HomeIn-depthMatus Mlej: "Our website is not only aesthetically pleasing; it's also meticulously planned"

Matus Mlej: "Our website is not only aesthetically pleasing; it's also meticulously planned"

12 min. read
Matus Mlej, Casino Guru Insiders interviews.

Introducing Matus Mlej, Casino Guru's Lead Designer. Matus holds the responsibility of maintaining the impeccable image of the Casino Guru brand. His role entails ensuring that the design and functionality of the website combine seamlessly. Matus leverages his expertise in UI/UX, art direction, and branding to achieve this aim.

In this interview, Matus sheds light on his design journey, the nuances of crafting a visual identity for Casino Guru, and the significant challenges that come with his role. He offers insights into the essence of being a designer in the gaming industry and elaborates on collaborations within the company, spanning the past, present, and future.

What sets apart the design of the Casino Guru site? What key considerations guide the design team throughout their process? What's the story behind the creation of the Guru character's appearance and whose essence does it embody? Let's delve deeper!

Q: Could you share your inspiration behind the design and what caught your interest?

As far back as I can recall, I've had a natural knack for art. My attraction to art began way back in high school when I dug into the world of promotional graphics. This was the first time I encountered graphic editing tools and I was gradually learning to use them, even outside of school, on my own.

Interestingly, I didn't get accepted into a graphic design program when I applied for college, but I got into fine arts, which only admitted four students. Although my formal education was centered around fine arts, the principles of graphic design always echoed in my work, showcasing my inherent graphic designer mindset.

Eventually, graphic design became something I naturally embraced once I completed my education.

Q: What work experience did you have before joining Casino Guru?

After school, I set out to find a full-time job after moving to a different city. That's when I got involved in a family business focused on creating children's and workout playgrounds. I handled their branding and despite the modest pay, it was a valuable experience. They allowed me the freedom to execute things as I saw fit, and I learned practical skills as I managed various tasks independently.

Later, my focus shifted to strip graphic production. I specialized in crafting banners and acquiring skills related to speed and efficiency. For a brief but intense period, I joined one of the largest advertising agencies in my local market. Working there was a steep learning curve, although it led to quick burnout. While the experience was incredible, I found the overall environment not to my liking.

I didn't have any clients, so of course I thought it would be a great idea to try freelance work. [laughter] I sought collaborations, learned how to establish pricing strategies, and essentially embraced an entrepreneurial role in the design field. It took around two years to refine this approach. Eventually, I desired a more substantial project. I was open to fresh opportunities, actively seeking a long-term client for collaboration.

Q: Did that client turn out to be Casino Guru?

Exactly. Four years ago, a previous designer for Casino Guru and I got somehow talking. Our discussions about collaborating and networking were extensive. After a series of conversations, I shared my portfolio with him. Interestingly, he was the person who initially built the website from scratch when the company was a mere duo.

Following that, I had meetings with our directors. The process evolved word-of-mouth, and that's how it happened. It was a simple understanding – one designer was departing, and I was stepping in as their replacement. We took a very open approach, agreeing to assess how things developed.

Q: How did your journey with the company begin?

I started with smaller projects to familiarize myself with our website and its operations. My predecessor played a crucial role in my initial phase, generously sharing expertise and insights. The pivotal moment came with the Forum, a significant project that marked the potential for a long-lasting partnership. Around the same time, Daniel Dolejsi joined to lead Casino Guru's Community. Together, we tackled the Forum's design.

As time went on, I realized the exciting potential of Casino Guru and felt compelled to enhance the project. Even though I wasn't sure how long our partnership would last, I spent a lot of time on it because I enjoyed the work. The Forum project was finally successful and both sides were happy with the outcome.

Over time, I went from being an external designer to a key part of the company. I understood our values and why we present things the way we do, and I consistently achieved the results we wanted. Very naturally, our cooperation deepened. I stopped taking on new clients, finished my ongoing projects and Casino Guru became my main focus, and I left behind my identity as a freelancer.

Q: What aspect of working at Casino Guru do you enjoy the most?

What truly stands out for me is that I've found exactly what I was looking for at Casino Guru – a lasting client. Surprisingly, I've gained more than I expected. Rather than seeing Casino Guru as just a client's website, I consider it my own. This shift significantly deepens a designer's connection to their work. It's not about simply putting in hours; it's about reveling in the process.

Q: How would you define the Casino Guru brand? What do you aim to highlight and what do you steer clear of? And how does the iconic Guru emblem tie into this?

The Guru persona was established as a representative figure even before I joined. I guess the initial idea was to create a character who exudes trustworthiness and authority, someone who sparks interest in learning and understanding. This aligns with our gambling platform's main purpose as the Guru archetype symbolizes an authentic expert well-versed in practical and theoretical aspects.

Our Guru character underwent gradual changes to become what he is now. Interestingly, his appearance was meant to resemble Pierce Brosnan, which I find fitting. [laughter] An illustrator was hired to create these Casino Guru's illustrations, while the previous designer and the directors set the foundational color palette for the brand.

This provided a strong base for my expansion. My goal was to pioneer new design trends while enhancing visual clarity.

Q: How do you approach the design process given your experience? What's the typical creation process like?

