Interview MIKHA M.
Date MAY 2021
In conversation with human and german designer Marvin Schwaibold on New York as a source of creative energy, a dream enabler and on living by the notion of “ask for forgiveness rather than permission”.
Hometown, Reutlingen in Germany © Marvin Schwaibold
LFV: What challenges and learnings have you experienced in terms of living, and working in New York?
M: New York is a very vibrant place. Lot of people from all over the world come here chasing their own dreams. The city has a certain magic to it which is hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it yourself, the diversity of cultures, styles, and architecture is simply amazing! My favorite part about NYC is the art and cultural scene – where every block has a new bar, restaurant or independent art gallery run by talented people trying to express their creativity in any possible way.
It is extremely inspiring and it deeply fuels my work subconsciously all the time. But it’s more than that, New York has a very fast-paced rhythm to it, everyone hustles, runs, and moves fast – you really learn to adopt that style and you keep going no matter what. Everyone else does it and you simply go with the flow. It’s a lot of pressure but I love it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. In that sense, New York is really unforgiving, you’re constantly competing with a very small pool of talented individuals but it always keeps you on your feet, keeps you iterating and moving forward.
New York City © Marvin Schwaibold
New York City © Marvin Schwaibold
Breaking from the confining norms amplifies creativity; how does your experience in New York and it’s culture influences you, and your design practice?
M: “Breaking from the confining norms” that's exactly it, isn't it? In a way, this sentence really describes what New York City is to me and to most of my friends and colleagues. My experience abroad, I’d count Los Angeles and NYC together here, since I spent almost two years on the west coast before moving to NY and it has been nothing short of an insane rollercoaster. The people, the work, the environment that comes with global hubs like LA or NYC are hard to even put into words. There is a cultural melting pot that makes up New York which really fuels my creativity. I have friends from all over the world and we kind of all found each other here. Like even my team at Squarespace who I work with on a daily basis – people from Belgium, UK, the Caribbean, and Netherlands! Working with people from so many different backgrounds really helps me create work that is appreciated on a global scale I believe.
Besides the people and the culture, I want to quickly talk about the mindset as well. That’s one thing I love about living abroad and especially about the United States. This notion of “move fast and break things” and “ask for forgiveness rather than permission”, does influence my work and my mindset in ways I never really could have imagined while I was still living in Germany. I grew up in a normal family, went to a normal german school in a small town in the south of Germany. People there are very conservative, careful and don’t really allow their imagination get the best out of them! Coming from that background to the states was very liberating and freeing. I felt like I could be whoever I wanted to be and that has really helped me let go of any old “ways” or “rules” that I used to live by. Like Grant Achatz (my favorite Chef based in Chicago who runs Alinea) would say “Rules? There are no rules, you do whatever you want” – once you understand and learn that, you will be able to thrive!
Marvin and Jonathan Jasper seeking inspiration through art
MOMA, New York © Marvin Schwaibold
What does home mean to you?
M: I was born and raised in Germany then I spent a few years abroad with my family in the UK, but I call Germany my home – where my family and close friends live. To me it’s a very special place and every time I fly back home, a certain calmness embraces me. I love my family and there is nothing more special to me than going for mountain biking with my little brother and dad or to go skiing in the alps with the whole family during the winter break. Also, let’s be honest here, renting a nice BMW and plowing down the german autobahn while listening to a techno set is one thing I’d never skip when I’m there!
Design work © Marvin Schwaibold
What draws you most about New York?
M: That moment when you fly over Manhattan, just before you land and you look down into that concrete jungle – I get really pumped, my heart rate goes up, I feel excited and ready for anything. I feel that I’ve worked really hard to earn a place here and I guess one thing that inspires me most is that mindset you get yourself into while living here. There’s no room for mistakes, at least not for me! I try to constantly keep myself busy with work and I try to take in as much of this new environment as I possibly can. I want to be the best version of myself and NY will give you that opportunity if you want it. It’s a lot of hard work but it pays off, believe me!
© Die Ärzte
What’s your favourite song, book or artwork for recalling home?
M: I love listening to “Die Ärzte” a german rock band that was really popular while I was still going to school in 2007. The song is about teenagers experiencing criticism and rejection and being held responsible for everything. “Junge Warum hast du nichts gelernt – translated: Boy why didn't you learn anything?” which my parents would constantly say to me while I was in school. I was really really bad at school, I was only interested in skateboarding and drawing back then which worried my parents until I started getting into graphic design.
The song is a constant reminder that I put all my trust into my own decisions and that I’m the master of my own universe. The song reminds me of my past and my home but it also puts a smile on my face looking back at it now and knowing that I made the right career decisions – at least so far!
Any advice for someone moving to a new country?
M: Go for it and don’t think twice about it. You can always go home. It’s amazing to see what some of my friends have accomplished once they moved away from their homes and out of their comfort zone! You learn and grow a lot. The world is too big and diverse to spend your whole life in one place.
Marvin Schwaibold is a senior designer at Squarespace. Ex art director at Watson/dg focusing on corporate design, digital & print, and the future of the web. Marvin spent the last 10 years working with clients like A24, Netflix, Amazon, and Warner Brothers.
Visit Marvin's site to see his work.
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