Tenth-grader Nico Liebig did not think of himself as an artist last fall, when his computer science teacher told him about the open call 18/19. With his inquisitive mind and spirit of fun, the German high school student decided to explore smartphones and their uses, and wound up creating, along with classmate Vivien Jirschik, the winning 45 visuals that comprise Mobile Unlock

“Listen to your heart! When you do, you can create something that might touch the soul of another person.”

TPP45S Describe yourself in 3 words.

NICO LIEBIG Reliable, diligent, ambitious.

TPP45S Describe your design aesthetic in 3 words.

NICO LIEBIG Modern, odd, omnipresent.

TPP45S Prior to creating Mobile Unlock, you’d never done any kind of designing. So what got you excited about the open call?

NICO LIEBIG The entire existence of such a project surprised me! And I was excited to be a part of something so unique and extraordinary.

TPP45S What skills, competencies and values allowed you to jump right in and give it a try—and end up being the first pre-college student to submit a winning project?

NICO LIEBIG I guess it is probably my analytic thinking and my slightly different way of seeing the things around me.

TPP45S Your project visualizes 45 variants of blocking patterns on an Android phone, revealing the seemingly insignificant but quite complex sliding movements of our fingers on phone screens. How did you develop the visual language, and what do you hope the viewer takes away from your symbols?

NICO LIEBIG We actually didn’t develop the visual language—we just took the design and the rules from the Android-locking system and adapted it for our project. Basically, we wanted to trigger deeper thoughts in our viewers, so that they look at modern technology with a more critical eye.

TPP45S You worked with a partner, Vivien. How did you divide the tasks? What was it like working together?

NICO LIEBIG We divided equally among us the tasks of drawing the symbols and transferring them into a digital form. I was more comfortable with English, so it was my task to translate and communicate about our application materials. Neither of us had significant skills needed to do the project coming in, so most of it we learned from our computer science teacher. All we needed was a little amount of creativity and a bit of patience.

TPP45S Smartphones are something that we all see everywhere, every day and don’t really think twice about—but you really had to pay very close attention to them, in order to conceptualize and create your symbols. What other things do you notice every day, or maybe look at differently from everyone else?

NICO LIEBIG I am always trying to look behind the things I see. That means I want to understand what the person who created it wants to trigger in the viewer, and how he or she does that, and why. I try not to accept the things I see as only how they already are—I try to look at the meaning of whatever I am looking at, and ask myself, “What does it do to me?” and “What is it supposed to do to others?”.

TPP45S So how do you feel about YOUR phone? Do you wished you used it more, or less?

NICO LIEBIG Most of the time when I use my phone, I listen to music. I think this is a good thing to do with your phone. But I admit that I also spend a lot of time on Instagram, which is a very bad habit of mine. I would like to use my phone less for social media and more for education and research on topics I am truly interested in.

TPP45S Of the 45 visuals you and Vivien created, which is your favorite?

NICO LIEBIGIt is extremely hard to pick one over the others—but if I have to choose, I guess my favorite would be # 4. I don´t know why, but it is special to me.

TPP45S What 3 tools, programs or processes are most important for an artist or designer?

NICO LIEBIG As this was my first time designing, it’s hard to say, but based on the limited experience I had, it is very important to have just a pen and paper for your ideas, to record the impressions you are confronted with all day. You also need a graphics program to digitize your designs, and last but not least, you need a computer—but I think this should be the smallest of your concerns if you want to get into designing.

TPP45S How is school going? What are your plans for the coming year—and beyond?

NICO LIEBIG I just finished the 10th grade, and after that I will do my A-Level. And if everything goes as I hope, I will go to med school and become a doctor—but this is far in the future!

TPP45S What’s your advice for artists submitting to next year’s open call to create a set of 45 visuals?

NICO LIEBIG Just be yourself and listen to your heart! When you do, you can create something outstanding and unique that might touch the soul of another person or move something inside them.

Nico Liebig
Nico Liebig is a high school student in Weixdorf, Germany. He created his winning project along with classmate Vivien Jirschik.

Winning Project Open Call 18/19—Mobile Unlock