Dmitry Novikov’s design career is nothing short of impressive. He’s a product designer with over two decades of experience, having worked on apps like CleanMyMac, Gemini 2, and Luminar AI. On top of that, he’s won several design awards, including the iF Product Design Award and four Red Dot Design Awards.
So what keeps him going? And where does his inspiration come from? We were excited to chat with him about his experience, including how he immerses himself in creative fields beyond design — like fashion, photography and music.
You have an impressive background. How did you discover you wanted to become a designer?
Back in the 90s, I was especially influenced by the computer-animated TV series, ReBoot, which portrays a fictional city, Mainframe, existing inside a computer. It was the first TV series wholly rendered with CGI — computer-generated imagery. That’s when I realized I wanted to create my own digital worlds.
By 1997, I was dreaming of having my own computer one day to create graphics and music. And eventually, I got started with 3ds Max, Adobe Photoshop, and Acid Music.
How would you describe your style as a designer?
I create interfaces for commercial products. So first of all, I think about inclusivity and how to make the interface as native to the Operation System as possible.
However, it’s essential for me that the product has emotion, entourage and history. So I always add extras to apps. I was influenced by companies like the Iconfactory, Panic, Realmac Software, and Sketch. I love it when everything is designed with particular attention to detail — especially when there are easter eggs.
For example, in the case of Gemini 2, I tried to replace all system components with something that’d say, “this program is from outer space” — while maintaining the way everything worked. In Hider 2, I made a safe for the user to unlock. It was fun!
What are some common challenges product designers face, and what are your tips to handle them?
A product designer always balances business, the user, the operating system, beauty and convenience. It’s always about experience. So it’s much easier to create a product when you’ve worked in a marketing or customer support team, making business decisions, and developing an app by yourself. It’s even easier when you’ve made lots of mistakes and learned from them.
It’s a difficult job, but that’s why it’s one of the most interesting ones. Those who rely only on metrics, user tests, or business interests always lose. This is a complex job, and you need to be an advocate for every angle.
You’ve been designing in Sketch since the first version. How did you discover the tool and what kept you using it?
I’ve never been a religious fan of graphic editors, and I quickly jump on the product that’s easier and faster to work with. After all, we’re designing a product that needs to be released to the market. Making it easier to move pixels around leaves more time for the actual design process.
Before Sketch, I worked in Adobe Illustrator because I knew in advance that retina displays would come out and I didn’t want to have to redesign everything later. Besides, getting into pixels was a great luxury back then.
But when Sketch appeared, we significantly accelerated our work.
You’ve spoken at many conferences about creating native tools in Sketch. What do you think more designers should know about this topic?
From a business and simplicity perspective, creating universal applications for different operating systems might seem very attractive. In this case, product designers often resort to creating their own design system, and developers are happy to only have to write everything once. It sounds cool! But in reality, universal applications almost always ignore the rules and behavior of an operating system. They also look different, and they don’t support accessibility.
From my own experience, I know what it means to spend the lion’s share of time trying to imitate an operating system’s animations, behavior, physics and typography. But these types of applications will always feel alien.
Just think of how quickly we can identify a tourist by how little they know local laws, customs, and languages — no matter how well they may blend into a crowd. In the same way, a universal app may look native, but because it doesn’t practice the operating system’s “laws, customs, and languages,” it will always look and behave in an alien way.
For multi-platform apps, creating a universal back-end but native front-end is always more accessible — and cheaper. You can get all the properties and functions of the operating system for free. Native components are easily customized too. You can create any style if needed!
What projects are you particularly proud of?
CleanMyMac, Gemini, Setapp, Luminar AI, Photolemur, and Listen.
You’re also a musician and photographer. Can you tell us more, including how they impact design?
I often write music for marketing materials. I’ve also done sound design for every program I’ve worked on. The process is very similar to design. Without sound, a program is devoid of a voice and cannot be fully perceived. I think it’s such a pity that many underestimate the power of sound.
I really needed the experience of photography and processing when I was working on designing Photolemur and Luminar AI. Photography teaches you to observe and notice little things. It also teaches you how light, shadows and color work together. This certainly helps with graphic and interface design — especially in icon design. I also often use my photos in marketing materials.
What other creative fields are you excited about?
I am passionate about everything related to game design, industrial production, automotive design, typography, fashion, watches, music equipment, and cinema. I integrate much of these interests into product design. If I weren’t a product designer, I would shoot music videos and commercials, or work in the auto industry.
To wrap up, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring designers?
I don’t believe that design is a profession — it’s a mindset and a part of life. Many people who never earn a living as a designer still think and act like one.
So when choosing your profession, ask yourself: what do I already do for free? Do it for money, then.