Process Ten: Pentagram
Posted: April 29, 2014
As part of our city profile on New York in Process Journal Edition Ten, we visit the New York office of Pentagram and discuss all things New York and design with partners Natasha Jen and Eddie Opara.
We feature more contributors in Process from London than any other city. What is your perception of the current ‘culture’ of design studios in London (specifically graphic design) in comparison to New York?
EO: New York is messy. It’s a mess for a good reason. It’s been cleaning itself up for years, for centuries. People love that sense of being disorganised to come through the work itself. But as of late, you can look at the administration of New York from the point of view of Bloomberg. Bloomberg is a lover of design, so he brought in the likes of us, Pentagram, doing work for the city, in different departments—we’ve all pretty much done work in different departments (and Wolff Olins has done work in different departments)—so this is not so much a homogeneous structure that’s occurring, but there’s the sense of a New York trying to learn how design works for itself.
London is a tailor of design—it’s all about tailoring, not to the masses, but to small pockets of groups within the city, or within England, and also the English diaspora around the world. That’s why you get the Tony Brooks and Sean Perkinses of the world—they’re brilliant. Their work is tailored. It’s so crisp, and it’s always consistent. It has an underlying language that’s their signature.
New York is just starting—maybe it’ll never get there. Maybe that’s a good thing. I think it is a good thing.
NJ: I think there’s definitely a design culture in Britain that doesn’t exist here. I think it has to do with the history, and also in terms of how design is understood within the culture. They understand design, I think, in a much more advanced way than Americans in general. That’s a cultural difference.
EO: My mum asked me for a logo when I was sixteen. Seriously. She knew the term, she knew what she wanted.
I’m sure many of our readers would love to know what it’s like to work at Pentagram. How different is it to running your own independent (boutique) design studio?
NJ: The scale of my team is the same, but the range of projects has increased tremendously. If we were to draw this kind of spectrum of practices—from the big branding guys to the very tiny cultural, non-profit organisation-focused studios—I was at one end of the spectrum, but right now, I’m open to the entire chain. It’s mindboggling, to go from that little guy, who can only deal with small cultural, perhaps funky, fun projects, to the possibility of branding a huge corporation. But you just take it one day at a time. You make sure that you’re doing the best you can and address the issues.
Also, in terms of clients who will walk into your door, I think there are a lot of surprises. For example, we would get phone calls from … I don’t know, a mattress maker in the mid-west, and we’d get a lot of weird inquiries. Things that I would never imagine, say, if I were to run my own practice. I think that’s what makes Pentagram interesting, this wide appeal.
EO: They’ve heard about us, they’ve looked at our stuff, they’re like, ‘Whoa, this is great. Can you help us?’ And yeah, they’re strange companies we’ve never even heard of. You can take them on, but if you can transform them, that’s brilliant! You should never be afraid of that. If they’re afraid of you, then that’s another problem altogether.