When I started at Casino Guru, the concept of creating a design system was gaining popularity, especially for large product designs. A design system bundles together consistent elements that make up a website's visual identity, like colors, fonts, icons, and layouts. This maintains a unified brand look, simplifying the work for designers and developers.

This approach was ideal for us since our website is extensive, with thousands of pages. Customizing each sub-page would've been impractical. So, I created a design system by auditing various elements across our site. I took the fragmented components and crafted guidelines, ensuring uniformity and clarity in our design. We still follow these principles today.

When I tackle new projects, I ensure the design aligns with our identity while staying contemporary. The process involves juggling multiple considerations to achieve an optimal design. There's a balance between innovation and familiarity, artistic creativity, and consistency. And of course, quality and user appeal are essentials in everything I produce.

Q: Does working in the gambling industry give you a different creative experience compared to your past roles in other industries? What's unique about designing for Casino Guru?

The gambling sector offers a distinct creative challenge due to the nature of the data involved. Designing for the gambling industry is unlike anything I've worked on before. The Casino Guru website is demanding in a way that doesn't allow for overly extravagant graphics. Instead, the focus is on presenting information clearly and transparently, considering the huge volume of content.

Moreover, Casino Guru's work involves a higher level of detail compared to other more casual websites I've been involved with. Many factors play into my creative process, including translations. I can't design without considering that the text might be three times longer in German. [laughter] Also, I can't afford to lose the visitor's attention; I need to engage them.

This is why our designers, me included, need to be incredibly systematic in our approach – a challenge I find fulfilling. The outcome isn't just an aesthetically pleasing website; it's also meticulously planned. Working on this project at Casino Guru has been my most complex and eye-opening journey, and I've learned a lot as I've gone along.

Q: Could you tell me about the Design Team members and their roles?

Our design team consists of four members: Marek, Branislav, Rebeka, and me. Branislav takes on a more technical role, focusing on design control. Marek and I are the creative designers responsible for crafting new concepts and pages. Rebeka, our newest team member, supports us by creating auxiliary graphics, primarily for me and other departments.

Q: How do you collaborate with other departments?

When a new project is discussed, we kick things off with a meeting that involves key stakeholders. This usually includes individuals from UX and design, content, and the project manager. During this meeting, we set the next steps and generate a design task that provides a clear direction for us designers.

I often communicate closely with David Marecek, as UX and design closely intersect. In product design, UX influences design, and design impacts UX. If I have questions or need content-related input, I reach out to Maros Gasparik and the translation team.

Once the prototype is ready, we move on to feedback round where we exchange observations and ideas. Sometimes multiple rounds are necessary. Ultimately, the design progresses to the developers, who provide their input, suggest changes, and move the process forward. And sometimes backwards. [laughter]

Q: Could you share an example of such a successful cross-department project?

A great example would be a new visual for our games section. It perfectly exemplifies the process I previously explained. The project began with the idea of enhancing the user experience by providing free games in a more engaging way. We aimed to make our platform more appealing and user-friendly.

The redesign covered the entire games section, focusing on improving navigation and filtering to simplify game selection. The project was complex and underwent multiple revisions and rounds of feedback. In the end, we managed to achieve a successful outcome that satisfied everyone involved.

The outcome of this project and our achievements are also apparent in the data, as we observe a notable increase in traffic within our games section.

Q: What projects does your team have planned?

We are focusing on planning a significant overhaul of the Casino Guru website. This extensive redesign will require a considerable amount of time and effort. Although the project is in its early stages, we're actively exploring different visions and ideas. Since we've gotten better at what we do since starting the project, our aim is to make the design match our improved skills.

Given the complexity of the Casino Guru project, even minor changes demand substantial effort compared to more agile, smaller websites. Undertaking a major redesign presents challenges on an entirely different scale. However, the prospect of improving upon our stable foundation is exciting. A redesign is not just a cosmetic shift; it's a strategic move to better represent who we are and what we offer.

Q: And how about your current day-to-day tasks?

Right now, our main priority is to ensure a uniform design across different social networks. We've taken steps to enhance the consistency of our visual content, as we believe there's room for improvement. While we already have a clear identity, we're striving to demonstrate our professionalism in our social media presence.

Q: What emerging trends do you see in the gambling industry, do they matter, and do you integrate them into your work?

Each year, new design trends circulate globally, influencing designers across various fields, including the gambling industry. I also embrace these trends. Yet, my approach is cautious – I don't adopt every trend blindly. I weigh whether it aligns well with the overarching style of Casino Guru.

Me and my team draw inspiration for our designs from diverse sources, but our focus extends beyond appearances; we prioritize making elements interactive on the web. It's not just about aesthetics but also about functionality and how elements interact with each other.

For instance, when a user clicks a button, elements might shift, reveal updated content, trigger animations, and more. In fact, I believe the gambling industry will soon explore motion design further.

This interview is part of Casino Guru Insiders, a series of interviews during which experts from Casino Guru share their unique workflow, reveal insider information, and offer an exclusive overview of experience-packed know-how.

Image credit: Casino Guru News

25 Aug 2023
12 min. read
Comments (1)
7 months ago


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