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The Thoughtful Design of Nicole Jacek

By Terri Stone

Nicole Jacek’s work has appeared in many design publications, and she’s won design awards from institutions such as the Art Directors Club, Red Dot, D&AD, and the Type Directors Club. But Nicole sees her work as something bigger than what’s typically thought of as “design”—not only a designer, Nicole is also a thinker. And she’s thinking big.  

Originally from Germany, Nicole worked at big-name studios in England and New York before moving to California to start her own studio, NJ(L.A.), in 2013. In this interview, Nicole discusses what it means to be a designer today, why collaboration is important, and the recent redesign of GOOD magazine, which “chronicles and champions the emerging identity of the global citizen and creative changemaker.”

Photo of Nicole Jacek in her studio
Nicole Jacek using Adobe Comp

Create: How do you describe what you do?

Nicole Jacek: A lot of designers used to think [design] was about making things pretty, but the whole industry is really changing.

In my studio, we never start with aesthetics. We try to make things look good and exciting, of course, but we come in and create a bigger picture. You can’t just bring in your own voice. Then you’re functioning like an artist. You’re representing yourself, not your client.

Clients come to us to think things through and make sense of their projects. So you become a thinker.

Create: Tell me about redesigning GOOD magazine.

Nicole: They came to us and asked us to redesign the magazine. We said, “Cool, that’s really awesome.” But there was a problem. They used to be an activist magazine, and they wanted to change to be more of a lifestyle magazine. You can’t achieve that with just a redesign; the whole company culture has to change.

So we helped them to restructure things. We eliminated what wasn’t necessary and kept everything we could reuse, maybe in a different way.

They got amazing writers and photos. The content become longer, almost book like. Our main work was to build a structure that works for that type of content, to keep it simple and legible, and make it comfortable for your eyes to read these longer stories.

The generation the magazine talks to is probably 20s to early 40s. They’re digital. If you’re not trained to read paper, your brain can’t process it. So we tried to make it legible and comfortable, but we also wanted to make it look cool. It was about not designing too much—almost not designing at all.

Create: What was it like to work with the GOOD staff?

Nicole: The GOOD team was amazing. They were all involved; it was a very collaborative process, which we like.

In this case, we had to work with them because we didn’t know the market, we didn’t know where they’re coming from or where they’re trying to go. They had all this information we didn’t have.

But in general as a studio, we tend to collaborate with a lot of people. You can push things way further if you let other people be part of the process. That’s happening more in our industry. Everything’s becoming a little more collaborative.

Create: I’ve heard you’re a fan of Comp, Adobe’s mobile layout app. How do you use it?

Nicole: I travel a lot. A lot of my ideas happen when I’m not at my desk. So it’s fantastic if I can sketch out things very quickly with Comp on my phone or iPad and then move things to InDesign on my own desktop or to a designer’s desktop. It’s simplifying the way we work.

To explore Comp yourself, check out this tutorial.