NicolaasKotzé (Digital Designer & Creative Director  at Studio Gummi)

Nicolaas is a African born, Berlin based digital creator and founder of Studio Gummi, where he mixes motion graphics, digital design, typography and illustration. Instagram: @johnnykotze

Berlin, Germany • October 21, 2022

What led you into design?

I didn't really know what I wanted to do after finishing school, to be honest. I kind of stumbled into design. I was more into punk music and the aesthetics of that DIY scene at the time, which I think is still visible in my work. I didn't have formal art at school or anything like that, but rather did carpentry and now I get especially excited by designers such as Enzo Mari who created these modular wooden frameworks for furniture that anyone can assemble.

Although, I was always drawing and really fascinated by computers and e/vga graphics, programming my own websites and games at a young age. Playing games like Contra and Street Fighter, eventually Doom and Wolfenstein etc. It was a bit of a surprise to me that there was such a thing as a career in design. I think these early games probably shaped my idea of visual communication. I found it fascinating that you had to really communicate the concepts, environments, characters and typography withing this very limited color palette and pixel matrix. I eventually studied graphic design at University of Stellenbosch

Nowadays, I am just trying to keep up with technology and enjoy the crossover between art, design and tech. I like the precision of digital design and applying my ideas through the lens of technology, such as the programs I use for illustration, 3d, motion design and even generative design and coding.

What does a typical day look like?

My days typically start early morning, as I'm not a late night person. Working in the evenings result in anxiety, so I try to avoid that and work very focused during the day. I have coffee and do some project management and respond to emails. I try to get these out of the way first thing in the morning, so I can give complete focus to my work. Then I work on either personal projects or a client project, or both.

I do a lot of research and sometimes projects and ideas originate from these topics. I like to keep up to date with news and events and even though I'm a bit work-obsessed and rarely go out, I still like to see what is happening around me. If it's a nice day, I have the opportunity to go outside. Coming from Cape Town originally, I have spent a lot of time growing up in nature and quite a different environment to what I have now in Berlin. Open spaces and farms and lots of wildlife around me. I produce a lot of electronic and rock/punk music since a young age. So when I'm not working on a design project, I like to write and record songs.

What's your workstation setup?

My setup is basically myself and a MacBook M1 Max and a Wacom tablet (that I don't seem to use that often). I also have a larger iMac, but I only use it on trips to Cape Town (it doesn't fit in my luggage, I tried).

Studio Gummi

Where do you go to get inspired?

The studio is based in a well known architecture landmark, the Corbusierhaus in Berlin. So I draw inspiration from my surroundings or a walk in the Grünewald by my house. In Berlin, I enjoy going to museums like the Neue National Galerie, and seeing the works of legendary Bauhaus creatives. I try to look for inspiration outside social networks or design blogs etc. I look for places where I can connect with something that is not yet defined into an aesthetic.

Most of all, I get inspired through the process of design. While I work, I get ideas and the project naturally evolves like that. Sometimes, frustratingly, the idea comes at the end of what I thought was the finish. Then I have to start all over again. Music is also a big part of my work.

I read a lot of books. From fiction to nature and autobiographies or whatever I can find. I'm continually learning and teaching myself new things, like motion design or new tools and processes or crafts such as ceramics or even creative coding. There's always something to learn, and it's never been easier with access to information.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I appreciate work that has meaning, is sustainable and feels authentic. I really love the colourful 3D printed creations from UAUPROJECT. A design studio from Warsaw, Poland. They are not just beautifully designed, but environmentally friendly and made from sustainable or biodegradable materials.

I also love the alternative film platform Mubi that lets you watch curated art and nouveau films as opposed to mainstream platforms like Netflix.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I don't think I have a specific favourite piece. My work and taste evolves and even though I am proud of the work I create. I always look forward to the next project, and try to make it better than the one before. In that sense, I guess my favourite project is the most recent thing I worked on. In this case, a design and display type called 'Flake'. It's roughly based on colourful toys I used to assemble as a kid.

The typeface is modular and can be used to build shapes or type-sculptures. I am exploring the possibilities of this and the visuals I can create with it. I like that it has the ability to mix typography, shapes, text, and semiotics with the sculptural element of art. It becomes something new, and it's meaning changes within its environment or the materials used.

The longest and most difficult project I worked on to date was the Printed by Parkinson's project at Innocean Berlin. A 3D printer affected by Parkinson's disease and a 3D sculpture exhibition at Alte Münze Galerie in Berlin inspired by real Parkinson's patients. This was basically a huge effort from a small team of really great creatives. I'm really proud of the results. Winning gold at the Cannes and ADC awards was a great feeling. Because it is helping raise awareness for Parkinson's patients and research, it is more personal and rewarding.

Printed by Parkinson's

What design challenges do you face at your company?

Usually, the biggest challenge is time. I want to create the best possible work in the time afforded by the client or project. There's always something more to add or take away.

Embracing boredom, which I find can lead to creative solutions. There is a constant challenge I face of wanting to be busy as a result of social media. I think it creates the unrealistic expectation that we have to be productive all the time.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Stay humble, consistently show up, and remember that on the other side of discomfort you'll find fulfillment and meaning.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

The Studio Gummi website.

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