Interviewed by Jess Erickson.
Let’s start with an intro. What do you do at General Assembly?
As Senior Designer, I work on GA’s offline experience, developing our spatial identity across all locations. I also design graphic assets for print, email, and the web.
I love my job for many reasons, but the biggest (and most fulfilling) challenge is figuring out ways to solve all of the company’s design needs, no matter how small the task. I love that I get to work with all teams across the organization — now that GA has more than 80 employees it makes the job unique and interesting, and each day is different.
You’re from Germany, you studied design in Hamburg and in the Netherlands and now living in NYC. Do you think your globetrotting has impacted the way you design today? Have you found inspiration in your travels?
Of course. I truly believe that everything is inspired by travels, and the people you meet on your journey. Every place you go is unique — even if it’s just around the corner. The colors change, the patterns change, they mix in with the smell, they blend into one another.
Time has a huge impact on how places are — the smallest instance changes everything. Most of my personal work is influenced by time and memory. The past. The traces of time. That’s the beauty of having personal work that focuses on abstract things that are in my mind. But even if when designing for reality, you have all these experiences and memories in your head that inspire you and shape who you are today.
How do you ensure that the GA brand stays consistent in all locations across the world?
We are a very young company with strong values and design principles. With Mimi O Chun, our design director, and the rest of the design team, I work to create a cohesive brand across all markets. Having a small team centralized in our New York headquarters makes it easier to coordinate and make decisions. We also prioritize projects in New York that will have company-wide impact and can be exported to other locations.
In just two years, we’ve managed to build a strong brand identity, both online and offline. We have crafted environments through furniture, material and color palettes, and graphic styles that make GA feel GA.
Who do you think are the most creative minds in the design industry today?
I personally tend to draw inspiration from literature—especially from works such as, “The Secret Life of Plants” and the “Stories of the Brothers Grimm.” From traces of the past and, of course, nature—things that are not directly connected to design. I am also fascinated by scent. It can create a fantasy in your mind, a new reality, that can be more than just inspiring. If I would have to pick the most fascinating creative mind today I would probably say: Mother Nature.
Are you currently working on something personal and unrelated to GA?
Yes. I am finally starting to bring to life an idea that I had last year. It is supposed to be an online product, a website, that personifies vegetables. In my opinion everyone of us, every human, can be characterized with a specific vegetable. And that is what I am trying to explore more. We will see how this will turn out. Coming soon: iamavegetable.com
When you’re not busy working creatively online, what do you do creatively offline?
I am totally into gardening and nature itself. When I was nine I had my own little garden. My grandparents were in charge of it and I remember how we spent entire weekends in the garden. I learned a lot from them.
I love plants for many reasons but also because they are a creation of nature and available to anyone. As a kid I collected plants in my garden that I liked and created something out of them. In New York it’s hard to have an outside garden space, but I have always tried to create an indoor garden. I used to live in a large loft in Williamsburg and my roommates had the same obsession, so our apartment turned into a courtyard filled with plants—a tree house.
As I mentioned before, one of the biggest inspirations—for me as a person and as a creative—is Peter Tompkins and Christopher Birds, “The Secret Life of Plants” (1973). It is described as, “A fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man.” The book is absolutely beautiful and fascinating. I spend a lot of time keeping my plants happy and healthy. As I mentioned earlier, my love for plants is making its way into my personal work.
What motivated you to become a designer and what are some of the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?
I am from a family of doctors. When I was sixteen years old I studied as an exchange student to Ohio, where I learned to appreciate art and craft more than anytime before. I started drawing and painting. Most of my work was based in motifs from nature. After I came back home I didn’t stop painting. My parents thought of it as a hobby—I didn’t.
After graduation the time came to apply for colleges and I had to choose my path. I chose the easy path at first—I was just too scared to fail as an artist or designer. I just couldn’t take the risk and apply for art school, even though that was all I wanted and I was confident in my desire to study design. Instead, I applied for medical school (dentistry).
The moment I got in I knew I had to stop and follow my heart and my passion. I didn’t want to be a dentist. I wanted to be a designer. I secretly applied to a private design school in Hamburg and that would make the decision I couldn’t make myself for me. If I got in I would quit dentistry, if not I would continue with dentistry.
Since then I have followed my design path happily, with no regrets—even though it hasn’t always been easy. Design is a hard and very competitive field. I always try to stay true to my beliefs and opinions and I think that’s the only way to go the path. Of course you should be inspired but never changed by anyone else’s beliefs. Design is problem solving. Solve it. Solve it with the best execution. If the product I designed and built actually works, if I have solved the problem, if I see the happy face of someone who appreciates truly what just has happened it’s the most rewarding part of my job as a designer.
What advice would you give to a young, aspiring designer in Berlin?
We are all on a journey. Learn, make mistakes, be happy, work hard—and, most importantly, be yourself and not anyone else.
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