What Is the Future of Creative Education With Eike König (The Creative Voyage Podcast S01E05)
“Be brave and say 'No.' That’s something you should try, and not just once. Try it every time.” — Eike König
In this episode, I talk to Eike König, a Berlin-based graphic designer, and creative director, who’s also a teacher, and an artist. We cover topics such as his approach to teaching, challenges on his career journey, advice to young creative professionals, his struggle with depression, and much more.
Eike König, born 1968 in Hanau, studied Graphic Design at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. He was the Art Director of Logic Records and has been running his own studio for visual communication, Hort, which emerged from the Frankfurt techno scene, since 1994. The studio moved to Berlin in 2007 and had been growing as a group ever since. Eike has held various endowment and visiting professorships at German universities, including Bauhaus Universität Weimar, HfG Offenbach and Hochschule Mainz University of Applied Sciences. The work by Hort is regularly published in the leading international publications on the subject area. In recent years, besides his involvement in the creative industry, Eike has been active as an independent artist, for who’s work Peter Zizka, German designer and conceptual artist, says “Eike wouldn’t merit his kingly surname if he did not touch upon the anti-aesthetic tabernacle with quite so much virtuosity or have invented his very own visual chaos theory. His eternally creative light transforms design elements into free radicals, which develop a hugely associative delight in reaction among observers at every interface of contact.”
Download as MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as”.
Selected Links From the Episode
Episode Introduction [00:52]
On Understanding Oneself [02:30]
The Future of Education [07:17]
Struggles on Eike's Creative Journey [19:35]
Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [30:43]
Advice to Young Professionals [31:34]
Eike's Current Challenges [35:20]
Nothing in Life Is Certain [38:29]
Thoughts on the Contemporary Digital Culture [48:20]
Advice for Being a Better Creative Professional [52:04]
Episode Outro [52:44]
Full Episode Transcript
Eike: It sounds like we're drinking whiskey.
Eike: But it's coffee.
This is the Creative Voyage podcast, a long form interview show with the mission of helping creative professionals to level up. I'm your host, Mario Depicolzuane. I'm a creative professional myself, active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and creative consulting, working with companies such as Kinfolk, MENU, and Sonos.
Through Season One of this podcast, I present in-depth interviews with some of the world's most inspiring creative professionals, revealing the stories that shaped their lives and careers, plus actionable strategies to help take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: In this episode I talk to a graphic designer and creative director who's also a teacher and an artist.
Eike: Hi. My name is Eike. I'm German-born. I grew up in Hanau, a small town next to Frankfort. I run a studio named Hort. We are based in Berlin and I'm here in Copenhagen to record this podcast about design and all the problems I had with that.
Mario: Studio Hort does art direction, branding, creative consulting, graphic design, and illustration, and works with institutions such as Arte, Bauhaus Dessau, Bergen Assembly, as well as brands like Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Nike, The New York Times, and Universal Music. As the quotation of an Amazon review on their About page claims, their work is original and amazing, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Besides running Hort, Eike is also a professor of illustration and graphic design at the HfG Offenbach and is active as an independent artist. I've discovered Eike's work very early in my design career, and he always had a special spot in my landscape of individuals I admired in the creative industry, so I was thrilled to have this conversation with him.
Mario: Eike arrived in Copenhagen on an unusually warm day in early June 2018. I greeted him at the airport, from where we went to Kinfolk headquarters who generously lent me one of their meeting rooms to record an interview.
Mario: In this episode we're going to listen to the highlights of that conversation. Please note that this episode is slightly longer than the previous ones, but I believe Eike shared many timely insights that I'm sure it will be worth your time. We cover topics such as his approach to teaching, challenges on his creative journey, advice to young professionals, his struggle with depression, and much more.
In the world of seeming abundance and in a market where most things are becoming commoditized, it's growing increasingly important to be self-aware and understand oneself. In that way, hopefully we can uncover where we can provide the most significant value, both to our clients and culture in general, and overlap that with our unique strengths, inclinations, and even quirks. It seems to me that Eike is an excellent example of that, authentically in navigating his life and career, so I started my conversation with him discussing those topics.
Mario: I think I would like to start with almost like a standard question, but I think it relates to a lot of what you are talking about through your lectures, and that's about understanding yourself and knowing who you are. So, I'm curious who the fuck is Eike König currently.
Eike: Currently. Yeah ... It's hard to describe yourself and "Who are you, where do you come from, what influenced you, which cultural background do you have," which context you grew up and stuff like that, but that all created your biography, and based on your biography everything you're gonna do will be based on that somehow. Like decisions you are making or even the way you design is somehow connected to that part. That's why I used to say, "Okay. It's good to figure out who you are because then probably you will understand why you do things that you're doing and it's just a help. You can also ignore that. If you're not interested in who you are then just ignore that!
