— Nicole Jacek has learned at the feet of the masters: She interned for Stefan Sagmeister, worked for a year next to Ian Anderson at The Designers Republic, received an impromptu mentoring session at M/M Paris, and downed a $1,000 bottle of schnapps with German design legend Kurt Weidemann. Not bad for a girl from Poppenweiler, a tiny village on the outskirts of Ludwigsburg with fewer than 4,000 people.
“Where I grew up, no one knew what a graphic designer was,” she says. Growing up, she wanted to run Mercedes-Benz, where her father works. She eventually started at a small agency to learn marketing and played saxophone in a band on the side. One day, she saw a poster for the band’s upcoming gig and thought she could do better; when she started experimenting with Photoshop on the company computers, her boss suggested she study graphic design.
Unable to meet the illustration standards at other design schools, she enrolled at Merz Akademie, which focuses on theory and the “designer as author” approach. She applied for an internship at Sagmeister on the strength of a poster that contained her work on one side and her type designs on the other. “From my point of view now, it looked horrible,” she says. “I didn’t have a clue about printers or paper. It was just going to the digital printer and printing it out.”
These days, she’s uncannily inventive with materials: For a photographer’s set of business cards, she used thermographic ink, and in a book for the pop artist Sarah Staton, she replaced the regular yellow with a fluorescent version to make the colors more “candy-like.” Last October, Jacek moved to New York to take a job at Karlssonwilker, where she’s been working on a new identity for the Museum of the Moving Image and a Ron Arad book for MoMA. But she’d really just like to get an apartment. With a green card but no credit or guarantor, she’s been living in a budget hotel uptown, while at the same time trying to get her dream project realized—an LED screen of a giant, fluorescent heart that changes color with the temperature and beats faster as noise increases. Her infatuation with fluorescent colors is charming, but inexplicable. “Maybe I’m just stuck in the ’80s,” she laughs.