When asked how he decided upon a career in design, Niklas Sagebiel explains that it’s a story we’ve heard many times before. “The visual aspect of skateboarding, graffiti and music was always something that attracted me,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I knew that at some point I wanted to work in that field.” Although sounding like a familiar tune, his work is far from mundane. Having studied typography and book design at HFBK University of Fine Arts Hamburg, he began to work as an editorial designer “totally by accident”. Then, he landed his first job designing the publication for an exhibition, which “worked out pretty good” and led to another gig – and then another. Now, his portfolio is filled with art direction, book design, typography, illustration and client work ranging from Andreas Mühe, Markus Lüpertz, ASICS, Distanz Verlag, Penguin Books and Wired magazine.
Overall, Niklas tends to draw his inspiration from the people that surround him. Influencing his work are professors Ingo Offermanns and Wigger Bierma, who taught him during his studies, as well as Hermann Hülsenberg, his first employer and friend – “[Hermann came] from a totally different background; he taught me a lot and inspired me to see things not too strictly.” And music – “music!” – is a major influence throughout his design process, due to its ability to “get you in the right state” for certain projects.
Like most freelancers, Niklas grapples with the good days and the bad. “There is no typical day in the studio,” he explains. “On good days, I have to be there early and on the bad ones I’m not in the studio at all.” His creative process revolves around the task at hand, typically working with artists who want a publication or exhibition catalogue designed. “Then, we talk through what they want and why they want it in that certain way,” he adds. “I try to find the right concept that illustrates what they want understandably, and I try to cut out anything that is pretentious.”
One (certainly not pretentious) project that caught our eye here is the latest issue Lodown Magazine – a quarterly arts and culture publication that focus on popular culture, sports and entertainment. “I knew the Lodown guys and have been friends with them since I did an internship back in 2010,” he says. “The magazine has always been a huge influence for me, so to getting asked to design an issue for them was a big deal.” In terms of the brief, there wasn’t anything set in stone – “I think it’s always like that,” explains Niklas. “If Thomas Marecki aka Marok [founder of Lodown magazine] likes your design approach, you get a carte blanche. There is always an overall theme for the issue but what you are doing with it is all up to you.”
The recent issue is centred on the topic of “youth”, and features contributions from the likes of Owen Harvey – “The Photographer Documenting The New Era Of Masculinity” – Bristol-based photographer Kamila Lozinska and various pieces tackling the theme. “I think with such a time-related theme, there is a risk that your work is going to be nostalgic or it tries to illustrate a certain period of time,” says Niklas. “I wanted to work against that and get a timeless look but still with a zeitgeist feeling to it.” With this in mind, the designer worked with Times New Roman and Arial as his fonts of choice – “With only two front sizes, I got the right natural look and they gave the articles the space they needed.” Alongside a “time display” that tells you how long it you need to read the article, further details include a horizontal alignment for all the imagery, which Niklas refers to as a “timeline”: “I wanted to get this ongoing feeling and simultaneously it was a non-moral reference to the ‘swipe right’ time we live in.”