Mario: How do you go about understanding yourself?
Eike: We all go through that anyway. We get born and then we grow up and then become teenagers and then we fight against our, I don't know, parents and stuff like that, so we have to figure out who you are in the society and in high school. In my case, I had a very strong father figure, or I had two father figures. One was my father and he was an architect. He was quite a tough personality in case of what he taught, like "no decoration, follow an idea, you have to work hard." All these things that probably he had gone through, and then on the other side I was a professional gymnast, so I was going to training every day and I did that from three to seventeen, sixteen I don't know. My trainer was somehow even more a father figure because he spent much much more time with me during the day.
Eike: For sure, at one point when you struggle with yourself and figure out who you are and what your position in society, then for sure one way is to rebel against your father, in my case, and I think I gained a lot of energy out of that just to not ... I didn't want to be who my father was. A very simple thing. And I wanted to be more successful than my father. I said, "Well, it was a driven engine, in ... " So I couldn't do what my father was doing. I didn't want to compare directly. I didn't want to become and architect so I had to figure out what I can do, but it would be something creative I was sure about.
Eike: During that time, and especially in the beginning when I started to study graphic design, I always got in a situation where I didn't feel very well in an existing system. School, I didn't really like. University I felt like is not the right system I'm in right now. They were teaching a lot about the history of graphic design and they were not so much focusing on contemporary design, and I was much more interested in contemporary movements and designers from that time, so I always got forced because of the system to think about "What is my position," like "Who am I? If I don't feel okay in this system, why don't I feel okay, and is that bad or wrong? Isn't that also a good thing, because then I can step out of that system and try to create my own paths?"
Eike: The more I thought about it the more I felt like, "Yeah, also accepting that that's me. I'm not made to go that way. I'm made to maybe build my own paths and walk on that." That's just because I thought a lot about it, and not just accepted everything as given, like "You have to go to school, and if you don't like it you still have to go to school." A lot of people are just doing this, and I was always saying, "No, if I don't like it I don't do it or I change it, and that's my two positions on that." That's why I gained a lot of strengths and self confidence just because of accepting me and my strengths but also in my weakness, and it's just good to know that.
Besides leading a successful creative studio and making his mark on the art world, Eike is teaching, lecturing and conducting workshops worldwide. Even his studio, Hort, seems to be a combination of a classroom and a playground. It appears that he must be doing something right when it comes to inspiring, encouraging, and empowering young people, which when it comes down to it should be the essence of education. I was interested in hearing his thoughts on the current state of educational systems and how he approaches his teaching.
Eike: For sure, it's a system that creates rebels and the ones that just follow, and if you would like to change that, because I think the system how we designed it, and education is forcing young people to adapt to that system. We don't really give them the space and the time and the freedom and the support to develop their own personalities. If you would like to change that I think we have to change our educational system and design a space or question, like question the institutions, question the way we educate, question the idea of what is success and what is not success, all these things, and then we should design this new space where young kids can follow their own interests, and also tell them that these interests are most valuable. These are the things that you feel a connection to, and if you feel interested in something then you might want to know something about it. You're gonna dig deeper, and that you can share with all of us. I think that has a bigger value than just train kids to have a foundation of knowledge of, I don't know, history.
Eike: Nowadays anyway, all this knowledge is online and it's not centralized anymore, so teach your kids the tricks and also being critical about all the stuff they find, and help them to understand how to work with these informations that are all there and give them a lot of trust that they're gonna make it. Then I think we would have a different society, people who are not just ... Probably there are also a lot of people who are just happy with that, like not having to think about, "Okay, I'll just let it go and someone will take care of that," but what happens with those people who don't? I think there's a lot of potential in this huge group of just followers. I think if you would change a little bit from a follower, there would be a lot more people moving into makers.
Eike: I think it's highly complex how the whole system is set up. At the end, the whole idea of education was to help industry to have the right people to work there in this industry. It was not about creating critical thinkers. It was more about creating workers. That was the focus of it.
Eike: That is changing now a little bit and I'm very glad that I'm living in this time where I feel like oh well, you can hear a lot of critical things about digitalization and the digital revolution, but I think it's also a great chance to design our future in a better way.
Mario: I think in one of your interviews you mentioned that one of your goals is to help those young people to be braver and to be better critical thinkers. How do you personally as a teacher try to nurture that in people?
