Pentagram’s Natasha Jen: Leading the Way

World renowned designer set to lead ADC 95th Annual Awards jury

The ADC Young Guns award honors incredibly talented creatives, not only to show how much they accomplished in their early careers, but to also indicate that the world will be watching for them to soar even higher. One such winner who has definitely gone on to even greater glory is Natasha Jen, Partner at Pentagram. 

As Chair of the ADC 95th Annual Awards Design Jury, Natasha will be leading an incredible team of designers, illustrators and photographers in selecting the very best in ideas and craft from the past year. We recently chatted with Natasha about leading the jury, her career and creativity.

You were not born into graphic design, but rather discovered it through fine art. Where do you think one field ends and the other begins?   Could a graphic artist learn from fine art?

Graphic design is a vague practice in that it doesn’t have a subject matter of itself. By nature it is at the ever-shifting intersections of art, other forms of design, media, culture, technology and economy. To be a relevant designer I think one really needs to have at least some general awareness about the world, and art is part of it.

You do remember the first time you received recognition for your work?

It was in 2004 when I was named an Young Guns winner (sigh!) It’s hard to believe a decade has passed. But I vividly remember my excitement.

Work from Natasha’s Young Guns 4 submission

You’ve been an intern at Pentagram, and you’ve been a partner at Pentagram. What are the not-so-obvious similarities and differences between the roles?

Now I seriously have to walk down memory lane! I was doing design back then,  and I am still doing design today, but my experience with working on design – the act itself – is very different now. I am in a more collaborative situation where there are a lot of people – my team, my partners, clients, consultants, vendors, you name it – are involved. In a way it’s like I was designing with design (for the most part) in my early days, and now I am designing with people.

“In a way it’s like I was designing with design… in my early days, and now I am designing with people.”

Pentagram has a lot of ADC Cubes on their trophy shelf, and both Michael Bierut and Paula Scher are in the ADC Hall of Fame. We know what ADC sees in Pentagram, but what does Pentagram see in a 95-year old organization such as ADC?

This is my personal point of view but I think the fact that ADC has been evolving with time and with the design profession for nearly a century is incredibly valuable, especially now in the midst of rapid technological change. Designers now can literally access any information, look at any design any time, anywhere, yet we don’t “belong” anywhere, nor do we engage with any place for a sustained period of time. It’s a kind of new alienation that we are all experiencing at some levels. ADC, as an organization, a gallery, a program, a design competition, really creates a kind of large-scale camaraderie that is necessary for the advancement of the design profession.

“ADC, as an organization, a gallery, a program, a design competition, really creates a kind of large-scale camaraderie that is necessary for the advancement of the design profession.”

One of the interesting things about the Design category of the ADC Annual Awards is the breadth of scope of entries. Whereas entries in other categories often come from teams of people, design submissions can come from an internationally renowned studio with dozens of employees or from a single illustrator in his or her home office. Does size and scope ever come into play when critiquing an entry?

No. Scale and scope have nothing to do with creativity.

Can you give any examples of work you’ve seen in recent years that simply blew you away and made you proud-slash-jealous of its creators?

I thought the identity system for Alzheimer Netherland by Stuio Dumbar, which won at the ADC 93rd Annual Awards, was brilliant. It poetically (and abstractedly!) captured the very essence of the symptom, yet the playful typographic and color approach felt incredibly optimistic and hopeful. It’s just perfect.

As Jury Chair, you’ll be guiding a very diverse group of creatives. How will you guide designers, illustrators AND photographers towards selecting the very best work in those fields?

We have a stellar, international jury. For me it’s less about guiding them. It’s rather use this opportunity to create meaningful dialogue and that we make the best decisions.

The campaign for the ADC 95th Annual Awards is called “Rare For a Reason”, and it highlights extremely uncommon occurrences. Name a possession or accomplishment of yours that’s pretty rare and that you’re proud of.

If there was one thing that I “have” that I am proud of, it would be the amount of iterative, unrealized ideas and design that my team has produced. It says a lot about the unbound energy we have, and that design for us, is a way of living.

Have your very best work be judged by Natasha and her jury by entering the ADC 95th Annual Awards. You just might win a are ADC Cube! The deadline for Design submissions (including Illustration and Photography) is Friday, January 15, 2016.