Nick Kruse, 1979 – 2010

We were devastated to learn that our friend and colleague Nick Kruse died at the weekend after collapsing while participating in the Gobi March. We’re still piecing together exactly what happened, but we wanted to share some of our memories of Nick.

Matt: I worked with Nick for the last 3 and a half years in Shanghai and in that time I learned so much from him, about design, about business, and about life. He took huge pride in his work, and in the company he had helped to build.

After cycling his way into the office in the Shanghai summer heat, Nick would stand in front of the air-conditioner, hair flying in all directions, trying to cool down. He would be the voice of reason and of calm.  He would frustrate and delight us. He would argue for hours about the difference between Helvetica Light Bold, and Helvetica Bold Light. He would go to faraway places and return with oddly-tasting gifts, but his greatest gift was the happiness he brought to everyone who met him. Shanghai and ReignDesign will never be the same without him.

Stephen: I first met Nick in 2007, shortly after I arrived in Shanghai. Like anyone who met him, we immediately hit it off. One thing I’ll always remember is when I first heard him speak Chinese – I was in complete awe. Back then, I could barely say ‘ni hao’ and apart from Chinese TV personality “da shan” I had never heard a foreigner speak Mandarin so well. I had to ask: “How did you learn to speak Chinese like that?!” His advice stuck with me: “Just speak!! And don’t’ be afraid to sound stupid. You’re *going* to sound stupid. But you’ll get better.”

Nick will always be remembered to me as the person who immediately lit up any room he entered, and who always made everyone feel welcome and a part of something big. He was never without an interesting or funny story to share, and was one of the most passionate and enthusiastic people I’ve ever known. I feel extremely fortunate for having known Nick, and he will always be an important part of my life.

Thinkey: I just can not believe such a sunny, funny and optimistic guy left us in such a sudden way.

I still remember the first time we met. On the game we played Nick had to perform Furongjiejie. He didn’t like to do that. But when he began, he tried his best and performed so seriously, that delighted all of us and lead to a big laugh. At that moment, I said to myself the man who tries so hard in a game will surely make his place on anything he want to do.

I still remember the talks about career and ideal we had on MSN. He was quite busy in that period. But he talked to me so patiently to help me to make sure what kind of things I really want to do. He told me to take my time to do whatever I like, since that’s my life. So, Nick, take your time to do whatever you like, that’s your life!

Anna: Nick was the person who got me to come to Shanghai in the first place. I had no real intention to go to China and it was him who told me about it over the phone in a job interview – which he finished with the sentence: “you would need to come here within 2 weeks.” – off i was.

During the time when we nearly fell apart as a team it was him who invested and believed in us first, and started the idea of our own company.

You could see how enthusiastic he was when he got sentimental late at night too, he would always share his ideas then. Nick dared things and inspired me to do the same, to anticipate something positive and dare to go for it. His cheeky sense of humor is a very smart way of showing his opinions although he would deliberately drive people mad angry with it and enjoy it too.

I saw and was around Nick almost every normal day of more than the last three years. And his passing away leaves a big hole in my reality which i find very hard to accept. I have to keep reminding myself that i wont see him again, that he wont be back. He will be missed dearly.

One night Nick described our company as one big flower. This was in the beginning of our new formation in the middle of the financial crisis and he continued the image by saying: “A flower WITH water, all the other flowers are dry these days.”

Mark: Nick could teach lessons though laughing.  Not the nervous or sarcastic laugh which can be all too common.  Nick was a man of heartfelt, from the soul, genuine laughter.  The kind that let you know you were heard.  The kind that reminded you not to laugh sarcastically.  And that made you like him instantly.

I didn’t know Nick for that long, but he had a way of reminding you of old friends.  That college roommate who always had a joke.  The opinionated guy in art studio who actually knew what he was talking about.  The high school friend who always got you in trouble when he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we …”  He had a bit of them all.  But he was also his own blend of courage, intelligence, and tenacity which made him so unique.  He will be missed.

Todd: Like a few others at ReignDesign, Nick was the reason I moved to China. I was looking for adventure, perspective, and a challenge – he delivered on all three counts. I will always remember our designer vs. developer bouts of witty banter (okay, maybe no one else enjoyed them) and those late night strategy sessions over a beer. Nick pushed me to prove my big ideas. Stop the talk and just do it.
In our last conversation, the night before he left for the Gobi March, he thanked me for my efforts at ReignDesign. Pig-headed as I am, I was dismissive, telling him we haven’t arrived yet and to save it. I’ll never have the opportunity to truly thank him – for his support, friendship, and enduring trust. He was a good friend to the end. I’ll miss you, Nick.

Matt Mayer

Matt Mayer is a founder at ReignDesign. Matt is from the UK and was based in Shanghai for ten years. He is now living in Bangkok, Thailand.


  1. Hi there – I’m an ultrarunner who has completed a number of RacingThePlanet events and I just wanted to express my deepest sympathy and condolences to you all. My friends and fellow runners who were in the race with Nick had only the kindest words to say about him. I wish I had had the pleasure of meeting him. His death has caused us all to pause, think, and reflect on the risks of this sport and many have expressed their thoughts and frustrations on my blog if you are interested in reading them: I don’t know if it will help, but please feel free to express any thoughts of your own.
    Hang in there…

  2. I’m very shocked and saddened to hear about the tragedy with Nick. He was a brave happy guy who will remain an example to me in his achievements and great personal qualities.

  3. My heart goes out to all you folks, and especially to Nick’s family. I’m glad to have had a chance to hang out and work with Nick… I wish I could express it as eloquently as you guys above, but I do warmly remember one late night around 2am, barely able to keep my eyes open as he passionately argued the case of sans serif over serif… or serif over sans?