Eike: I have no particular system behind it, like that I have a system how to teach that. Also, teaching has shifted to "I have knowledge and you don't have knowledge, and I just give you the knowledge and then you can add it to your knowledge box or not." I also work with grownups. They are already creative minds and probably they are just younger, but in the end there's no difference between them and me. I probably just have a little bit more experience but at the same time they're way younger so they ask questions I would never ask, so I can learn also a lot. That's a different situation because I gain a lot of knowledge from them. It's more like a partnership we are having, and in a partnership you invest way more than if it's just a one-way relationship. It has an impact on both sides, and that's quite interesting.
Eike: What I'm doing is not just the opposite, but it is somehow based on the experience I had when I was a student by myself. There were professors and these professors were judging based on their own experience in design or experience in business, and they tried to tell you what was right and what was wrong. I think that's the beginning of the end. There is no right and wrong. There is no one solution. There are a million solutions. Whenever you find a solution not good or not interesting, that does not mean that this solution will not work. It's a lot about stepping back from your own person.
Eike: Now, if someone designs something and you are not familiar with the aesthetics of this design, then people tend to judge on that and say "That's not nice," but that only means that you probably are not in contact with that kind of design yet or it's just not part of your bubble you're living in. I'm always trying to look under the surface of the formal parts of a design and talk about the ideas, and that's something we can agree on. I can ask critical questions on the ideas these young people have, but these are only questions. I would like them to answer them by themselves. I will never give them an answer, and I think that's a big shift from 30 years ago to now. I'm just someone who's part of the process, who's another eye on their work that has a different question on the work and just helping them to, "Oh, now I have 10 different perspectives of the same thing and now I can figure out which is something that I could agree on and then I move to this part and research on that one."
Eike: That's why I say it's way more complex how I build up my class. It's like a group of diverse disciplines. There's not only graphic designers. I have painters, sculptors, photographers, and do music. Some are illustrators. Some are graphic designers. I think the diversity is the key. They are different ages. They still do diplomas or they are sometimes people from the third semester til the 12th, 13th semester. They take care of each other. That's also part of it.
Eike: I would like to support them to be ... I'm just another person in this whole thing. I'm not the guru everyone is waiting for, because most of the stuff the students are learning they are learning from each other. That's the trick, and if you help them to create this social community, even if they become a competitor at one point, they should still help each other and see the work they're doing in an open source mode. "Okay, I share what I know without fearing that someone will take this knowledge and make something bad out of it." That's what I also try to help to create an awareness that this is a value if you share something and not something risky. You don't have to protect you as a creative person. Now you have to open yourself.
Eike: That's why I also do a lot of social activities, let these people also create things where they will not get paid for, something you do for other people, but anyway it will come back at one point. Maybe it's also an understanding or my understand of living a life in a society where you respect people, where you have a social responsibility for people, also a responsibility for what you're doing. It's a lot about thinking or reflecting on your activities, what are you doing, how does it impact the group which I'm part of, and maybe it's, I don't know, a laboratory I'm running there, a small one where I would like to prepare the young grownups at one point to be part of this ...
Eike: I mean, they are part of this society but also like to be great people in this society who take care of things and not just completely ignore and want to become the most prominent person in the room with the most prominent design in the world. It's not about that. The nuances are way more important, and that's my whole idea behind it.
Eike: or sure, they have to be critical about the ideas, but they have to be ... If they are happy with what they are doing, I can't force them to be unhappy. If that's the end result I just can't set them on the fire and tell them, "Oh, just think about it. Is it really enough what you have done?" Give them also examples of yourself or show them how you work, like, "Oh no! I'm designing 10 or 20 variations of it and then I print them out and I judge on all of them at the same time." Just give them also an idea of how your work in process is. They don't need to have that same work in process, but just to, "Oh. There's a lot of work involved."
Eike: It's not just that I design something and then it's good. No. There's a lot of work involved, and that is not just the part where you design actively something. It's not just the part where you sit on a computer and you open a program and then you put something on the right corner. No. It's also the thinking and the reflection. I think Otl Aicher said that before thinking there's doing. You do something and then you think about what you have done. And then you do something again based on that reflection.
Eike: But I'm not a born teacher. I mean, who is that? I also have to be critical with myself. Sometimes people are like, "Oh, the semester went very well." Sometimes I feel like, "Mm, no." Sometimes I ... Anyway, I can't get everyone. Sometimes some people hate the way I do that. That's normal I guess. Every year I also have to think about, "Mm. How can I adapt this? What have I learned last year? What did I fail for myself? How can I improve things?" In the end it's not about my ego that I'm teaching. It's about them. I shouldn't forget me. That's why I also said I'm doing it because I also get something back, but they should be the focus. The student should be the focus.
