Full Guns Blazing: Nicole Jacek

Young Guns 13 Chair gives a taste of this year's competition


She’s the youngest member of the ADC Board of Directors, a highly awarded designer and a past ADC Young Guns winner. Now, Nicole Jacek steps into a new role: Chair of ADC Young Guns 13, the international portfolio competition for creative professionals 30 years of age and younger. In this interview from the latest issue of ADC Magazine, we caught up with Nicole in her Venice Beach-based studio to discuss Young Guns past, present and future.

Before you were chair of Young Guns 13 and before you were a Young Guns winner, you were, well, just young. How did your career as a designer begin?

To be honest, I sort of fell into it. I was interning at an advertising agency without really knowing what graphic design was. Late in the day, after most people left the office, I found myself going to the designer’s desk and trying to make “improvements”.

You must’ve been instinctively good at it.

I wouldn’t say good. I was terrible! I was more driven than good back then. That drive led me to some very fortunate internships with Stefan Sagmeister and karlssonwilker. I finished my studies and went to work at the Designers Republic in Sheffield, which was huge at that time (and still is). Then I moved to New York to be Creative Director at karlssonwilker.

What made you decide to apply for Young Guns 8?

Well back then, award shows were one of the best places to be seen. It’s where clients would look to see who was interesting. And Young Guns’ appeal lies in the fact that they aren’t judging a single piece of work but rather a whole body of work — your entire career at that point. I entered, even though I didn’t think I would win, and it’s even harder to win today! Let’s be honest. I don’t think I would make it in now.

How so?

Back then, they would select a set number of fifty winners, which meant they were trying to meet a quota. For all I know, I might’ve just filled a space. Today, if only thirty entrants are amazing, only thirty people win.

Back then, as it is now, ADC Young Guns is a career starter, and it also led to my involvement with club, then as a Board Member, and now as Chair of this year’s Young Guns competition.

 “I entered, even though I didn’t think I would win, and it’s even harder to win today! Let’s be honest. I don’t think I would make it in now.”

When last year’s winners were announced, there was lamenting in some circles that the class was mainly white male designers from Brooklyn. As this year’s chair, how have you addressed this issue?

Having sat in the Young Guns jury before, I know the judges aren’t actively selecting winners that way, but unfortunately if only young white males enter, then only young white males will win. The challenge is to increase the cultural diversity of the entrants, while maintaining the highest standards of the winners.

One of the ways we hope to change this is by including outside judges this year. In past years, the judging panel has been made entirely of past Young Guns winners. This means that trends form and it’s difficult to break them. For instance, Young Guns winners who are illustrators know illustration, and are more likely to pick other illustrators for the next class. For Young Guns 13, we are incorporating judges from outside the “white Brooklyn designer” mold. More women, more people of color, more people not based in New York City. I can’t promise this will change things immediately, but hopefully it will begin a trend to better reflect global creativity.

This is an interesting first step. What other changes do you have in the works?

We plan to use these outside voices to also help us with other planned developments. Now not everything will take place this year, but with Young Guns 13 we will set wheels in motion that will make winning Young Guns much more than a badge of honor. We want to transform ADC Young Guns from simply being an award show to becoming an institution that will do everything in its capacity to see its classes succeed, no matter where you are in the world. We don’t want to award work, we want to curate talent. We are calling this YG Next. Thanks to an incredible Young Guns Committee this year, whose members are Lucille Tenazas, Souris Hong-Porretta, Marta Cerdà Alimbau, Philipp Hubert and David Charles, we are working on transforming Young Guns into a creative incubator, that will help the YG Next project see the day of light. Stay tuned for more. Things take time, but we are hoping to have implemented a lot of amazing things by the end of this year. Exciting times ahead!