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Meet Svetoslava Ilieva, Our Lead Graphic Designer

We’d like to introduce you to some of the people from around the world who make us what we are. In this post, meet Sassy, whose design work is recognized globally.

Svetoslava Ilieva

Svetoslava Ilieva, or Sassy as most of us know her, is the lead designer on the Customer Experience team at Progress. She joined Progress five years ago and is based in Bulgaria. She is passionate about arts, design, technology, human-centered approaches, cognitive and perception theories, and design and innovation methodologies. She also teaches Design at the National Academy of Arts in Bulgaria.

Sassy’s talent for design goes beyond the boundaries of Progress and her work is often recognized by the broader design industry. Several months ago, the design concept she created for Progress.com was featured in a statement book about Bulgarian art and design along with other prominent artists (pictured below). She was also invited to create the brand identity of a non-profit organization for women immigrants in the United States, and join their Board.


I created my first website in 1998 and almost 20 years later, I still feel this excitement when kicking off a new project and carry the same obsession f digital media,” she says. Read on to learn more about her most recent professional achievements and how Progress has helped her advance her career.

1.      Recently your work on Progress.com was featured in the book, “120 years of Bulgarian Art Design.” - a statement almanac for the art community in the country. It’s amazing to see how what we do here inspires, resonates with and contributes to the broader community of web designers and artists in general. Tell us more about that. 

“120 years of Bulgarian Art Design” offers a retrospective look at the 120-year long history of design in Bulgaria, gathered by the Union of Bulgarian Artists. It’s a great honor for me to have been invited to submit my work for the Design edition of this emblematic book, along with the best minds in Bulgarian history of design. I sent several of my recent works, and the one being recognized as the most interesting and worthy of being featured in the book was the Progress.com design concept. It’s not surprising for me that this project has been chosen, because here at Progress we strive for perfection and innovation in everything we do. This is the culmination of a crazy amount of work, and it just feels amazing to have it recognized. 

2.      Two months ago, you were invited to join the board of a non-profit organization focused on empowering women immigrants in the US as brand advisor. How did that happen?

One of my former colleagues from Progress reached out to me and asked if I would do a pro-bono brand identity for a non-profit organization she is contributing to. Femigrants is a platform that connects and empowers female immigrant professionals and entrepreneurs, helps them grow and prosper in every new community they join and discover their true potential. I felt this cause very close to my heart. It is definitely a mission I want to be part of. In modern society, diversity is of great importance and women are the driving force behind the success of many organizations. One of the amazing things here at Progress is that we are encouraged by our leadership to participate in different causes, which allows us to further grow and develop our network. Supported by my managers, I started working with the Femigrants team on creating their brand identity and web presence.

3.      You’re one of the most respected and well-known web designers in the industry in Bulgaria. How has working at Progress has helped you advance your professional development? What is the most amazing thing about working here?

At Progress, I grew with a pace I didn’t know was possible. There are several factors that supported it. First, working with the best talent not only in Bulgaria, but worldwide, is an amazing opportunity. Second, working in a rapidly changing environment, in an industry where revolutions happen every minute, nothing is static and you need to learn as fast as you can to stay relevant – this motivates me to become better and better. And last but not least, Progress websites have an enormous exposure, with millions of visitors and different audiences. To create a coherent experience at that scale requires vision, knowledge and full commitment.

4.       How do you keep up with the latest trends in your field? What type of events, books, media, network opportunities do you follow?

I embrace every chance to experiment with different techniques and approaches available in digital design. The major way to stay up to date is to try as many hypotheses as possible, to iterate, to not be satisfied with the first working solution. As a designer, I’m very curious about how far I can go, where the limits are, how much I can add, and how much I can strip out from a design idea before it’s broken into pieces. When you find where the boundaries are, it’s much easier to find the balance between them.

As a designer, I’m very interested in human beings, of their perceptions, biases, habits. Despite the growing fascination with AI, machine learning, and Big Data, the most critical decisions are still made by flawed, emotional and irrational people.

I love to look at what other designers do as well. The best way to get a good idea of where trends are stemming or where they are dying out is to look at design ideas and solutions, as diverse as possible — beautiful, ugly, inappropriate, relevant... everything. And not only in design, but technology, art, you name it.

Of course, attending industry conferences and reading is important as well. I love books and read a lot. Not only about design. I do not even read in a particular order. When a book falls into my field of view, I never ignore it. I would open a random page and read what's in there. Depending on the stage where I am in my life, in a project, in a situation, it always gives me another perspective.

5.       What do you consider creativity? What's the most creative, a-ha moment you've ever had?

Creativity is about empathy and awareness. It takes patience. It’s about staying open, staying still and observing. It’s about going out of your bubble. Questioning your preconceptions. Creativity is about being open to accepting the unknown, trying things that confuse you, finding new ways to do ordinary things like drink your coffee, walk or laugh.

Creativity is about solving problems in new ways. Solving problems means having a holistic view of what they truly are, fully understanding them. Spending time observing how people interact with your products — what confuses them, what makes them happy, who they are, what they need, what their day looks like — is the best way to find the most valuable insights about them. Otherwise our biases take over.

I don’t remember my first a-ha moment, but I can recognize such moments immediately as they always feel the same way. Something clicks, and you know that this is it! You feel the blood filling your head, and an unsettling excitement that could be hardly compared to anything else. Maybe the only thing I could compare this feeling with is to when I first saw the face of my newborn daughter. You see perfection radiating after an enormous amount of hard work and struggle and you recognize it immediately. Sometimes solutions come serendipitously, but most of the time it’s blood, toil and sweat.

6.       Can you summarize in just three sentences what good design is?

Good design serves its purpose and its audience. It’s not what you see, it’s what you feel when using a product (a website in our case). Good design is like good makeup— if it’s the first thing you see it’s not good enough.

7.       And finally, what’s your funniest/most unforgettable moment at Progress?

Ah, I have many unforgettable moments, but the first one that comes to mind is when Progress won the website of the year award at the Techie awards on my birthday. After a few weeks, I received a mini-replica of the award with a special “thank you” note from one of the Progress C-level leaders, who took the award on stage. Every time I look at it, I feel amazing. Many companies are proud to value the individual talent everyone brings to the table, but not so many would go this extra mile to make you feel this is where you belong.

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