Mario: It seems like a lot of it comes down to giving people space to do those things,
Mario: Versus always intervening with what's going on.
Eike: Yeah, that's the biggest problem, because especially creativity needs time, and every person has his own rhythm. It's not like a car factory back in the days in Detroit where Ford tried to organize each part of the working process in a specific time frame to make it workable in a capitalistic idea. No, creativity is an amazing source, and the problem is that we are all born creative and very brave also.
Eike: All the things that we learn in the very first beginning of our lives, there's a lot of braveness involved. The first steps and all these things, and the whole playing is so highly creative. I feel like it's an engine of our life and by playing you evolve, you grow, you learn, you explore, and it seems to be an endless source of creativity that we lose when we start to get educated. Everyone is putting some earth on top of it and then in the end you don't find the connection to the roots anymore to it. Later we try to make you creative again. That's a little bit sad, but creativity is part of us.
Eike: It's a lot about just finding or defining a space within this space. This very personal creativity can recover. Also because of the environment suddenly you are surrounded by other people who are also interested in the same thing, so there's an environment that creates a permanent discourse about ideas. It's a great surrounding. Hopefully, when they keep track and really fall in love with being creative and not getting too much frustrated when something is not working, then there might be a great personality in design coming out. Or in whatever. Music or ... It's not just related to design. It's whatever creative work you're doing.
Eike started Studio Hort in 1994, which means that currently it has been up and running for more than 24 years. As freelancers, artists and entrepreneurs, we experience challenges even on a day-to-day basis. It's only natural that throughout the years and decades we're guarantee to withstand all kinds of ups and downs. I've asked Eike to share some of the challenges he encountered on that more than two decade-long journey.
Eike: First of all, I'm very glad that I created that, because that platform or space is still there, and looking back you can see that this small idea of starting my own workshop had so much potential that more than 80 people went through that, and I got connected to so many great minds and friendships and all the things, and it was just because I had an amazing job. I was art director of a record label designing record sleeves. I got good money. I was involved in this club culture of the city so I knew a lot of people. I arrived already on this level of being accepted and known, and I think I could have done that for longer.
Eike: At the same time, I was lucky that I had this because before, I was studying, I was frustrated about the way my professors were working with me, I couldn't see a future for myself. They told me that I'm a bad designer all the time. You lose confidence in yourself when you hear that, especially if they do that in public. I felt like all my ideas are bad ideas. No one is really interested in that. If that's the only thing you have, then the future is quite depressive. There was nothing I could hold fast too.
Eike: Then I did this internship in an agency, and at first I was in the agency and I was like, "Oh my God." After two days like, "I can't do this job. This is something I will not do for the rest of my life." Luckily I got out of it. I got fired because I just didn't show up anymore, and I was thinking about, "Okay. What can I do?" That was a long time ago. Now it's a different situation for designers, but at that time most of the students were ending in an advertising agency.
Eike: I was lucky because I designed for friends of mine who had a skate shop or who was organizing techno parties. I got into this design for stuff that I like just because they are friends of mine, and because of that I got this internship in the record label, and because of that I got my position as an art director, and because of that I quit my university, so I didn't finish even ...
Eike: It was a dream position for a lot of designers, and I just got it by accident. I was at the right time at the right place, knew the right people, and I was completely unsure about does anyone like what I was doing. Coming from the university I felt like, "Ooh."
Eike: But suddenly I was involved in a context where the product, music, that I loved anyway, and I was able to deliver designs people liked. Suddenly I gained confidence. Again, suddenly I figured out, "Oh! It's just also the people or the context or maybe the product." Suddenly I was like, "Wow. I feel accepted." People were asking me "Do you think it's a good design or not?" I was much more involved in the discourse of the design of the company. I got international. I had studios in London and in New York. I was doing the very first website in 1993 I think, something like that.
Eike: I remember the time when someone in New York said, "Yeah, that's a new thing. Internet," and I was like, "What is Internet?" He said, "That's the future," and I was like, "How does the future work?" He said, "Yeah, it's through this telephone cable," and then you have this computer and I was like, "Oh! That's the future?" And then he said, "Yeah. Digital," and I was like, "Yeah. I look into the future right now." Back to the future. It was so exciting, and all the technology that came up.
