Finding purpose in design with the founders of AKU — an award-winning design agency
Founding and operating an award-winning agency takes more than just good ideas and hoping for the best. Alari Orav and Uku-Kristjan Küttis started AKU in 2012 and have since paved the way to success and recognition. They have worked with clients like the Parliament of Estonia, Estonian National Museum, and Huffington Post. The agency specializes in visual designs — whether viewed, printed, or experienced.
They sat down with us at our podcast Creativity Conversations to share their experiences and insights. Listen to the whole conversation with Alari Orav and Karl-Kristjan Küttis on your preferred podcast platform. Find all links here.
The path into design is different for everyone, not to mention the variety of design paths themselves. But for Uku-Kristjan Küttis and Alari Orav, their paths were driven by necessity, creativity, and personal drive.
Uku-Kristjan attributes his path back to his love of graffiti as a teenager, which he took quite seriously.
“I wanted to make a website to put up the stuff that I made and discovered that computers can do more than just a website.”
Uku-Kristjan took a deep dive into computers and cybernetics, but eventually taught himself to use graphic design programs and graduated from design school.
Alari’s path to design started even earlier. From a young age, he enjoyed drawing and attended a children’s art school, originally with the intention to study art at a university. But he altered his plans when he found a new passion.
“I got into buying records and playing music in the mid-90s when I was still in high school. Then I started putting on underground parties in Tallinn and I started designing flyers for these parties.”
In the evenings, Alari taught himself to use the Mac computers and design software at his mom’s publishing job. This set him on a path into advertising — and meeting Uku-Kristjan.
Working — together
After meeting at an advertising agency where they were both working, Alari and Uku-Kristjan, along with another co-worker — Kaarel Kala, began working on side projects together. It didn’t take long to realize that the three of them had a great working relationship. They also had more than enough projects to make a go of breaking out on their own. They took on projects under their new agency — AKU.
While they didn’t settle on specific roles for each partner or project, they have honed their own skills to complement each other. That’s led to a seamless ability to play to each other’s strengths.
“Alari is really, really good at thinking things through methodologically — to figure out how to process things so that there would be minimal amounts of risk but knowing how to keep things flowing.”
“I think [Uku-Kristjan] is pushing a policy level and then keeping the policy level high for the work that we do. He’s also so clued up on all kinds of new technology and visual expressions — pushing the envelope.”
That kind of collaboration and understanding is what’s led AKU to grow beyond the original partners (although Kaarel is no longer designing with the agency). It’s also what’s earned them multiple awards including ADC*Estonia Designer of the Year, Young Gun, and a Grand Prix.
Working — with clients
Those awards are a product of the incredible skill and attention Alari, Uku-Kristjan, and their team bring to their work — irrelevant if their client is a large institution, international corporation, or a forward-thinking new startup.
It starts with their approach: consistently keeping an eye on how to serve the end-user best. Oftentimes that end-user isn’t the client.
“Quite often it’s just kind of reminding ourselves and reminding the client that [the project] is not just between the client and the designer. There is a third party — the end user somewhere out there — who are we actually doing this thing for.”
Both Alari and Uku-Kristjan admit that they often rely on their instincts. Not just in the creative process, but throughout projects. They’ve also learned that an integral part of their job as designers is to educate their clients as well.
“A lot of the problems that we encounter usually come from miscommunication. So, asking questions and making the clients understand what it is that they actually need [is the first part of the process].”
Working for better
It’s obvious that while Alari and Uku-Kristjan are partners, they’re very distinct in how they approach things — to the benefit of the success they’ve shared. Those differences push each other to improve and move forward. In fact, not starting something on your own is one thing they both suggest for anyone starting a new endeavour.
Uku-Kristjan points out the benefits of having someone else for support. It helps to have a person to run ideas by or just to encourage you. That doesn’t necessarily mean a partner either, in AKU’s early days they shared office space with an illustrator.
“It’s always good to have different people and different perspectives when you’re starting because if you’re totally alone it’s much easier to get stuck.”
Alari also mentions that asking questions from fellow designers and industry professions was something that was helpful in the beginning (and continues to be so even now). Of course, it’s something they pay forward now — “it’s for everybody’s good if designers do their work more professionally.”
Alari, Uku-Kristjan, and the rest of the AKU team do their part to consistently raise the professional bar with their stunning and solution-driven designs.
Learn more about Alari Orav and Uku-Kristjan Küttis on our new podcast Creativity [On Air]. We’ll publish monthly conversations with designers and other design field professionals — for their stories, insights, and your inspiration.
