Graphic design is a discipline in rapid evolution but it has it’s roots in the printed object. The Strand bookstore is one of New York’s oldest book stores and you’ll loose hours just in their design section alone. Up stairs in the rickety rare books section, you might find a dog eared editions of Screw, the racy counter culture magazine art directed by Steven Heller in the swinging sixties, way before became an author of over 170 books on the topic of graphic design. A friend of his during this period – singer, song writer Pattie Smith – used to work behind the counter here. It’s also a good place to pick up a copy of Why You: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love the latest publication by Debbie Millman, the host of the world’s most downloaded podcast on design, Design Matters.
A few blocks away is the School of Visual Arts (SVA), where Millman records her interviews and runs the MFA in Branding. The SVA has been around since 1947, as a Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School and has had some illustrious alumni including Rebecca Sugar, the creator of the cartoon Steven Universe – which premiered on the Cartoon Network in 2013 as the first ever animated series developed by a woman. The SVA buildings are all over lower Manhattan but you’ll see them marked with oversized flags emblazoned with their floral logo. This was originally designed by George Tscherny, another AIGA medalist and teacher of the first design course there.
Steven Universe – which premiered on the Cartoon Network in 2013 as the first ever animated series developed by a woman.
As you head up-town towards the Flatiron building, you come to the bursting-at-the-seams offices of Pentagram. Housed in a former bank – their archives are tucked away in the huge vaults in the basement – this design firm now has 21 partners and offices all around the world. Their business model is unique in that all partners share equally in the profits. The teams in the New York office are headed by big names including their first female principal to join the firm in 1991 Paula Scher and Michael Bierut, author of How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World. The space also used to be a nightclub, which is easy to imagine, given the 5th Avenue address and series of mezzanines that could double for a bar and dance floors.
If you want to see some of Scher’s work out in the world, you do not have to go far – Scher’s fingerprint is all over New York. A short step across the road, into the lush oasis of Madison Square Park, is the Shake Shake where her corporate identity of clean, linear illustrations are highly visible on the menus and burger wrappings. Jump in a famous yellow cap – incidentally taxis have become a mobile studio space where Scher has found inspiration to sketch many of her logo concepts – to other must-see destinations that she has branded. Spend time wandering the High Line, an old raised train line that has been repurposed as a park in the Meat Packing District or get in line early for tickets to The Public Theatre who produce Shakespeare plays in Central Park. You’ll see Scher’s work all over these locations in the form of branding systems and promotional campaigns.