Eike: Then I just had another band from a different record company ask me I can design this leaf and then I just decided, "Okay. Why not run my own studio and work in this field, like music business? Just do it as long as it works." I never had an idea of the future and I was never someone who thought about, "Oh, in five years I would like to be this or in 10 years I would like to ... " because in a very young age I learned that life can change within a second, and I didn't put trust anymore in any future activities. That's also the way I opened my studio. It was not about, "Okay, I'm gonna make a lot of money. I'm gonna be very successful. In five years I'm gonna be there. In 10 years I'm gonna be in New York with a studio." I just very naively wanted to have a cool time, do whatever I want, work with whomever I want. All these things that seemed to be so naïve but there's a chance to just do that. That's why I started it.
Eike: Then I had a lot of ... Because I was not prepared I made a lot of experience by just doing things, and for sure you also make a lot of negative experiences. First of all, you're very much bound to the economy, and that's a very wavy thing. It goes up and down, and if it's up you feel like a king and if it's down you feel the future the next day. I was often very close to not being able to pay myself anymore. But throughout the time you also learn that that economy comes in waves and that after a night there is always a day. That's natural, and it's the same in economy.
Eike: For sure, I made a lot of ... I did a job with a company in Los Angeles. I didn't know this company. We just were emailing, and we designed an identity for the company without a contract. Just trusting each other, like "Oh! They're interested in us. They must be nice people." Then suddenly there was no contact anymore. After delivering everything there was no contact anymore, and then not having the power or the tools to soothe them, like to really get the money we agreed on. That hurt in the beginning. You feel like, oh, someone misused you. The second hard moment was when we saw that it got rolled out. It really got used.
Eike: I remember that at that time there was a magazine ... What is the name of the magazine? Art magazine ... I forgot the name. Also from the West Coast in the US. It had a wonderful manifest, like the artist could do whatever they want. They always invited artists for design or create something for the magazine. After having some negative experience back then, we thought about, "Okay, let's create the Shit Awards for all these people who are still owing us money," or we felt like they were lying to us or whatever. We did from 1 to 10 Shit Award. And each of them got its own design related to the job we were working on or ... And scaling up from 1 to 10.
Eike: One of these clients was this company in Los Angeles. We sent the 10 spreads to the magazine and they were saying, "Oh, I'm really sorry but they sponsor us. We can't do that." We copied the manifest of the magazine and sent it back marking this important part that the artist is free to do whatever he wants. I pointed on it and I said, "So you are killing your own idea. You're killing your own idol. That's not cool for you and also for us who support you by producing stuff. The content we create and not you."
Eike: They said, "Yeah, but we still can have this nine and we just leave this out," and I said, "Oh, you're getting worse now. Now I don't want to have anything anymore."
Eike: That happened ... For sure you make your own experience, and it's not easy to run a business, to be an entrepreneur. There are always good times and bad times, projects were ... You can learn a lot because they didn't went well. I still like that I went through all this. I still feel like it was important to go through this just because now I'm here where I am and it's all connected. I'm happy because nowadays for sure, I face less of these problems. I'm way more aware of what can happen, like if you accept a relationship with someone, so a little bit less naïve. At the same time a little bit less open for sure. But also a little bit less stress.
Eike: But that's what you learn. And no one can teach you. No one can give you an advice on that. If I would follow advices from other people, I would have followed one advice I wouldn't be sitting here I think. If I would have followed another advice I would never have worked international. There are always advices that might sound right, but mostly right for the person who advised it, because these people went through something and based on that they come up with this advice. I'm not a fan of advising people because anyway you have to go through the shit.
Mario: Yeah. But I do find advice or like when people share their experience to be beneficial to get the guts to do things.
Eike: Yeah. But someone can take me as a role model if he wants to. I don't want to be a role model, but someone can do that. And maybe someone feels like, "Oh! I really like what Eike's saying and that's why I'm trying to do it too," but I'm not responsible for that. That's not a proof of success. And it's so complex how things are running, in which direction things are going. When you start as a young designer there are a million ways you could walk, and it just can change within a job or someone you meet. There are so many unseen moments you can't predict and you can't forecast and you can't say, "Oh, chill out." You will not be safe by forecasting or trying to forecast everything. No. You will not be safe.
Hey, friends. You're listening to the Creative Voyage Podcast. We are roughly in the middle of this episode, so it's time for a short break. There's no team behind the show. It's solely produced and edited by me, Mario. I don't have any sponsors, and I have no plans to add any. Nevertheless, I can use all the help I can get growing the show. If you like what you've heard so far, there's three simple things you can do for me and future episodes. Number one, review the show on Apple Podcasts. Number two, tell a friend and share a link on social media. Number three, visit the shop on creative.voyage/shop and support the show by buying bespoke Creative Voyage Products. Thanks everyone. Let's get back to the show.
