Nice to meet you!

My name is Ninh (pronounced: Ning) and I’m a designer from Germany.

I created this section extra for YOU, the dear reader who got lost in the world wide web and found my website by coincidence.

This is a deep dive into my life and my background so you get a better understanding of who you are dealing with.

Let’s get started.

Good Morning Vietnam

Judging by the photos, you probably noticed that I am asian. To be more specific, I was born in Vietnam.

Although I grew up in Germany, both of my parents have a Vietnamese background.

While I think I am more German behavior-wise, I become prouder day by day to have strong Vietnamese roots.

And why shouldn’t I?

It’s an economically upcoming country, the culture is nice, the people very friendly (myself included) and the food the best in this World. Period. 😛

Today, more and more people visit Vietnam every year because of its preserved culture and beautiful nature. However, many left the country in the early days to start a new life after the war.

Such as my family.

Hanoi, 198...something...

Deutschelande!

At the age of 4, I moved to Germany with my mom. My father was already there and went right after I was born.

I grew up in a small and not really wort-to-mention town in the east of Germany, close to Berlin.

I can’t remember exactly how I got to learn german, but somehow it just worked out fine. Today, I have to admit that my german is probably better than my Vietnamese (sadly).

Life was not always easy for immigrants. Many Vietnamese people started their own businesses, so I ended up working a lot in our family bistro. Maybe that ingrained the entrepreneurial spirit in me that I just discovered much later in life.

All these years helping out in the family business would also turned out to be a great benefit later…I learned how to cook and survived my studies without living off from instant noodles.

My first day in Germany. Arriving at Tegel 1992.

Bammm!

Moving forward, at the age of 10, my father thought it was a good idea to get started with Martial Arts so I can learn to protect myself.

As with all asians, preperation is everything and he got me everything I needed to get started: he signed me up for Karate lessons and brought me Bruce Lee books; not knowing that these are two totally different types of martial arts.

Additionally he got his 10 year old son a whole year’s supply of fitness drink concentrate that was made for bodybuilders.
Kids just love highly concentrated sugar sirups!

Over the years, I ditched my Bruce Lee books to fully focus on Karate. With over 20 years of Martial Arts experience, I can tell that it had a huge impact on me and helped me out in many situations in life. It shaped the person who I became today. I wrote about my learnings here: link project horizn.

Satisfying biases...yes, asian people have a proclivity towards martial arts

The Creative Spark

Since I was a kid, I loved to play around with Lego.

Every kid loves Lego.

Well, maybe less today, because most of them are starring at touchscreens anyway…

However, I spent great time of my childhood fiddling around with building blocks, sketching and experimenting with all types of stuff.

I guess, this was when I build the foundation for my creativity.

Later, this would lead me into something that I thought would become my career: Architecture.

Moving to Munich

Relatively early on, I knew that I wanted to do something creative in life. Not just having a boring office job where I have to fill out paperwork all day. Instead, I wanted to use my brain to create things of value.

My father recommended to study architecture. I loved the idea because architects are always needed. People will always build something, anywhere in the world.

So I moved to Munich to pursue my architecture degree at the Technical University in Munich.

I dreamed of creating the craziest buildings and building structures that would last for decades.

Some semesters down the road, reality hit me hard and I realized that it wasn’t just what I imagined.

It turned out that the life of a “real” architect isn’t as glamorous as I hoped. During one of my internships I felt bored to death just dealing with paperwork and filing applications (hell yeah…German bureaucracy). The use of creativity seemed to make up 10%, if not only 5% of the time and most of the architects are overworked.

Furthermore, the architecture market was totally saturated and heavily underpaid at the time. I didn’t want to continue on this road and sell my soul for nothing.

Munich. This would become my home for more than 10 years.

Developing a new mission

Luckily my university gave architectural students the opportunity to also participate in industrial design classes and slowly my interest for industrial design began to emerge. I did more and more classes and slowly moved away from architecture.

This was at the time when smartphones where on the rise which totally got me excited.

I dreamed of working for big tech companies such as Samsung or Google and designing devices that would change peoples life.

With my growing interest in the Android OS, I got sick of the design and I started to modify Androids Interface in my spare time and share the theme with the growing community. (erebos theme)

Looking back, this was probably my first step into Visual Design. However, with all the Android Versions that came out and my excessive Smartphone dealing (I almost bought a new phone every 3-6 months), I couldn’t keep up with modifying all the interfaces, so that business went into the nirvana…

A decision that changed my life

During my 7th semester my plans suddenly changed through the emerging opportunity of getting a scholarship and studying for 8 month in Japan.

