After graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Business Administration, Jennifer began working in corporate events. However, it was during her time as a ﬂight attendant for Alaska Airlines, that her interest in design became re-invigorated. She started working on some of her own design projects and realized she wanted to formalize her education. After some research, she found and was accepted to the Parsons AAS program and headed to New York. “I was riding by in a taxi”, she said, “and as we passed Parsons I said to myself, I’m going to go there”. And sure enough she did!
Shortly after graduating from Parsons in 2005, Jen started her own design company in New York and quickly gained a following of clients such as Colette Malouf and the Chelsea Art Museum. With her increased notoriety, she was contacted by Target, who offered her a job as senior art director at their headquarters in Minneapolis. It was there that Jennifer found her stride. Working at Target gave Jennifer the opportunity to have a hand in many aspects of design, including creating catalogs, directing of photo shoots, collaborating with designers and leading castings in New York and Los Angeles. She also headed up some of the larger campaigns such as Club Wed, and was a part of the “Big Idea” committee.
With all the expansive knowledge she gained while working at Target, and after a brief tenure as VP of operations at an online invitation company in Los Angeles, she became Creative Director for the Canadian clothing company Joe Fresh. It was her team that was tasked with launching the brand in the US, and she oversaw the re-branding of the website, gave extensive photo direction, and made Joe Fresh a staple in the US, all in less than six months!
In her next position as VP of Creative at West Elm, Jennifer led a team to develop monthly catalogs, digital design, packaging and signage.
Most recently Jennifer’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and she launched together with business partner Jen Worthington, bella j. , a lifestyle beauty / gift brand of over 25 beautifully packaged products that are sold online, at Nordstrom and various boutiques. The brand is playful and colorful and comes to life with Sujean Rim‘s illustrations (another Parsons alumni). Inside each product is a hidden charm with some of the candles even containing a $10,000 diamond necklace – its the Cracker Jack / Willy Wonka of beauty gifts! They even sell notebooks in some beautiful patterns which are great for sketching! Parsons students take note!
Here are bella-j. candles on the Today Show as Jill Martin’s featured choices for Mother’s Day perfect gifts!
For those people who are interested in taking a left turn in their career, Jennifer is a shining example of what can be done with a little bit of bravery and a lot of creativity. “I learned so much at Parsons AAS Graphic Design and was inspired by some so many of the professors”, she said. When asked if she had any regrets, she simply stated “No regrets!” !
Q: I wish I’d known before I started… A: That you didn’t need to know anything about graphic design before you start! The Parsons AAS GD program is so comprehensive.
Q: What is your favorite typeface? A: It’s a really hard decision, but right now I’ve been loving the clean lines of Brandon Grotesque Light.
Q: What advice do you have for students who are just starting out? A: Do as many internships as you can. You’ll learn so much in the classroom but it’s just as important to know how to apply your skills in real life.
Interview by Kiel Guba, AAS GD
Photography and edit: Katarzyna Gruda
Parsons AAS Graphic Design Alumnus (’05) and Faculty Jason Booher talked with current student Kiel Guba about how he came to Parsons, how he got his first job, and his experience as a book cover designer and teacher
After obtaining a degree in English Literature
at Princeton University, Jason pursued his childhood dream of becoming a high school English teacher. His career started by teaching
at Eton College in England (he had to wear
a tuxedo to class!) and then Trenton High School (NJ). While he enjoyed teaching, he felt that something was missing from his life. He
quit and bounced around for a few years living in England and Australia where a friend hired him as a personal chef. Despite Bondi Beach beckoning him each day, Jason continued to paint and draw (something he has desperately tried to fit into his schedule as an undergrad) and attempted to make a graphic novel.
When he returned to the US, he took a continuing education course at Parsons on a whim, and through it found out that graphic design existed everywhere and about the Parsons AAS GD program, which he chose as his path into the design world.
“I never really knew about graphic design, let alone considered it as a career,” he says, “but when I started attending classes, I knew immediately it was what I should have been doing all along. Parsons’ AAS Graphic Design was perfect and intense; it really felt more like an MFA program”.
After graduating, Jason started designing book interiors part-time at Dubé Juggling. This freed him up to shop his portfolio to designers he would want to work for, specifically looking for book cover design work. “By the end of school, I figured out graphic design is about selling something”, Jason says “and I knew I would only be able to design well if I was selling something I believed in—I believe in books”.
