If you picked up a copy of the New Yorker in the last 15 years you might have seen Christoph’s work. He’s designed 22 covers since 2001, including the augmented reality cover, which blew minds world-wide when hit the newsstands on May 9, 2016.
So we talked to Scott about what to expect and learn from Mr. Niemann in his episode, but we also talked about some other unrelated stuff, like who he’d want to do a Freaky Friday with given the chance. Keep reading.
How about this for a question: Of all the people on the show, which one would you like to swap places with Freaky Friday style?
It’s a ridiculous question, but it’s one that I absolutely have to ask.
Well, I think it depends on the day. If I’m going to the race track, I definitely want to trade with Ralph (Gilles), if I’m planning to go out into the world and experience life in a very full way, it’d be Tinker (Hatfield); if I had to create and design a concert experience, it’d be Es (Devlin); but there isn’t any way I could pick just one–they’re all heroes of mine ad people that I’ve loved both through getting to know over the years and through the process of making the show.
And the illustrator and graphic designer Christoph Niemann is another hero.
Oh, no doubt.
“I’m such a control freak that I would always love to sit down and come up with the perfect formula for creating art. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s a little bit of painful realization, because, ultimately, it really is, to a very large degree, staring at paper. And I have to trust for kind of crazy moments to happen.”Christoph Niemann
Before we talk about Christoph, how are your drawing skills?
Well, there’s a reason I don’t have Christoph’s job.
No, that bad, but I’m not anywhere near as talented as people who draw in the series. But you know, I do communicate through drawings and I’m a really visual person so I draw a lot, and I use that to communicate with my team. But it’s not the kind of representative or figurative drawing that it might be for Christoph.
You spoke earlier about the matrix you used to choose designers for the show–why Christoph?
Christoph is one of my longest collaborators. He and I first worked together when I took over at Texas Monthly in 2001. We were both print magazine new visual artists, and we worked together all of those years at Texas Monthly, and then every moment that I’d been with WIRED, Christoph has been one of my closest collaborators. In fact, he just did the Fiction Issue cover, which was one of my last issues at the magazine. Christoph and Platon I probably know best out of everyone on the show.
He’s a brilliant artist. Does he give away any secrets on the show?
Well, he is the first to tell you that his work is all about craft, about putting in the hours, about committing oneself to the creative process. There aren’t simple bolts of inspiration that lead down and find you, you have to go out and find the answers through hard work.
And I think you’ll see that in his episode, but also in his work; he’s constantly experimenting, he’s constantly developing new ideas, he’s constantly pushing himself to learn new crafts like writing code or developing animation. He’s someone–like everyone in the series–that had a voracious appetite for learning.
“I think Chuck Close said, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. Us professionals, we just go to work in the morning.’ The one thing I really love about that quote is it relieves you of a lot of pressure. It’s not about waiting for hours for this moment where inspiration strikes. It’s just about showing up and getting started, and something amazing happens or it doesn’t happen. All that matters is you enable the chance for something to happen.”Christoph Neimann
I read somewhere that he works a lot of the time without any purpose, just to see where an idea might take him.
Yeah, so he pursues both: he does commissioned work for clients and editorial, books and posters, digital communication; but he also makes time for unstructured discovery and work for himself, and work that he wants to pursue just because it’s like exercise or sports training. It’s good and it makes your game better and you become are more skilled athlete, and in a sense he becomes a more skilled designer.
And that’s what folks will learn from the Christoph episode.
Yes, the pursuit of craft through practice and perseverance are as important to becoming a successful designer as innate skill and the opportunities that come your way. Putting in the time is one of the most valuable aspects to being a great designer.
I find myself feeling more inspired by illustration than by any other form of design.
Yeah, because it’s just a pen and some paper. I feel like, “Hey, I could that!” Do you get that?
No. In fact, in some ways I find it more daunting!
Yeah, because the execution of that craft is something that takes so much practice and so much effort, and is also predicated on your personality and your ability to tell stories and your ability to access humor.
For me, work like Christoph’s is some of the most inspiring because you feel: it makes you laugh, it makes you sad, it can make you angry. Illustration in particular can access emotion in a way that a lot of other design forms have a higher hurdle.
“The gateway drug is not creating art, but experiencing art. Having the whole world explained, or even better, turned upside down, just by looking at a few strokes of oil paint on canvas. That’s the greatest thrill I know.”Christoph Neimann
This interview with Scott Dadich is the sixth after Tinker Hatfield, Es Devlin, Ralph Gilles, Paula Scher and Bjarke Ingels in a series of eight that will be released weekly exclusively on SemiPermanent.com
To watch Abstract: The Art of Design, head to Netflix
To follow the adventures of Scott and his Co-CEO partner at Patrick Godfrey at Godfrey Dadich head to @godfreydadich