Life is strange.

It offers you opportunities when you don’t expect it but never when you actively look for it.

Since I got a bit tired of Munich and had nothing to lose, I decided to give it a go. Especially since I always wanted to visit Japan for the sake of practicing Karate.

Unfortunately, timing wasn’t ideal because Japan was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami just a couple of months before. Fukushima was a horrible disaster with not foreseeable consequences.

The fear of going there and getting health problems for the rest of my life was growing and everyone was telling me not to go.

Some of my friends who also got the scholarship backed off which caused quite some uncertainty.

I’m grateful to have a family that always supported me and got my back in any decision I made.

In the end, I decided to go and ultimately I don’t regret a single decision.

Sometimes we walk through life without knowing where to go but we are also not willing to take the risk to try things out in order to see if it might take us somewhere.

I knew that if I wouldn’t go, the opportunity would be gone and I would never get it back.

My life today would have been a completely different one. I don’t want to live a life of regret: always wondering what I could have done. This was a very important life lesson.

My exchange student team and my japanese professor.

Screw it, just do it

Japan was a completely new experience to me and it was the first time living on my own in a new country. A country where I couldn’t speak the language or read anything besides the toilet signs.

But it was the best thing that could happen to me because I learned so much during my short stay and most importantly, I met friends for life and expanded my view on the world.

I also learned to take more risks without worrying too much about the outcome. If we walk through life always hesitating we will never get anything. We have to take action.

With this mentality, I tried to get the most out of my stay.

I knew my time in Japan was limited and that I wouldn’t be back in the near future. Instead of travelling I decided to take on internships in order to expand my portfolio. I applied for dozens of companies that appealed to me for industrial design.

I was really into consumer electronics at this time so I applied for big Japanese consumer electronic companies such as Sony, Fujitsu, Sharp or Toshiba.

I didn’t really expect anything to come back and I received declines from all of them.

But two weeks after I received the official rejection from Toshiba, a design director came back to me and offered me a meeting that ended up with an internship.

What might seem small to others, was a huge success for me at the time because I couldn’t imagine in a million years to work for such a renown Japanese company.

It changed my reality and for the first time in my life I really felt that everything was possible.

I met many amazing people during my stay

More than just design

During my internship at Toshiba I also had the opportunity to design an Interface for a new type of display that would be installed on public trains. This was my first professional touchpoint with Interface Design.

That experience was so profound that I made the decision to go into that direction after finishing my architectural degree.

Today, I am working as an Interaction Designer to help companies shape exciting digital experiences for new products or services.

I consider myself very lucky to have worked on great projects with companies such as frog design.

Besides my passion for design, I’m also very interested in the business and strategic aspect of creating new products as well. If you come and talk to me about your business idea, you will get my full attention. Bring a pen and we can sketch on napkins all night in a bar.

I guess, this is where my entrepreneurial spirit comes into play.

In my opinion, all designers should have some sort of business skill. Just making things beautiful is not enough.

I just get super excited when it comes to putting things into the market and see what happens.

Actually, I’m so passionate about it that I build my own products (see my coffee filter).

During the process, I learned so much about Online Marketing, SEO, Copywriting, Accounting, Investing, Keyword Research and much more.

I believe that these are valuable skills that are very much complementary to any design skill.

So I can only encourage any designer out there to get started with a side hustle.

But be aware, you might earn money off of it 😉

My last day at frog design. I miss every one of them and am grateful to have met and learned from great designers there.

Final Words

Before I finish my novel, I would like to leave you with one last message.

I personally don’t believe in the concept of “design” only but rather in creativity.

Being creative means that you can apply creative thinking to any aspect of life, regardless if you are a designer or not.

It is such a misconception that designers are more creative just because they have the ability to sketch.

Everyone has some sort of creative genius in him. This starts from how you design your morning routine to how you prepare the ingredients for your dinner.

There is creativity involved in everything we do so don’t believe that only designers can change the world.

Yes, I call myself a designer but I don’t think I’m more creative than anyone else.

As a freelancer, I like the concept of working WITH someone instead of FOR.

In the end, creating a product is a team sport and not only the matter of the creativity of one person, aka the designer.

So if you want to build something sustainable TOGETHER, then lets do it.