Eike is active in a creative industry, art world, and in education, which I think places him in the unique position of being able to provide relevant guidance to young individuals. I was curious to hear if he had any advice for those who are just starting in the creative professions.
Eike: What I learned throughout the years was I can say no, and that a lot of young people don't see the power in no. They always want to agree on something. I learned just that when clients come to you and they want something that might be interesting for you but parts of the business agreement are not right, let's say money, or also I was struggling at that time, like, "Okay, probably that's a great opportunity right here. Not much money involved," but because they're telling you, "Okay, we are a very sexy brand," you put it in your portfolio. You get more jobs. This idea that this will speak for itself and gain more business, so a lot of people accept the limitation of budget for your work, and I just learned that I have to say no at a certain point. When I feel like this is not enough or I don't feel respected or I don't feel that I can create a connection to the product, I say no. I've figured out that people who really would like to work with you, they will come back, and that's also a great filter.
Eike: For example, if people not agree on a contact before, I will not work with them because I know now that there will be problems coming up throughout the working process. There needs to be a foundation of how to work together. They should agree on both parties how much you get paid and stuff like that, and before this is not settled, I will not work anymore.
Eike: I did that a lot in the beginning, like, "Okay. We'll figure it out later," and then suddenly you're the one who was pissed. And it's great to say no if it's a lot of money, but when you feel like, "Mm. But I would feel bad if I do that," you can also say no. And I also did that. I think the power of "no" we should learn to involve in our communication. To also not accept everything and not agree on everything and not that, "because the business is like this." No. You decided how the business is.
Eike: That's something where I hope that the younger generations are way more active and maybe also helping creative business to gain some value again, because nowadays it's all about, "That's what you can do and that's what you get paid for," but there's much more involved, and in the end it's also a political thing and you have a lot of poverty. Also you have a lot of responsibility, because you have to be the brave one. You have to be ... I think it's a great mix of possibilities that are involved in this job. You just have to take care of it. Be brave and say "No" is something you should try, and not just once. Try it every time. That's a good advice I think. Because I also had to learn it very hardly.
Eike: But I also had my experience where it really worked so well on a super-high level of business, with CEOs where I said, "No, I don't think it's right," and they agreed on that. I was like, "You see?" It's a lot about you, how you interact with people, and if you always agree people will take that as a chance to put you in a corner. No, you have to define what is right for you and what are you willing to do and what you would like to accept also.
By looking from the outside it can seem that Eike has everything figured out. He's leading a highly regarded design studio for over two decades, traveling the world giving talks, making exhibitions, and teaching young people. I was curious to hear what are some of the challenges at this point in his life.
Eike: That's a very personal thing, because for sure since some weeks I know now that I've become a father, and I set up my own life very egocentric. Everything's designed in a way that helps me to make all these things. Running a studio, doing my artistic work, teaching in a school, traveling around the world, waking up whenever I want, going to bed whenever ... This is an absolute perfect picture of a life I was looking for, and I needed a long time to ... Not a long time. I was always doing this way. But it feels now so round. It's just great.
Eike: Suddenly I wanted to have a child, but suddenly when you know it's gonna happen then a lot of things also happen with the rest of your life. The whole system or construction I designed for myself now will be pushed in certain directions because of someone else that will join me in my life, and maybe the spotlight I try to be in will move to another spotlight or there will be a second spotlight, and maybe this will even be the bigger spotlight. I don't know yet, because like I said in the beginning, I don't think about the future. It's so hard to think about how it will be. I don't really know how it will be and what impact it will have and how I will be able to still be myself, because it's also important to follow my interests and to do all these things.
Eike: Suddenly, when that happens, totally different people start to talk to you. People you usually don't talk to suddenly give you advices, and you're like, "Oh my God. Yeah, okay." I'm 100% excited, and it's like an adventure. You know, like you plan to do that and then suddenly it starts, and I love adventures.
Eike: I think I also like this strange power of different feelings you have at the same time in your body, and I can't sleep anymore so it really makes me shuffle and it moves me. That's great. A lot of people are just sleeping even if they are standing somewhere. Not physically, but something is done. I think that will have an effect on ... I will have to make a decision on certain parts of my life yet.
According to the World Health Report from 2001, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide. The report invites governments to make strategic decisions and choices to bring about positive change in the acceptance and treatment of mental disorders, and I believe part of it comes down to being more understanding and proactive as a society, starting on the individual level with every one of us.
