Recap: Pentagram at AIGA SF

This morning, I had the opportunity to sit in on a design discussion/panel with Paula Scher and Natasha Jen, partners at Pentagram Design in New York. The program was put on by AIGA San Francisco as part of their 2013 Design Lecture Series.

While the discussion was primarily focused on graphic design, I found some key concepts that apply across the board. Two things struck me as especially insightful. First, Paula stressed the importance of finding something in each project that you believe in and can become passionate about. Secondly, finding constraints is key. A blank canvas does more to stifle creativity than a tiny broom closet.

These are not new ideas, but they ring true each time I hear them. Particularly during crunch time, I have a hard time holding on to my original passion and playfulness from the design phase in an effort to just get ‘er done. This is a good reminder to re-focus on my enthusiasm for each of my projects.


My full notes on the discussion below:

  • Pentagram seeks partners that self generate. Partners need to be able to find their own work and manage their own teams and clients. They ask “what are these designers doing on their own?”
  • When asked about less glamorous “pay the bills” projects, Paula emphasized the importance of approaching each project with enthusiasm, and elevating the mundane. Raise expectations.
  • There is a common perception that pro-bono work is always good and that corporate work is bad. This concept needs to be re-examined and dissolved.
  • Paula finds breakthroughs come from misbehaving. Take something and turn it on its head.
  • Natasha finds that each day there are moments of inspiration and moments of stuck. While she doesn’t have a specific practice of doing something to find inspiration, she looks at a lot of design online daily.
  • Stuck happens. Paula recommended not being afraid of being stuck, but capitalize on and rely on what you’ve learned and your moments of inspiration.
  • Finding design perimeters and getting initial client buy-in are key. Find yourself pushing against a narrow confine. Tackling something too broad will drive you crazy.