- Marketing Tips How to Sell Digital Downloads on Etsy – The Ultimate Guide
- Marketing Tips Introducing The Guest Post Guidelines For Mediamodifier Blog
- Mockups & Templates 10 New Logo Templates You Can Use For Your Print Company
- Design Tips The Best 7 Colors to Use for Your Social Media Posts in 2023
- Marketing Tips 4 Useful Tactics That Will Boost Your Website’s Conversion Rates
- Tutorials How to Request a Custom Mediamodifier Mockup
- Marketing Tips The BEST Marketing Calendar 2023 + 12 FREE Post Templates
- Marketing Tips The Complete Guide To Image Licenses In Marketing
- Mockups & Templates 10 Awesome Christmas Mockup Templates For Last Minute Marketing
- Marketing Tips Video Ads 101: Do They Work, and How To Use Them?
- Mockups & Templates 16 Corporate Stationery Mockup Templates For Beautiful Previews
- Blog 5 of the Best Design and Mockups Affiliate Programs Compared
- Mockups & Templates 10 TV Mockup Templates For Quick Marketing Images
- Mockups & Templates Free Neon Backgrounds with Instant Download
- Mockups & Templates Must Try: 9 Volatile and Practical Collage Mockup Templates
- Marketing Tips What Is an Employer Branding Specialist, and Do You Need One?
- Design Tips Turn Boring Photos into Artwork with PNG Shadows (50 Free Overlays)
- Mockups & Templates 16 Incredibly Useful Print Mockup Templates For POD Businesses
- Design Tips 40 Free Organic SVG Backgrounds From Mediamodifier
- Blog Affiliate Marketing Trends to Keep an Eye on in 2023 | Affiliate Marketing 101
- Mockups & Templates The 9 Best 3D Browser Mockups for Previewing Your Website
- Mockups & Templates 10 Clothing Mockups With Models You Should Use For Your Online Business
- Mockups & Templates What Does Mockup Mean? – A Beginner’s Guide to Mockups
- Tutorials Mockup API – The Complete Guide
- Blog TikTok & The Music Industry: The Impact of Viral Content
- Blog 3 Tips to Improve the Quality of a Mockup
- Mockups & Templates 15 Greeting Card Mockups With Flowers
- Mockups & Templates 10 Most Popular Website Screen Browser Mockup Templates
- Marketing Tips 4 Failproof Ways To Make Money on TikTok
- Mockups & Templates 11 Beautiful Poster Mockups To Preview Your Designs and Artwork
- Blog Best Types of Affiliate Marketing Content | Affiliate Marketing 101
- Mockups & Templates 11 Business Card Mockups For Quick Professional Previews
- Design Tips Can AI Generate a Product Mockup? We Tested All the Tools to Find Out!
- Mockups & Templates Free Podium Backgrounds for a Stunning Product Showcase
- Blog Logo Design 101: 5 Reasons You Need a New One and How to Nail It
- Mockups & Templates iPhone 14 Mockup Templates With Colorful Backgrounds
- News New Feature: Edit Brightness/Contrast of a Mockup Layer
- Mockups & Templates 6 Loungewear Mockup Templates to Showcase Your Apparel Designs
- Tutorials How to Change the Instagram Story Default Background
- Mockups & Templates 21 Logo Mockup Templates Available in the Mediamodifier Generator
- Mockups & Templates 14 Professional Samsung Galaxy Fold Mockup Templates
- Design Tips How to Add Animated GIF to an Image
- Mockups & Templates 33 Beautiful Blanket Mockup Templates to Use Right Now
- Marketing Tips How to Present a Logo to a Client – 5 Useful Tips
- Blog Tips to Achieve Affiliate Marketing Success | Affiliate Marketing 101
- Mockups & Templates 5 Quiz Templates for Instagram Stories to Boost Your Engagement Fast
- Tutorials How to Use the Mediamodifier Mockup Generator for Free
- News Now Is The Best Time to Invest in Mediamodifier
- Blog How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing | Affiliate Marketing 101
- News 6 Instagram Updates You Need to Know About – July 2022
- Blog What is Affiliate Marketing | Affiliate Marketing 101
- Mockups & Templates 5 FREE Social Media Templates to Celebrate Pride Month
- Marketing Tips The Marketing Budgets of Big Companies
- Tutorials How to Add a Screenshot to a Computer Screen Stock Photo
- Marketing Tips The Secret to Promoting Your Product with Models
- Design Tips How to Create an Infographic Online With Mediamodifier
- News You Can Now Download SVG Vector Illustration Sets From Mediamodifier
- NFT NFTs: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- Blog 8 Tools to Help You Become More Organized, From a Very Unorganized Person
- Design Tips Need Some Font Inspiration? Try These 5 Fonts Available on Mediamodifier
- Marketing Tips 6 Websites That Will Make It Easier to Stay on Track When Working From Home
- Marketing Tips Make Your Work Easier With These 10 Productivity Tools
- Mockups & Templates How and Why to Use Client Testimonials + 5 Free Templates
- Tutorials How to Make an Online Invoice With Mediamodifier
- Marketing Tips Case Study: This User Creates Etsy Listings In Seconds With Mediamodifier
- Marketing Tips The Best POD Tools for a Successful Print-On-Demand Business
- Marketing Tips Case Study: Etsy Star Seller Increased Their Production Speed by 90% With Our Tool
- Design Tips Improve Design Skills With These 6 Projects
- NFT A Look Into the Future of NFT: What Will the Space Look Like in 10 Years?
