Why Don’t You …? With Natasha Jen

Taipei-born Natasha Jen is a partner at Pentagram, the largest independently owned design studio

… look at challenges to go beyond the status quo?

Graphic design is an underappreciated design discipline because it doesn’t have a subject matter that people can make a topic about, yet is omnipresent in everything we see. Good work may elevate culture, and bad work doesn’t necessarily create measurable damages in the way bad architecture or poorly made clothes would. After 20 years, I still struggle with the ambiguity of design, and this profession can create a lot of self-doubt along the way, but it helps you see your work critically. Any struggle that questions the nature of a practice is necessary.

… let a controversial quote lead you to introspect?

I stumbled upon a quote by the late and great Karl Lagerfeld on our mindless dependency on mobile phones. He said, “I send notes. I’m not a chambermaid whom you can ring at every moment. Today, you know, most people act like they work at a switchboard in a hotel.” It’s hilarious yet portrays a true picture of a kind of crisis that we all face.

… immerse yourself in an art paradise?

I recently, and finally, visited the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, and it was a spiritual experience in itself. Featuring Dan Flavin’s multi-building light installation, Donald Judd’s 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum and 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, Robert Irwin’s Untitled (Dusk to Dawn), and John Chamberlain’s various crushed-steel installations, the remote specificity of the site provided a real one-to-one, intimate experience with work that is impossible to have in an urban museum.

… pick up an impactful read?  

I recently read Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s memoir Small Fry and it’s a beautifully written book. Her vivid, elegant, yet brutally honest portrayal of her experiences growing up, her relationship with her family members and people around her, piece by piece, was an aesthetic experience for me. This is also a book about her coming of age, an experience that many of us can relate to, but not able to articulate it the way she did in the book.

… use your voice as a woman in your own way?

Does my work talk about feminism? No, not directly, and as a woman who is very aware of the multitude of challenges that we women still face, I believe that each of us needs to find our own way to push forward gender equality. Some do it through talking; some, such as renowned US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has been championing women’s rights and equality, do it through their work. For me, I do it through teaching. I teach an undergraduate design class and I also share my own observations about women’s challenges professionally with my staff. 

Rebranding the New York Botanical Garden through impactful design