Interview with Katja Kolmetz, Co-Founder of Human Deluxe

Katja Kolmetz

Katja Kolmetz is one of three co-founders of Human Deluxe. Together with her partners Nico Engelhardt and Johannes Ippen, she founded the Design Studio in 2019. Time to get to know her a bit better.

Question: Hi Katja - we’re currently on a train back from Munich to Berlin. How much do you miss travel?

Katja: A lot! My friends and coworkers know me for always being on the road. I have lived abroad for 7 years, so I know people all over the globe. I use every free bit of time to visit people and of course explore new places.

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You used to work for one of Germany’s biggest software companies …

That involved a lot of travel, too! I started out at SAP in Berlin in 2016 when I got the chance of working on a very interesting project, the SAP.iO startup incubator in Berlin and San Francisco. So I kind of had the pleasure to work at a powerful, established corporation, but also be at the core of innovation, where new stuff was born. It was an amazing experience!

Before joining SAP in Berlin, you worked in Hong Kong and the Netherlands.

Right, so I actually started out my career in Hong Kong, right after high school. Without any prior studies, I was selected into a management traineeship which I completed in two years. Just to continue my path in the Netherlands where I studied Communications and Marketing, followed by a few years at Philips which is where I got into tech and innovation.

Big travels, corporate salaries and great career opportunities. What made you leave the corporate world and found your own design studio?

It sounds so shiny when you say it like this (laughs). I feel like I always took one step at a time, but looking back now, it kind of makes sense that I left the corporate world to become an entrepreneur. I ran my first business as a student already, but obviously, I was also attracted by the idea of working for big exciting brands.

One thing I never really got used to while working at corporates though, were the strict borders between let’s say Marketing and Communications. I always looked at it in an integrated manner and I refused to say one of them wasn’t my responsibility, because I cared deeply and they were so interrelated. At Human Deluxe, I now get to do it all, Branding, Storytelling, Go2Market - you name it.

I think that with every career step, I wanted to challenge that idea a bit more. I’ve always made career decisions asking myself: What would be the next opportunity that I can use to grow, but also really make a difference with my work. To get out of bed in the morning, I need to work on stuff that feels important, something that I’m truly passionate about. I don’t think that will ever change.

What would you describe as the biggest challenge in founding your business?

Whew. Hard to answer.

In our job, every single day is unpredictable. We try out new things all the time and we also push the limits quite a lot. That’s challenging, but also what I love about the job. Constantly leaving your comfort zone. Every week, every day, you do something new and that’s what pushes other people or businesses forward – it’s so rewarding. It has accelerated my personal and professional growth so much, reaching new levels just to set out for the next stretch.

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What did you learn from working with designers every day?

I went through a huge mind shift by working with designers! I have always worked with creatives and business people, but usually in a business environment. Creatives helped us bring ideas to life, but retrospectively I don’t think the ideas were always developed in a creative manner. Sometimes it was about hierarchy or about personal taste.

At Human Deluxe, I learned a lot about the design process: Design Sprints, Design Thinking, Growth Hacking – which I knew in theory, but I never truly lived it. Working with people who studied design and have worked as designers for many years is a completely different animal. I’ve started to adopt quite a bit of that mindset and I approach business problems differently.

Is that something you would have wished to have while working at corporates?

Oh yes! I have always had the pleasure to work in areas where an innovative, experimental mindset was welcome, but I wish I would have been able to apply that more. Quite often, I focused on what was expected by my managers and coworkers, rather than following my own intuition. I did work out ideas and I pitched them, but that only went so far.

Through my work at Human Deluxe I learned much more about the design process and about co-creation. I have started to develop a facilitation mindset and I know some tools and frameworks that I can use to get other people aligned and to guide their decision making. Or get people to build on each other’s ideas and come up with really creative solutions. It’s what we do with our clients in workshops and other creative formats.

These facilitation skills are super powerful when it comes to problem solving and decision making, and I believe that goes for any business context. But I also know that it’s hard to apply them in a corporate context if you weren’t hired for it. It’s very much about reframing your own role and the collaboration process with your colleagues and stakeholders. But I’m convinced that this is so important because it enables you to make the biggest impact with your work. That’s why I am currently designing a leadership program which is specifically targeted at women who are facing this challenge. It’s something I am super passionate about.

Who’s your favourite client?

Haha – I don’t have one. But I definitely have a favorite client category: Those who have a strong vision and are willing to take people in on their journey, their business problems, their customer insights - but still appreciate to be surprised. One of our clients recently said it feels like Christmas when he opens one of our emails. I love that!

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If you weren’t to work for your own design company, what would you rather do?

Something with people! I have always enjoyed environments where I am surrounded by others that I can learn from. I love to listen to different perspectives, ideas, and backgrounds. It gives me energy.

Thank you Katja!

Make sure you follow Katja on Instagram and Linkedin to get more valuable insights from her.