    I don’t know if it’s foolish to think that he left us in the midst of trying to really live his life and enjoy it to the fullest, but it’s certainly going to force me to think about my current desk-bound life.

    Godspeed, Nick!


  4. Nick was a wonderful person. The true definition of a friend. Not only a forward thinker with a gentle soul but a person with whom a real connection could be made. Always up for a spirited debate, he kept everyone on their toes with his intelligence and decency.

    A bright star has been dimmed too soon.

  5. My heart is with you team Reign, what a tragic loss. I remember the day when he first started this company, how much efforts he put in and he was so proud to show me the flyers and website the company designed.
    And I totally agree with you Leslie, Nick was a good debater, you can always have interesting conversation with him about anything.
    I’m still in denial and shock…

  6. Nick was my cousin, and I miss him dearly. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of visiting Nick and his brothers in Wisconsin and North Carolina and that Nick was always willing to teach and share a laugh with me, even though I was younger.

    I will always think of Nick as the genius explorer of the family – brilliant enough to get his head around any idea or concept, and adventurous enough to push boundaries to learn even more. This is a rare combination, to find someone who is not only so intelligent, but so against becoming complacent in what he knew. From what I can read here, it sounds like Nick brought this quality with him to his business and I’m sure that his colleagues were better for it – our extended family certainly was.

    Not only did Nick appreciate a challenge, but he undertook his life with an intense focus and a smile on his face, an admirable quality that too few people have. He was a truly unique person and it is tragic that we have lost him. I will never forget Nick’s spirit, his sense of humor, many long conversations, and the attention and love that he shared with my family.

  7. oh my… its not supposed to happen to such wonderful people. I am in shock. Having known Nick for over 7 years, we didn’t always get to talk and catch up but over the years, the Nick I got to know through debating and conversing, online and in person, sober and inebriated, in Chinese and in English, were always enjoyable. I cannot begin to imagine how much of a loss he must be for his coworkers, his family and closest friends as even as I am thousands of miles away now, I can feel the emptiness that his passing leaves. My condolences to everyone who feels this loss but also to remind everyone that we should be thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know him in our lives. Godspeed and rest in peace my friend.

  8. I only had the chance to see Nick once during his lecture in last barcampsh, and thought “wow, Reign Design looks great; this guy looks and sounds great and crazy honest”. I’m terribly sorry to learn this today; from a selfish point of view, I won’t be able to go through this look and sound, and that’s a shame.

    I’m pretty sure he’s being deeply missed.
    All my condolences to friends and family; I won’t add workmates to the list: I believe you’re already in one of the latter if not both.


  9. Nick,我们叫你大雨伞,这个名字的由来飞说过一次,但是模糊了。。。


    竣子 贰零壹零年柒月捌日上海静安

  10. I met Nick a few times at barcamps and lunch 2.0’s and he always struck me as someone funny and engaging, with a sharp mind and keen intellect. With all the challenges he took head on (moving to China, starting ReignDesign, competing in RacingThePlanet, etc.), you could really get a sense of his adventuresome and hardworking spirit. I truly admire all that he was able to experience and achieve in his too-short life and wish all of his loved ones strength through this difficult time.

    Rest in peace Nick.

  11. I first learn the news from Stefan’s nick on msn, then suddenly i wanted to learn about it…it sounded familiar and my mind kept thinking…so today morning i log on and found this blog. I am completly shocked, such a young spirit gone so suddenly. But is good to find that he has such nice friends to remember him by.
    Even thought i didn’t deeply knew him, those visits to the YELLOW ROOM, playing Killer or to guess the word on the wall…those were really good times that made me close to all of you.
    To his brother Andrew, to Nick’s gf… my sincere condolonces.

  12. No matter how life tough it is I always can remember the big smile you share with all of us, which warm and inspire the rest of us to remember the beauty of life and gain the brave energy of life, and this time you tango on wit your self along I do believe you are leaving not so far but closer to our heart


  13. I was so shocked by Nick’s sudden death… I was always impressed by his passion and humor. He was such an interesting guy. He’s someone I really wanted to get to know better. We actually had plans to meet up after he got back from the Gobi March.

    Those of you that knew him well, be glad that you have that.

  14. I never had the blessing to meet Nick but I know he was a very blessed individual. He was extremely bright, ambitious, and very loving of friends and family. The love he shares/shared with his mother is as a beautiful as an incredible wildflower. Nick, I am so sorry I didn’t meet you on earth. I do look forward to getting to know you better as time goes by.

  15. I met Nick in a mIRC chatroom (poetry, maybe?) back in 1996. I was a freshman in college in California and he was still in high school back in Wisconsin. His handle was Tristan 🙂 We spoke every day several times a day – about school, about family, life, intellectual debates. Hours and hours. He was stunningly smart, deep, loyal and funny. Having never met each other in person, we planned a trip to Europe together after the summer of his first year in college and met for the first time at Gare de Lyon in Paris (finding each other in that station was an adventure in itself). He, I and his girlfriend (at least for part of the trip – there was a breakup halfway along!) spent the next few weeks tasting our way very cheaply through Europe, talking, fighting, slumming it, and experiencing all the stuff of life. I’m not surprised he continued to live so grandly. Just before his death he was passing through San Francisco on a business trip and we tried to meet up. I really regret that we didn’t make that happen. I miss my friend. Thank you to whoever put up this page and keeps it alive. This afternoon I thought about Nick and was comforted that the page is still here, and happy to see his smiling face. I miss you, buddy.

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