- Mockups & Templates 10 Easter Instagram Post Templates That You Can Publish in Seconds
- News Spring Sale: Mediamodifier PRO Annual Plan Now 50% Off!
- Marketing Tips Use These Social Media Job Post Templates to Attract the Best Talent
- Marketing Tips 6 TED Talks That All Marketing Students Should Watch
- Marketing Tips 4 Elon Musk Marketing Tips You Could Apply Today
- Marketing Tips April Fools’ Day Marketing Ideas: 4 Brilliant Ideas for 2022
- Design Tips The Ultimate Design Cheat Sheet for Students
- News New Feature: Mediamodifier Team Accounts Plan
- Mockups & Templates How to Design a LinkedIn Banner for Your Profile
- Blog Introducing the New Mediamodifier Website
- Marketing Tips 5 Ways Mockups Are The Eco-Friendly Marketing Tools of the Future
- News New Feature: SVG Illustrations Inside the Mediamodifier Design Editor
- Marketing Tips 6 Tips to Get More Clients for Your Small Business
- Marketing Tips 5 of the Best Marketing TikTok Pages to Follow for Inspiration and Advice
- Mockups & Templates How to Preview Social Media Posts Without Publishing Them
- Marketing Tips 6 Tips for Taking Better Product Photos
- Design Tips 5 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Used to Be Designers
- Post Ideas 10 Post Ideas for Social Media in March 2022
- Design Tips 8 Design Tips for Making a Good Concept Even Better
- Marketing Tips 5 Common Misconceptions About Social Media Managers
- Marketing Tips Improve Your Content With These 6 Tools For Small Businesses
- Mockups & Templates How to Preview Product Packaging Online (Mockup Tool Tutorial)
- Design Tips 5 Principles of Psychology You Can Use to Improve A Design
- Marketing Tips 3 Smart Valentine’s Day Marketing Ideas To Promote Your Business
- News Why You Should Use This WordPress PoD Plugin for Your Store
- Mockups & Templates 20 Valentine’s Day Card Templates (That You Can Use Right Now)
- NFT 3 Reasons to Use an NFT Maker
- Marketing Tips Print on Demand: 6 Easy Steps to Start a Profitable Side Business
- Post Ideas 10 Post Ideas for Social Media in February 2022
- News This New Feature Makes It Even Easier To Use Our Mockup Editor
- Marketing Tips 5 Smart Ways to Spend Your Marketing Budget
- Marketing Tips Starting a Small Business? 5 Things You’re Forgetting to Do
- NFT How to Use the Mediamodifier NFT Maker
- Mockups & Templates Boost Your Engagement: 9 Instagram Story Ideas
- Design Tips The Best 5 Colors to Use for Your Social Media in 2022
- Marketing Tips Ultimate Social Media Size Guide [Updated July 2022]
- Showroom iPhone Mockup Held in a Hand in Open Area
- Showroom iPhone 14 with AirPods Hovering around Photoshop PSD Mockup
- Showroom iPhone 14 Pro PSD Mockup with Simple Background
- Showroom iPhone 14 App Screen Mockup with a Wall Background
- Showroom Photoshop Mockup of iPhone 14 Pro with Floating Airpods
- Showroom Mockup of a Square Wood Frame on Wall with Shadows
- Showroom TV Mounted on Wall Photoshop PSD Mockup