Nico Raddatz has received our Early Career Award for his extensive contributions to the design community since graduating in 2010.
Nico has an extensive portfolio of workplace branding clients including YouTube, Business Insider, Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, Truth Initiative, Surdna Foundation, and Google. Projects for Google have spanned the United States. Nico has led large-scale wayfinding projects for General Motors and Google. Additional work includes branding, signage, and exhibitions. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with many leading architecture firms. His work is rooted in Swiss design philosophy and largely influenced by the work of Charles and Ray Eames; he believes that a good designer can create anything.
Tell us a bit about your life. What should we know about you?
I am an Associate Partner at GHD Partners, a graphic design firm in New York City. I studied at Western Michigan University from 2006–2010 and in a summer program in 2008 at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland, with renowned designer and educator Wolfgang Weingart. During my studies and career, I have focused on context-driven design solutions and believe that there is no correct visual style, only designs that thrive in their unique environments.
My work has been recognized for design excellence by the Society for Environmental Graphic Design, Graphis, and the Communication Arts Design Annual. Additionally, I have work featured in Lettering Large, Steven Heller and Mirko Ilic’s collection of large-scale typographic work. I have been a panelist in roundtable discussions on branding, graphics, and signage in the workplace and have been a guest lecturer for an undergraduate typography course at the Rhode Island School of Design and in the Duncan Anderson Design Lecture Series at California State University Long Beach.
I live in Brooklyn, NY with my wife, Sam, and our two cats, Didot and Eames.
Let's look back at your college experience. What made Western Michigan University your school of choice?
I chose Western Michigan based on the quality of the Graphic Design program and the art school as a whole. I have always thrived in small, unique environments and wanted to go through a small graphic design program that would allow me to create relationships with my peers and professors. To this day I remain in touch with a number of my classmates and professors. The graphic design program and Design Center is a truly unique network and community.
What's your favorite memory from your time at WMU?
The days I looked forward to the most during my time at WMU were the jurying of the annual student show. I worked as a gallery assistant in the art gallery for much of my time at WMU and had the opportunity to assist the visiting artist that juried the student show. These were unique experiences each year, getting to see each artist making their selections taught me about quality of technique but also about the subjective nature of art.
What is the first thing you did after graduating to apply your degree to the real world?
Immediately following graduation I moved to New York City in pursuit of a job. I spent about 2 months sleeping on couches and floors of friends’ apartments while sending email inquiries to roughly 10-15 design firms a day. I was lucky enough to find a job at Spagnola & Associates designing corporate exhibits, print, and branding projects. I had an excellent boss and mentor in Tony Spagnola and learned a great deal in the 2.5 years that I worked with him. Having a good mentor and a job where you continue to learn as your first opportunity is key to any designer’s career growth.
What is your favorite part of your job?
When working on a project I need to get a complete understanding of my client’s business and project needs. It requires me to do a deep dive into research on who they are and what they do. Essentially I get to learn new things every day and be inquisitive. It’s always a good day if I learn something new.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Managing our design team at GHD Partners can be quite challenging. Ensuring we have enough resources to adequately execute our project’s goals and objectives. This requires constant attention and an understanding of what everyone in our office is working on.
The other piece that is most challenging is level-setting expectations amongst our team and with our clients. We have to ensure that what the client believes we are working on and what they are asking for matches what we believe we are working on and what the client needs. This sometimes takes time to convince the client that what they need may not be what they are asking for.
What tips would you give to current students and graduating seniors as they prepare to enter the "real world" and secure work?
Do not just take whatever job is offered to you. Make sure that the first job you take is with a place where you can continue to learn, be mentored, and grow in your profession. Good work leads to more good work. Good jobs lead to more good jobs. If you take a position just because it’s available you may find yourself with a portfolio of professional work that isn’t up to your standards and will make it harder to get a job that you want.
Also, remember to be empathetic. Try to understand where other people are coming from. This is helpful in all aspects of professional work from interviewing, to client management, to internal team dynamics. Everyone is approaching things differently and the more you can empathize with other people’s perspectives the better.
What does it mean to you to be recognized as a distinguished alumnus?
It really means a lot knowing that my professors want to recognize me, my work, and my connection to WMU and in particular to the Design Center. I know I am in good company with all other distinguished alumni and will do my best to maintain my work to their high standards.