Featured Designer

Nicholas Christowitz

July 2018

We chat with Freelance graphic designer (and co-owner of Father Coffee), Nicholas Christowitz. We get into good clients, bad clients and the ones that surprise you and do a complete 180. Plus he tells us about a French translation gone wrong 😰 and his typical working day which includes falafel-runs, Zelda and distressing over global news (same!)

What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?

Like most kids born in the late eighties I was brought up on a diet of The Simpsons, Mr. Bean, Monty Python, The Far Side Gallery, Sega, Gameboy, and all the rest. These all shaped my worldview, aesthetic taste, and interests. I think the earliest instances of “creativity” that I can pinpoint would be me trying to redraw my Pokemon or Magic The Gathering cards around the age of 9. I had an older cousin who was brilliant at drawing and I secretly spent most of my days trying to draw exactly like him. I was blown away by creativity as a concept from a very young age. While my friends and I would watch TV shows, I’d be the one wondering about the process behind everything. I was more interested in how everything was made and how much work and creativity it must have taken.

Almost 20 years later and I still find it unbelievable. I think this sense of wonder and fascination was the catalyst to me working in the creative sphere so many years later. In college I realised I enjoyed solving problems, occasionally with creativity, and working in the design industry is the perfect place to satisfy that.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

Right now I’m a Berlin-based, freelance graphic designer and co-owner of Father Coffee - Johannesburg’s favourite coffee roastery and cafe. My freelance design career has always had to contend with my entrepreneurial endeavours. I started a small illustration studio fresh out of college (called Says Who), co-founded Father Coffee in 2013, and also co-founded (and after 3 years sold) a small brand consultancy in 2014.

What does a typical working day include for you right now?

I always love these questions when they’re aimed at people who have really interesting lives but now that I’m being asked I feel like I need to step it up a notch. I wake up around 7.30am, play with my very round cat, get distressed with global news, have breakfast with my wife, and then spend several hours hunched over my laptop in my home office. The work session is usually interrupted by a quick lunchtime falafel-run and a few minutes of Zelda on my Switch. Afternoons are for running in one of Berlin’s many parks, and evenings are for cooking and rewatching Archer or Arrested Development for the 300th time. When I still lived in Johannesburg the routine was similar except that I worked from one of our cafes and could drink 10 espressos a day for free.

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I never work for people I don’t like, products that are bad, and companies that will stop at nothing to wring more profit from their employees and customers.

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What do you look for in a great client?

After 9 years in the game I still don’t know the answer to this question. I mean, I know what I hope to find in a client, but I usually base everything on my gut feeling and I seem to get it wrong occasionally. Some clients that I really didn’t enjoy the first meeting with have turned out to be amazing and the work created with them has been great. There have also been some clients that I’ve had a positive initial meeting with, and you think you’re both on the same page, and they’re excited, you’re excited, but after 2 weeks the entire project is rocketing down hill. I think the one thing to look out for is a client who really understands why they’re paying you so much to create something for them. Some just have a good budget and have been told that design is important, and these clients are always trouble. I also never work for people I don’t like, products that are bad, and companies that will stop at nothing to wring more profit from their employees and customers. I prefer small clients over corporates any day. They’re excited and a little scared and that makes it all the more rewarding when you can help them.

What have been some of your biggest disasters and how have you learnt from it?

Oh wow I’m cringing just thinking about it. I once got commissioned by a fairly prominent sneaker brand to create an illustrated wrap for a huge truck that they’d use as a mobile shop. At 23 this was an incredible job to get. I pitched a concept that was an illustrated mashup of Parisien and Johannesburg-style motifs. There was no creative director or marketing team or anything. I asked a friend to translate a line into french for me and spent the next 3 weeks illustrating late into everynight. A week after I proudly set it off into the world, a few people online pointed out that the french was quite wrong. I was so embarrassed I almost scooped my own eyeballs out. Somehow the client still loved the work and I got over it about 5 years later. Lesson: Maybe find a native french speaking person to help with french translations? Sweat the details, always.

2018 for you in a sentence.

3 out of 5 Stars, Would not recommend.

Instagram: @nicholaschristowitz

Behance: /elbowsoffthetable

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