Ultimately he landed a job in the art department at Penguin, and soon after found himself in his dream job designing book covers at Alfred A. Knopf. His wife, Helen Yentus, is also a designer and they collaborate often on projects, although he admits with their current jobs they have less times to work together. Jason is currently the Art Director at Blue Rider Press as well as a part-time History of Graphic Design professor at Parsons.
Jason’s work is evocative without being heavy-handed – his covers have just enough information to draw the reader in without revealing too much. They are beautifully and thoughtfully designed and speak both to his great understanding of literature as well as his talent for design.
Q: How do you come up with a cover design for a book? A:It’s different every time. Reading the book is important. Sometimes I sketch starting with the title and author. Sometimes I am making thumbnails from the very beginning. Sometimes I have a clear idea immediately of what I want to do and start there. Sometimes I read the book and then wait for months until I start really coming up with something. Most of the time I have some idea that I then work through and throw away and move on from there. But I love the process. I get to fall in love with each book and work to find something visually interesting that connects to it’s soul.
Q: What is your favorite typeface? A:I don’t have one. Type is contextual. But maybe Futura. Q: What is some of the best advice you received from a Parsons professor? A:Something I learned very early in my first graphic design class with Julia Gorton has always stayed with me. In the critique of our first projects she burned into us that your design should not be like everyone else’s; it should be unique within its context. That’s something I try to keep in mind each time I start a new project. Q: Who is your favorite graphic designer? A: That’s an easy one—Helen Yentus.
Q: You have been teaching design in the AAS program now almost as long as you have been designing, has that affected how you design? A:There has been no experience or thing that has effected my design or how I think about design as deeply as teaching the History of Graphic Design. Beyond the exposure to great historical designs and soaking in the relationships that I find within them, I was forced to develop a language of design that moved beyond critiquing contemporary designs (either my students’ work or my work in progress). I had to find a way to speak about or discuss design outside the glossy historical narrative with students, a way to move into designs that weren’t their own. Most examples of this kind of dialogue I have found in books have not been helpful to me, because the language used doesn’t relate to how I think about design. However, Paul Rand’s words from his Conversation with Students have. “Design is relationships.” That’s were I start, and it opens up designs in almost any direction I want to push myself and the students.
Through teaching, as much as designing, I quickly came to believe innovation in formal execution to be as important (or perhaps more important) as conceptual expression in most design. Certainly in book packaging. Looking at formal relationships in historical designs as a way to find a unique visual moments in contemporary designs is what my class is about. And it is what I passively and sometimes actively do in my own work. At the very least, I certainly benefit from an accumulation of discussions of various effective relationships. And because I have had to verbally express why I think things work, I can look at something I am designing and not rely on intuitive instinct as to why any given relationship is or isn’t working. Surely I use intuition when I design. But for some reason being able to talk about the decisions I am making intelligently (as in it is intelligible) with another human designer has given me a way to push things further.
Žarko Dumicic and Vaishnavi Mahendran graduated of the Parsons AAS Graphic Design Program in 2012.
Vaishnavi completed her Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Mumbai and has a Masters degree in Marketing from the UK. After her Masters, and finishing a summer school course at Central Saint Martins, London, Vaishnavi was urged to apply to Parsons, by a former boss while training at design firm Red Lion, Publicis, in Mumbai. Her boss cited Parsons as one of the best schools for design, as well as mentioning that, being located in New York City, one of the most exciting cities to be a creative in, it would be an excellent choice for her future career aspirations — her boss was definitely right!
While completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics in Zagreb, Croatia, Žarko was introduced to the New School after a brief encounter with an inebriated Polish man in Sydney, Australia, who after a short discussion about their interests randomly urged him to continue his education there. Realizing that the New School has a strong design program and with the prudent advice of this friendly stranger to embolden him, Žarko applied and was accepted into the Parsons’ AAS Programand moved to New York. Despite the fact that his path to Parsons was less than traditional, it was clearly one of the best decisions he has ever made.
Vaishnavi and Žarko met at the second day of school waiting for a class to begin and the rest is, as they say, history… They both credit much of their design success to the comprehensive and challenging curriculum at Parsons.
After graduating and working in New York, they recognized the strong potential and opportunities for design in an emerging market such as India, Vaishnavi’s home country. They currently work together between Mumbai & New York through their new design studio,BLŌK, and are presently designing for a number of local & international clients. The Studio’s work spans a number of different mediums, from visual identities and package design to commissions by companies to curate the spatial design both in and outside of their offices.