At one point during our conversation Eike mentioned that he learned very early in life that nothing was certain. I was intrigued by that observation, so towards the end of our conversation I've asked him about that remark. Exceptionally generously and honestly, Eike shared two personal stories from his history and how those played a crucial role in his life, including his experience with depression.
Eike: I was a gymnast and had this strong relationship to my trainer for a long time. If you start doing this sport since three then you do a lot of things together. Then suddenly, I think I was 15 or something, he died by an accident. The company was working. There was an explosion, and he was the only one who died in this explosion 'cause it was on a Sunday so no one was there but he was responsible for part of the factory.
Eike: Out of nothing he was gone. There was no preparation like if someone is sick then you understand that life might be ending at one point. I didn't really have any experience with deaths before, so that was the first experience I had. Usually you have it with family, but with the older people in your family. If suddenly someone like a father-like person is gone there's an emptiness that is not fillable anymore with anything.
Eike: Suddenly we had to deal with this situation that we had to get a new trainer, and it became weird because this person that you were so close to was dead and then the family and the parents of the kids of my team were looking for another trainer. That was so weird because I couldn't really deal with the loss. There was no time.
Eike: That somehow triggered me to think about if I really want to do this, and then after a year I stopped doing it. I went down the extreme road of partying very excessive because I didn't do that for a long time. As a professional gymnast you don't really drink and take drugs and stuff, so I was a bit late. I thought I'd speed up a little bit. And out of this being very controlled and precise, I chose a life that was uncontrolled, chaotic, and not precise at all. I still can see the impact that this accident had on me as a person. So, yeah. This can happen every day, and suddenly your whole life is changing.
Eike: I had also a mental breakdown when I was I think 30 or 29. I was very successful. I was in a relationship. I had an amazing lifestyle. I was earning good money. I did what a lot of people dreamed to do. I was on holiday in Portugal, and suddenly I got back from holiday and I woke up and everything was great.
Eike: I first thought, "I'm sick," like physically sick, so I went to the doctor's and he said, "No, you have a depression." I was like, "I can't have a depression. I'm a very funny guy! I have a lot of humor and I love to laugh." He said, "No no. You're deep in a depression." At that time you didn't say "burnout". Nowadays you maybe name it burnout a little bit more, and I had to accept that I was now ...
Eike: When I look back, I was like, "Okay." For a year I was slowly drifting into this. I was overworking all the time. I was living a high speed jet set life, flying around the world, meeting bands, being on concerts, having fancy parties. Rock and roll somehow. And I was slowly drifting in and suddenly there was this moment when there was enough and I couldn't work for half a year anymore.
Eike: I really had to work hard to get back to a personal environment situation feeling that I feel trust in myself, that I'm able to things. That half year was quite intense, focusing on me as a personality. Why am I maybe also traumatized and why am I like I am. I worked with a therapist, and it wasn't so popular at that time to say that you work with a therapist. People were saying, I remember friends were saying to me, "I would never work with a therapist. You can handle it by yourself only." I was like, "No. I can't handle it anymore."
Eike: I think it was the best thing thing that could happen to me. I learned a lot about me. I learned a lot about my patterns. I learned a lot about why I do things, what triggers me and why I react like this. I made a small plan of how to get out of it step by step, and I made it in a half year I think. I don't remember exactly.
Eike: At the same time, I thought, "Okay. I have a problem with my own personality. I want to do everything by myself." When you do sports, especially a sport like I did, it was a lot about me as athlete. Also in design, I wanted to do everything by myself. On a higher level. I was very critical with me and I learned that I was not able to do everything, so I had to open myself up, and that's why I started to work with people.
Eike: In the beginning I was completely alone and I said, "Okay. Why not open Hort, this idea up for all the other people I might meet," and then I decided, Okay. These people should be younger and better. I was looking for people to work with, and the first one was [inaudible 00:45:32], a German illustrator, and then later Martin Lawrence. That's how I got out of it, and the whole what you see as Hort now is because of that, because of all the people that from that point on went through that, and I was able to learn from them. They designed what it is like now.
Eike: It's not me. I was just the person who created the space, this idea of how to work together, and then I had this mental breakdown, and that's why Hort is what it is, because of all the people.
Eike: And that's why I also have a totally different relationship to these people, because they helped me in a heavy time of my life. These people, not personally, but they were the bright day I was looking for, and they have been sharing so much knowledge and creativity and good and sad times with me. I have a very strong relationship to each of them, and that's also a different experience a lot of people have when they go into industry. It's not about them. It's about what they can do, and for me it was always about them and less about what they can do. That came overnight. I just woke up and everything was great.
