a quote that I really like, it is from an old Bulgarian movie – “The best man I know”: “The same person can be really nice at this very moment and completely horrible in the other. It depends on what they asked of him and on what page they have opened his soul”.

Is there something about Kingly that stands out from its competitors? How do you feel about the sustainable drive behind the company?

I like it. But if I have to be honest, that was not necessarily what drove me towards Kingly. What I care about is security and good income. It sounds a bit egoistic.

Not at all. That’s what most people want.

My parents are divorced. I was raised by my grandparents and my aunt. They have given me values that I don’t see very often. Now that my grandfather is no longer with us, I am the only one in the family who earns an income. I have to support my mother and grandmother.

I wanted to enjoy the job but also to have a good income and a better life. That was the most important thing for me. Everything else was secondary. Being able to work with eco-friendly products was a bonus.

That is what I like about Rob’s thinking. If the leader wants something to happen, it will. The good effects of work have to be a consequence of something else. If we are not responsible as people, we cannot expect that we would make a campaign and people would get inspired by a single effort.

What do you feel about the atmosphere of the company? Do you think there is good communication between the different departments of Kingly?

Muki and I are people who like balance. We don’t want to take anyone’s side. We care about what is just. Although sometimes that can be manipulated as well. But up until a few months ago, there was a bit of an attitude that I was not found of… For instance, if someone starts shouting at you without any particular reason, for me he is the aggressor and you are not the one to blame. I will dig deeper to find what the problem actually is and why it ended this way. Everyone makes mistakes but the most important thing is what kind of conclusion you make at the end.

We have had some major changes within the company in terms of management. How did you feel these past months? What do you think about Kingly Version 2.0?

The echo of the previous management is still here. We are trying our best to get out of the loop that we were in. We need a little bit more time. Let’s be honest, we were stripped of a lot of people who had key positions at the company. I actually thought that the recession of the firm will take even longer.

I think Kingly 2.0 is better. The company is taking a better direction. The tone of voice is different.

I think that is a lesson learned for all of us who work at the company. It is a good lesson because we see what we should not allow. I think that Rob has protected some good practices although he is not always right. But like I said, when someone is aggressive towards someone else, I take the side of the person who is blamed.

Are there any good practices that you think should stay in the company?

As a person who works in a small town**, I don’t have such a broad view of the things that happen in the facility in Sofia. But I think it is way better to work for an employer who is not Bulgarian than to work for someone who is. At least, they value their employees and give them better salaries. I have noticed that Rob takes care of his team. I like that a lot.

What do you find to be the most challenging and most rewarding part of your job?

The fact that we are based outside of the production facility is a good thing. Creativity needs space. I feel way better here, in Ruse. It is challenging when it is just you working on way too many projects. But I am happy when we have projects to work on.

I feel rewarded when we work for major companies like Coca-Cola, Google, and Pepsi. It gives me great pleasure to work for such important clients. The feeling is fantastic. Even when I was creating projects for the Opera house in Ruse, I could see the posters around the city and it gave me a great feeling of satisfaction.

Besides graphic design, do you have any other passions? What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to do a lot of things. I like to ride a bike; I like to go hiking. I like the seaside. When there is a woman that inspires me, I write poetry. That is why I am skeptical about my poetry. When I am not inspired, I don’t write. I also like to go to Bulgarian folk dance classes. I really love dancing.

Text and translation: Desislava Pateva

Photo credit: Mukadis “Muki” Mehmedova

* Bulgaria’s educational system allows young students to choose a profile – a set of disciplines they want to focus on instead of learning everything everyone else is – after they finish 7th grade and apply for it by passing tests, either at the same school or in another school.

** Our design team is based in Ruse, Bulgaria.

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