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‘New York is more a place to do and less a place to be.’

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Feature by Michael Canning

Natasha Jen is a Partner at iconic design firm Pentagram in New York. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, she moved to New York as a student and has since made a continual impact in the world of design and visual communication around the globe.

Her work draws from a diverse range of cultural influences in collaborations with brands, universities, museums and organizations like MoMA, Harvard, Nike, The Guggenheim Museum, The Tribeca Grand Hotel (now The Roxy), MIT Architecture or NYU Kids. We spoke to Natasha about creative life in NYC and her inside tips from 20 years in the city.


On where you’re from

Taipei, Taiwan.

On moving to New York

I came here for college (School of Visual Arts).

On your relationship with New York

It’s my home.

On something you just discovered

I’ve come to the conclusion that New York has the best ramen noodles in the Western Hemisphere.

On New York as a film character

Ricky Roma (from Glengarry Glen Ross.)

Above: 'Border City', an architectural installation at the London Design Biennale proposing a borderless city between the US and Mexico. Featured 'Hex Grid'. Below: 'Artifact' identity for the 2018 Storefront for Art and Architecture benefit at Federal Hall New York. Images courtesy Natasha Jen.

On how life in a new culture has influenced you

Being an immigrant sort of puts you in a state of permanent uncertainty: you’re never sure that you’re 100% ‘in’. I struggled with this sense of anxiety for probably the first 10 years of being here, but now I’m comfortable with being uncertain. It kind of encourages you to be more decisive because you have to find your way, move on, one way or the other, and that’s very similar to the nature of design.

‘I was brought up by very classic, Confucius-influenced values, but the way I think is very much shaped by my experience in New York...design creates a kind of empty space that frees me from negotiating between the two.’

On what makes New York’s creative culture unique

The density of talents. The talent pool also creates a healthy competition that motivates better work. It’s this cycle that keeps things generative here.

On finding inspiration

I’ve lived here for 20 years so my excitement about places has decreased quite a bit. I like to be home if I am not traveling for work. But if you were to ask me what’s the best way to experience New York, I would say just take out the subway map, pick a random stop anywhere on the map, and go. Don’t do any research on Yelp, Trip Advisor, or any travel sites. Don’t just stay in Manhattan. Go to Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx. Once you get out from the subway stop, just walk around in the neighborhood for as long as you can, and I guarantee that you’ll encounter something memorable.

Natasha Jen. Image courtesy Natasha Jen.

On something good to know about New York

New York is more a place to DO and less a place to BE. You’d feel less resentful about this city if you wanted to do something here.

On recent projects at Pentagram

My team and I have been working on a lot of branding for technology recently: AR, VR, AI — emerging technology that you see in the news everyday. There’s never a moment of boredom as you’re always learning something new, but it also makes you think about our increasingly-dependent relationship to technology in a much deeper way.

‘Being an immigrant sort of puts you in a state of permanent uncertainty: you’re never sure that you’re 100% ‘in’. I struggled with this sense of anxiety for probably the first 10 years of being here, but now I'm comfortable with being uncertain.’

On an event worth checking out

Morning subway commute.

On something from Taiwan you need a fix of in New York

Try the pork chop rice at May Wah Fast Food on Hester Street in Chinatown — 190 Hester Street, to be precise. Don’t be turned off by its humble interior and smallness.

On window seat or aisle

Window seat is a must.

On New York in one word



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‘You just had to look around New York and there were very open secrets.’