In addition to their corporate work, Žarko and Vaishnavi have completed a variety of very exciting and creative self-initiated side projects over the course of their partnership. During the summer of 2013 they created an alphabet series constructed by projection mapping typography onto cardboard building blocks. Each of the 26 letters were made into a poster and subsequently hidden in bookstores, libraries and art galleries around the world. All of the posters contained a small description of the project, as well as their contact information. As these posters were located, they were able to make connections with fellow designers around the world, some of whom they are still in contact with.
While many of their projects have been highly conceptual, they also take as much care and use as much creative intuition to the more practical projects they have designed. When faced with the challenge of the limited availability of typefaces in Hindi, they simply created their own!
The geometrical typeface that the studio uses for Roman letters was re-appropriated for Hindi use. It is this kind of attention to detail, recognition of gaps in the design market, and creative problem solving that has made Vaishnavi and Žarko a dynamic design team, and Parsons is undeniably the vehicle that has guided their passion.
The interview was conducted and edited by Kiel Guba
Žarko & Vaishnavi were also gracious enough to answer some questions, below are the transcribed questions and answers:
Q: What was your inspiration to go into the design field…
V: Growing up I loved to draw and paint, but I think it was through music that I really discovered design and wanted to pursue it as a profession. I used to play drums in bands during school and college and it was during that time, that I fell in love with vintage vinyl cover art & poster design. From iconic works like Milton Glaser’s Dylan cover, Klaus Voormann’s Revolver album cover, to handmade typography of Fillmore posters from the 60s, the visual aspect of music inspired me to begin exploring graphic design.
Ž: I knew I wanted to go into the design field the moment I discovered the work of the French graphic designer Jean-Paul Goude – especially his collaboration with Grace Jones. Another endless source of inspiration is the brilliant Russian graphic designer Alexey Brodovitch.
Q: Share some of your experience from classes at Parsons…
V: Our Tamara Maletić’s class on Typography really opened our minds up to experimenting with form and function in type. My class with Juliette Cezzar (GD2) was an excellent experience and I remember her advising our class once, on growing as young designers, to challenge ourselves by taking up a variety of design projects that may sometimes require new skills that you may not be totally confident about at first, but will end up learning over the course of the project out of practical necessity, with the results often being pretty rewarding. This really resonated with me and has helped in times of doubt as a working designer.
Ž: Our Graphic Design + Silkscreen class with Katarzyna Gruda and William Morrisey was incredibly important and has solidified our typography appreciation and expanded our skills in composition and color. Katarzyna Gruda has also helped me a lot during school and post-graduation in finding internships and work in the city, which was essential for developing my overall skills as a designer. What is also great about Parsons is that we were also able to take classes in other creative fields that went beyond the core graphic design curriculum. We both took Photography as Expanded Media, Projected Environments and Experimental Video, and collaborated on art installations in these mediums.
Q: How has your perception of design changed as a student and after graduating?
V: I definitely see that the process of learning never ends, even after finishing design school — and more importantly that it should not end. As a designer it’s extremely important to keep challenging oneself. Once you get out of design school, you’re suddenly very aware that you don’t always have your professors to keep guiding you to push your limits. So it’s been a conscious effort to remind myself to keep doing so, which is critical to stay relevant as a designer.
Ž: Also I feel it’s incredibly important to generate both artistic and commercial pieces for your portfolio as a student—it shows that you are a well-rounded designer. While studying I was actively denying to produce designs for the mainstream, but working on projects in the market that you assume you won’t like, can be one of the most rewarding experiences—it requires a lot of effort and design thinking to create something that works in the mass market and that is also aligned to your personal aesthetic and comprehension of design.
Q: Now that you are in the design field, what do you feel is the most important advice to interacting with your clients?
Ž&V: One of the essential aspects of working with a client is to include them in every step of the design process. When you include them in the conversation from step one, the final work you present is stronger as a result of truly understanding the client’s desire and vision.
Q: What would your advice be to current and prospect Parsons students?
Ž&V: One of the best things about being in this industry, and its design community, is the fact that it’s so open and collaborative. We would urge students at Parsons to collaborate with their peers, as well as seek advice and feedback from established designers in the industry. We’re always grateful for the advice and guidance received from other designers that we consider our mentors, and some of whom we’ve worked with, such as Katarzyna Gruda, Mirko Ilić, Jan Wilker & Hjalti Karlsson, Tamara Maletić, Julia Gorton, Thomas Bosket, Alex Lin, Langdon Graves.