I have just returned from an amazing trip to New York. Along with my husband Ben, I entered and won (!!) a competition organised held by paper companies BJ Ball and Mohawk paper. The prize included a trip to NYC, a visit to the celebrated design studio Pentagram, as well as a tour of the Mohawk Paper mill.
We won the prize after making a video about the importance of paper in our day to day lives - and how we would miss it if it wasn't there. You can view the video here.
After a long flight, we touched down to a bitterly cold but beautifully sunny New York. Such an amazing place - so much energy, diversity and a city of so many people. We experienced a lot of the must-dos on any visitors list - stunning views from the top of the Empire State Building, the crowds and lights of Times Square, eating giant pretzels from a street vendor, listening to some talented buskers playing on the Subway, as well as visiting MOMA, taking gentle strolls around Central Park, and walking The High Line, a disused elevated stretch of railway line repurposed to create a ‘floating’ community park space.
The two highlights of the trip though, were the things that most visitors wouldn’t get the chance to do - visiting Pentagram and the Mohawk paper mill.
At Pentagram we were lucky enough to be meet with Michael Beruit - award winning designer and partner at Pentagram. We had a tour of the busy studio whilst hearing about some of the history of the building - it’s former uses including being a bank, a dress making shop as well as a night club. Michael spoke about the unique way in which the studio was run, which includes having a number of accountable partners over several international offices, each having their own design teams.
It was great to hear that Michael still very much has a hands on design role, as is sometimes not the case as designers progress in their careers. We also heard about the beginnings of Pentagram - part of the reason the studio was initially formed was out of necessity - starting you own studio 40 years ago was a very different thing to setting up now, where you can get away with a laptop and a good internet connection. Not such the case back then when starting a studio needed much more of a financial outlay as well as huge suite of hardware and space.
We spoke about how the industry had changed and how the public were now much more aware and informed about design. It would have been unimaginable for the kind of outspoken public opinion we see today in reaction to high profile design projects, but social media means everyone can have a say. It means we as designers have to be on top of our work - making sure our rationales behind what we do are researched and solid, so we can be confident that when our work goes public we can stand up and believe in it, as well as giving our clients the confidence to do the same. It does seem though, that although the mediums we design for may have changed, the core of what a designer does; creative problem solving, listening and understanding clients needs followed by struggling with that brief for days on end have, essentially stayed the same.
It was great to meet such a influential designer, who was genuinely a lovley chap. One thing Michael said stuck in my mind, and that was that it is a great time to be a designer now, and that reminds me to feel lucky to work in the great creative industry that we do.
The other highlight of our visit to New York was the trip to the Mohawk Paper Mill (named after the Mohawk River I found out). We took an early train out of the city to Albany - a a beautiful journey which follows the Hudson River, gleaming with ice in the low winter sun. We were greeted by Joe O’Connor, who spoke enthuastically about working for his family company - and as we arrived at the Mill he proudly pointed out grand portraits hung on the wall of his late father and grandfather. A very knowledgable Rich Barker gave us an in depth tour of the mill, and as he showed us around it was clear to see his and the rest of the team’s passion and attention to detail showing through in what they did. I have a new respect for something which is an old craft and clearly takes time a dedication to achieve the beautiful results which the Mohawk team do.
We had lunch with Joe, as well as Jane and Pam from the marketing team. They spoke about the challenges and changes facing their industry, and how they are always innovating and working with new suppliers and companies as the needs and expectations of the client changes. We also had a sneek peek at an exciting new project the team has been working on with Michael from Pentagram and Massimo Vignelli.
Again, Ben and myself were thrilled to meet such a friendly, down to earth team at Mohawk, all with a real passion for what they do. We also got a brief introduction to the President of Mohawk before we left - Jack Haren, who was an absolute delight to meet. A huge thank you to the team at BJ Ball and Mohawk for organising such a wonderful experience - we had a fantastic time, and will remember the trip fondly for years to come.