Mario: The day before, you were "fine".
Eike: Yeah yeah. We got back from driving through Portugal with a car, with an old Beetle. We got back at 12:00 in the night or 2:00 in the night. We got back and on the next day, everything was great. My mind was great. The world was great. I was thinking about being dead without fearing being dead. I was really ... I don't know if it's dopamine or something else, something just got out of balance in this night. For a longer time it was always on the edge, but there was a drop and that just turned it around.
Mario: During that period of six months, besides working with a therapist and doing a lot self-work with professional, was there anything else which helped you? What were some other things that you were doing to get better?
Eike: No, I couldn't do anything. That's the hardest thing. Not even sports. I was lucky because I was in a relationship and she was able to step back from wanted too much from me. She said, "Okay. Take your time. Take your space. I'm just there." I had a lot of support from that side. But I remember that the first two months I was just sitting in my room and not even turning the computer on. Just being surrounded by this graphic design studio that isn't producing anything. Having all the tools but not producing anything.
Eike: Then, because of the work with the therapist for sure you start to make little steps. I started to do sports just to get a physical reaction on your activities and getting the feeling for your body again. Then after a while, after it felt like, "Mm. It's not that gray anymore. There's a little bit of red and a little blue." Then I also started to slowly work, really not working on commission jobs because I knew that if I accept a commission job then I would get into this pressure again, delivering in time, so I started to do some private stuff. I had fun doing it and then based on that you start to, "Oh. Come on, let's try it."
Just before I wrap my conversation with Eike with the last question, I've asked him if had anything that he would like to add to our discussion. Here he reflects on a current state of contemporary digital culture, both on the exciting parts but also the uncertainties.
Eike: Like I said, it's question interesting to be alive right now because I was born the analog time. I was educated "analog", like there's this connection between brain and hand and you do things by hand and the [inaudible 00:49:32] experience, design experience. Then suddenly the computer came up. It created new possibilities in design. Now we are interacting with design every day in every situation, but we don't teach that our kids yet. I think that has to change somehow in education too, that we ... We still teach art and music but we don't teach design as a highly important discipline that someone's behind who's doing that and that there's an intention behind that. And also the value of design.
Eike: The older I get, the more critical I'm getting. Probably that's also something of age. I don't know. Because everyone is so happy about Airbnb and so happy about Spotify and so happy about all these new ideas that disrupt old industries. I can see the old industry dying everywhere and I totally agree that it has to die because they're DNA is not digital. They will not be able to make this shift to digital.
Eike: The more I think about it, the more I can hear these amazing ideas. The more critical I also think about it, for example Tumblr or Spotify. Amazing tools but at the same time their algorithms are creating a mainstream and deleting the extremes, and the extremes are most important for moving forward. I think most of the people who come up with these ideas don't think about the impact that this idea might have on society on a bigger scale. It really works perfectly for making money.
Eike: Furthermore, I'm welcoming on these ideas the more I'm getting critical about this, and I think that's because AI anyway is here, and AI is taking care of a lot of things and we still don't discuss it as a very important topic of our future social lives, like how much impact this will have. This will be more and more.
Eike: Also I think the topics of my educational part in the university, I just started last year with this manifesto from 1963, First Things First, where designers signed and the whole idea of design at that time, it was used as a tool to make a marketing idea sell something. There must be something with more value included in that, and there is for sure. We should focus on that.
Eike: But value comes with this skill or talent to think creatively or to do think with your hands, like creative. Be a creator. Value includes that and maybe support that a little bit more and be less the tools for marketing ideas. And teach the kids to hack, to learn hacking. To understand programming and go into it and change it, and also teach them what design means and what design can do. Then probably design will have a bigger impact on society. In a positive way.
We've come to the last topic I've discussed with Eike, and as with other guests, I've asked him to highlight three pieces of advice based on what he experienced and learned so far on his journey. Here's Eike's parting answer.
Eike: You heard that so many times. That's the end of every talk I'm giving. Be brave, stay curious, and do something good while being on this planet. That's somehow the three things I would like people to invite to think about.
Mario: So you stand by that.
Eike: Yeah, I stand by that. Yeah.
Mario: Thank you very much. Amazing.
Hey friends. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Eike König. I think we touched on a lot of useful information for anybody out there interested in design, education, and growing as creative professionals and people.
I want to thank Eike for coming onto the show. He was so generous and honest and I'm grateful for having a chance to meet him. Links to Eike's work, his Instagram, as well as to some other things mentioned during our conversation can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast.