Interview with Designer Nico Engelhardt

written by Katja Kolmetz. founder of Human Deluxe, @katja.kolmetz

Nico Engelhardt, Designer

Katja: We met each other through Jo, our third Co-Founder. I think you had just returned from Australia when we met each other to start planning Human Deluxe. Was it a cultural shock for you to be back in Germany?

Nico: Absolutely. The Aussie lifestyle is not comparable to the Berlin one. Having sunshine, tropical temperatures and relaxed people around you every single day changes you forever. The office of the startup for which I worked in Australia was located directly in front of a beautiful beach. The beach life and the ease of living just became part of my DNA all by itself.

When I returned to Berlin, the busy city life was the exact opposite of what I had before. In addition, I experienced typical bureaucratic obstacles on the way to my “reintegration”. Anyways, what I miss most is Australia’s relaxed, laid-back mentality and its breathtaking nature.

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You’re a designer at heart and you have worked at many different startups throughout your career. Where is your passion for design coming from and how come you never got tired of it?

That’s right. I love my job, I really do. My passion for the digital world and also for design started in my early childhood. I was interested in computers and music since I can remember. As a child of the 90’s I grew up with the first graphical computer interfaces and MTV. I experienced the evolution of the first game consoles and the first steps of the internet as we know it today. The pop-cultural influences of that time have left a lasting impression on me. I wanted to be part of this rapid technological development and help shape it. Therefore I decided to study communication design.

The reason why I never got tired of it, are the constantly changing needs that call for new solutions. As a designer, you have the opportunity to deliver these solutions and to influence people’s lives in a sustainable, positive way.

All the things you just listed are essential components of a healthy and successful company.

Let’s take the team culture. Open and transparent communication is the cornerstone of every relationship. However, achieving this is easier said than done. For this reason, we are continuously trying to improve our communication in order to understand each other better, become more effective and have even more fun at work. At the end of the day everything revolves around constant mindfulness.

The same applies to the financial sector, which is full of pitfalls by the way. Especially for young entrepreneurs. Even if it is not my favorite topic it is important to keep an eye on all processes and if necessary to change direction quickly in order to adapt to market conditions.

Last but not least – the pandemic. We as a community have the responsibility to protect the elderly, the sick and the most vulnerable by following the rules of hygiene to break the chain of infection. We thought: “Sure. But what else could we do to lower the impact of the crisis, at least from a business perspective?” We came up with the idea to convert our internal workshop process into a free, interactive template – available for everyone (with an internet connection). This made creative workshops from home a reality.

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Family is super important to you and you are constantly exploring new work & life models, which has made you our official unofficial „Chief Culture Officer“ at Human Deluxe. How do you think about the relationship between work and life? What’s your experience?

True. I am constantly trying to find the sweet spot between work and family life. Of course, it isn’t easy. So, in my opinion, flexibility, transparency and reliability are probably the most important qualities to bring both areas into harmony. Both work and family life are constantly changing and sometimes need more attention than usual. Of course, you have to make sacrifices elsewhere in return. The potential to disappoint other people is always there. For this reason, it is important to coordinate the required flexibility with all parties involved in advance. If there is an acute time bottleneck, it is especially important to communicate this clearly as soon as possible in order to prepare the family or team in time. Because one thing is clear - reliability is one of the most important characteristics of human relationships.

People who know you, know that you have strong ethics and that you also call things out. So when we recently revised our mission, vision, and values, you said: Hey, let’s not use Christmas as a reference here. Not everyone is celebrating Christmas. Where is this attentiveness and care coming from?

I try to see beyond my own nose in order to internalize that my western values represent only a small part of a wide variety of communities. For this reason, it would be very narrow-minded to see one’s own thoughts and values as the center of the world. Especially if you have the ambition to work for international clients or audiences. My goal is to break with these paradigms. I am aware that as a white man I have the responsibility to open my perspectives. Therefore I address topics like racism or other systemic forms of discrimination openly.

We already launched a female empowerment initiative, a leadership program for women, and there are more initiatives to come. Which topics are top of mind for you personally?

I am really happy to see how much positive feedback the female empowerment initiative is generating. I am sure that we can also inspire many other people with exciting, game-changing topics. I truly believe that with design and design-oriented processes we can generate better and faster ideas to tackle global problems such as outdated school structures, social injustice and global warming. Therefore I personally would like to cover topics like “social responsibility (for designers)” and “sustainable design”, because these topics are a real matter of the heart for me.

Follow Nico on Instagram and Linkedin.

written by Katja Kolmetz. founder of Human Deluxe, @katja.kolmetz