Jessica Svendsen Interview
I was recently poring over some of the typographic posters for the Yale School of Architecture, a series that Michael Bierut has been designing since 1998. On some of the recent designs I noticed another name appearing in the credits: Jessica Svendsen. Looking further I saw the work on Jessica’s site… and wow! I got in touch and to find out more.
What did you do leading up to working at Pentagram?
Before joining Pentagram, I spent eight years studying and working at Yale University. I first received a BA in English Literature and then a MFA in Graphic Design from the Yale School of Art. Within a week after commencement, I moved to New York and started working for Michael Bierut.
How long have you been there and what have been the highlights so far?
I have been a designer at Pentagram for a year and a half. Since I first arrived, I have been fortunate to design the Yale School of Architecture posters with Michael. As a student, I admired and avidly collected the poster series—I managed to collect over forty posters during my tenure there—so I am still dumbfounded and thrilled that I now design the series.
Is there a usual process you follow when starting a new design project?
My process is content-driven, so I eagerly respond to projects where I can geekily engage with the content. For these projects, design is interpretive. It is analyzing the content, distilling an idea or concept, and then making it visual. While I gravitate toward projects that are deeply referential, that are embedded with layers of meaning, I ultimately become preoccupied with the affective qualities of the visual form or typography.
In terms of format, I am drawn to projects that function at a display scale (from a poster to a physical installation) and that play with sequence (from a film to a website).
What is like working with Michael Bierut at Pentagram?
Michael is one of the best bosses in the profession, and he is the real reason why I am working at Pentagram. He is a master at crafting persuasive strategy, sequencing a narrative arch, and communicating ideas. Given his encyclopaedic knowledge, it is remarkable to watch him empathize with any given project or client.
Michael also generously trusts each of the designers on his team. Typically, each designer is independently responsible for their own client list, which means one designer may oversee an entire project from conceptualization to execution. Consequently, the design process is exceptionally efficient and each designer has a deep ownership of the work. The structure allows us to each engage with different types of clients, and to navigate and adapt the design across a wide range of formats.
What does the future hold for you?
Purely virtual work. Designing a physical space. Directing a film.
Image credits: Jessica Svendsen, Michael Bierut and Pentagram.