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Jul 24, 2023

Discussion: Idea Diary with Christoph Niemann

Graphic for RGD Book Club Idea Diary Christoph Niemann Design: Esther Byun RGD

About this video


Our fourth Virtual Book Club meeting featured Christoph Niemann, an artist, author and animator. His work appears regularly on the covers of The New Yorker, National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine. His work is also the subject of an episode of Abstract, an original Netflix series.

IDEA DIARY, with over two hundred illustrations, takes you on a journey into Christoph Niemann’s experimental creative work. The book presents a collection of humorous drawings that are based on witty, ironic and sometimes dark observations on everyday life, with 14 chapters depicting the variety of Christoph’s modes of storytelling.

Christoph joined us virtually in July to discuss how the book came to be, the benefits of storytelling, and some ideas for creating simple illustrations and our own idea diaries, all of which started from the main lesson he learned in school: “ think with ideas and to tell stories”. He mentioned that holding back on drawing skills and using simple shapes helped to convey complex ideas in the mind of the viewer, which led him to have the desire to create condensed thinking within a comprehensive book.

When asked about how the book was published, Christoph revealed he actually published the book on his own, which came with a unique set of challenges. The core reasoning for this was mainly his own impatience; due to the fact that he had this idea that needed to come out immediately, but did not want to wait over a year to put it out into the world. Granted, he mentioned that publishing your own book could be a financial challenge, but it worked out well because he recognized there was a niche audience eager for his book. By self-publishing, Christoph did not need to help push the machine of producing, publishing, and marketing up a steep hill. He mentioned, “It’s a huge privilege to publish your own book”.

In regards to Christoph’s storytelling process, he explained, “there’s a multiverse of approaches”. Christoph shared a bread crumb analogy where you “simplify the smallest possible version to just make the idea hold [and] to guide the viewer to the concept.” He mentioned that he iterates his illustrations based on having the story be as simple as possible so people can experience their ‘AHA moments’. Ideally, a designer’s best work should feel natural.

Christoph ended the discussion by offering advice on maintaining our own idea diaries. He suggests that to do so effectively, it involves constant drawing –– draw, draw, and draw! While he loves and appreciates physical sketchbooks, he believes they can become precious, hindering creativity. Using loose paper or sketchbooks with tearable pages allows freedom to sketch without reservations, preventing the inhibition caused by holding back, a common obstacle in idea generation.

Next time you're drawing or starting your idea diary, try drawing on loose papers for maximum creative exploration!