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Work / Bookshelf

Pentagram partner Natasha Jen shares her most inspirational books

Natasha Jen became a Pentagram partner in 2012, having previously established her own studio Njenworks back in 2010. The projects Natasha takes on often cross media and use a range of graphic, digital and spatial interventions. Working on brand identities, digital interfaces, exhibition design and way-finding systems, among other things, Natasha’s client list includes all the big names you’d expect such as Nike, MIT Architecture, Chanel, Harvard Art Museums and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Having earned a variety of awards over the years, Natasha has been a guest critic at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Yale University School of Art, Rhode Island School of Design and Maryland Institute College of Art. If that wasn’t enough to make you feel like you should’ve paid more attention in school, Natasha also has an envious book collection and here the Pentagram partner shares the jewels that crown her bookshelf. From a book that details the importance of comic books in relation to design, to a book about the idea of play, Natasha offers an enlightening selection.

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Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics

Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics

An extraordinary book for all designers. I grew up with comic books but I never thought that there’s so much to comics that’s relevant to design, specifically the design of time, space, symbols, and words until I read this book. Understanding Comics is a seminal study on storytelling, and is as valuable to comic artists as to ALL creative types. Using comics as a lens, the author Scott McCloud, a renowned comic artist and theorist, examines the history of narrative, symbols, realism versus abstraction, time space versus physical space, and the cultural differences between the West and East through the expressions of comics. Most importantly, this book is a comic book in and of itself. 

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Clog: Apple

Clog: Apple

This mini-book is one of the issues of Clog, an archaising established in 2011. One of my favourite periodicals, each of Clog’s issues explores a single subject with contributing writers from various design fields. This Apple edition, published in 2012, is a curious (and awesome) collection of researches, speculations, and short essays on Apple’s design culture through the lens of architecture, science fiction, global production, aesthetics, and ultimately what makes Apple ever-fascinating. 

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Published by D.A.P: Guy Bourdin Polaroids

Published by D.A.P: Guy Bourdin Polaroids

Guy Bourdin is one of my all-time favourite photographers. I remember I first saw his work when I was in school, I was in awe by his colour-saturated, hyper-surrealist images with disembodied legs in perfect composition. Working strictly in fashion, Bourdin’s images are graphically striking, yet they go beyond the surface as they seduce the audience into depths of free-association. This book, wordless except a short forward by Oliviero Toscani, is a curious collection of 98 unpublished Polaroids by Bourdin. Unlike his typically highly orchestrated and polished work, these casual polaroids provide a different lens into the body of work, and the mind of one of the 20th century’s most innovative photographers. 

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Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Michael Pollan is one of the most level-headed and thoughtful journalists in our time who really helped us understand the genesis of today’s global food culture. In Defense of Food is another intelligent addition to this body of work, and is as thought-provoking as his other work. This book is an expedition to understand how we ended up eating what we are eating today and what we should eat to be healthy. What I love about the book is its illuminating report on the short history – and mania – of America’s industrially-driven diet and how I, as a consumer, as a kid grew up in Asia who later immigrated to USA, have blindly lived through all the insane food movements, and ate all the foods that big food companies would like me to put into my mouth. 

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Ian Bogost: Play Anything

Ian Bogost: Play Anything

For people who are bored with life, or think play is the opposite of work, or think work is no fun but play is, this book is for you. Written by Ian Bogost, an acclaimed philosopher and award-winning game designer (a very rare combination in itself), Play Anything proposes quite an opposite and refreshing view on what constitutes “play” – often the most mundane events, activities, and objects – and how to play them well and enjoy them for what they truly are. After reading this book you might find your life a lot more playful and enjoyable than what you thought. Highly recommend.