Dinner Guest: Brand Identity Guru

Bacardí 2016 Halloween Client: Bacardí, Agencies: BBDO & Sunday Afternoon, BBDO Credits: ECD: Danilo Boer, ECD: Marcos Kotlhar, Art Director: Pedro Sampaio, Copywriter: Janelle Anne, Sunday Afternoon Credits: Design & Creative Direction: Juan Carlos Pagan, Design & Creative Direction: Shane Griffin, Creative Director: Ahmed Klink, Animation: Hyejin June Hong

Alice Garbarini Hurley | You’ve done design work for power clients like MTV, Nike and Absolut Vodka. Were you a creative child?
Juan Carlos Pagan | In grade school, like many young boys, I was interested in comic books and drawing. I was a comic nerd kind of kid. I was the artsy one in high school, always painting and drawing and, by senior year, sculpting. When I got to Parsons School of Design, I was finally surrounded by likeminded people. I started digging my heels in.

Which comic books did you like?
X-Men, Batman and Spawn. The  local variety store where we lived upstate in Lagrangeville, near Poughkeepsie, sold candy and comic books. It was that ritual of getting an allowance of a dollar or two, buying a comic book, and getting a sugar rush on Sour Patch Kids. I was attracted to the candy’s shapes and forms.

What is it like to create a brand identity for a company as popular as Pinterest?
I love giving an identity to the people who interact with a brand and the people who own it. The Pinterest logo, created in 2011, is all over their office in San Francisco. Pinterest was a company before it had a brand identity. They were licensing a typeface but wanted custom lettering, so they had to hire a lettering artist – me.

Your clients must vary in their grasp of their brands.
Yes, but the Pinterest founders are really smart. They had looked at the landscape and done their homework. They wanted something fresh, modern and contemporary, and decided that the P should be that deep red color and reference the map pin at the bottom of it. I worked on the logo with my buddy Michael Deal, who critiqued my versions along the way. It is really a special experience as a designer to make something and see it out in the world.

How long does the process take?
Smaller start-ups like Pinterest could take a couple of weeks, but some companies want a lot of variations. I’ve spent five months on an identity – that’s the longest I’ve ever spent – and it’s hard toward that five-month mark. You’re pretty exhausted. It’s an exercise in coming up with the right solution, but the person across the table, he or she is concerned with the bottom line. It can be a little trying. I like that sweet spot of working on a project for a month or two. Each of my projects has been like a relationship.

A relationship?
You put the parameters in place and the work starts demanding things from you – like any good relationship.

Are you paid for the time spent or by the project?
I receive a project fee, and we sign a contract. You are creating art, but the company hiring you is essentially licensing or buying it from you, most of the time for perpetuity, not just for a few years.

How did you become a typeface expert?
At Parsons, I had a heavy focus on graphic design and the history of design. Then I went to Cooper Union for grad school to study typography. At that point, I wanted to dive really deep into the history of type design. It really is a beast unto itself.

What is your family background?
I was born in Flushing, Queens, at the intersection of cultures. I am a second-generation Latin-American with a big extended family, but most of my childhood friends were Jewish or Korean. I always cherished going to Shabbat dinner at my friend Michael’s house across the street. I had the kind of intercultural relationships you can only have in New York. When I was about 11, we moved upstate. There was something special about that too – getting your license and going to drive-in movies in a quintessential upstate town.

Is art in your genes?
My uncle Andy is an artist. He has done some of the most beautifully drafted things I’ve ever seen, but, like many people with talent, he doesn’t share it.

Where do you work?
I run a company, an artist management agency and creative studio in SoHo, called Sunday Afternoon. It’s about a year old. My two partners, Shane Griffin and Ahmed Klink, and I were kicking around some thoughts. You only work on stuff you love on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a beautiful time. We are a bunch of artists and Audrie Poole oversees us so that we can be like kids playing with crayons. Without question, New York City is one of the best home bases for an artist. The energy of the people around you is infectious.

You spoke at the Kansas City Design Week program this spring. Do you like collaborating with other designers?
Yes. I was pretty pumped to meet colleagues in Kansas City and see what they were working on. I’ve also spoken in Boston and Phoenix. It’s great to get designers together and share ideas, even about how to negotiate fees.

Variety Magazine 30 Execs to Watch Custom numbers for Variety Magazine’s 30 Execs to watch issue. Design: Juan Carlos Pagan

brandHertz: Traveling at the Speed Of Hertz Poster Campaign Client: Hertz, Agency: DDB NY, ECD: Menno Kluin, Creative Direction: Sonya Grewal, Creative Direction: Pat Carella, Design & Typography: Juan Carlos Pagan


Cocktail order?
An Old Fashioned. But once a year, though, I go to Napa on a pilgrimage with my friends, preferably during crush season. I like California light reds.

Meat eater?
I eat all things, but I cut down on meat pretty significantly because my doctor tells me to, and I eat a little more fish. My metabolism isn’t what it was when I was 17.

Scoop choice?
I don’t eat sweets all that much, but I would get Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough from the supermarket and probably eat one scoop.

Reading list?
Philosophy and nonfiction. I’ve read and reread a lot of philosophy books.

Top book?
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera. Read it. It’s incredible.

Coffee or tea?
Cafe Bustelo, the espresso version, with a little half and half and a pinch of sugar. My family always drank that.

Beloved flicks?
“A Clockwork Orange”– Stanley Kubrick’s movies are perfectly shot and edited – and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Favorite music?
I use Spotify on my iPhone. I have thousands of songs and playlists for different moods and activities, including walking and biking.

Do you have a brand identity?
No. My website is about my projects, not about me.

Dream vacation?
Fiji or the Thai island Phi Phi. I have to go.

Clothing color?
Black. For my shirts, Levi’s Commuter jeans and leather lace-up boots.

Jacob’s Pickles on the Upper West Side, when my girlfriend and I feel indulgent. I get the most amazing sandwich on the planet. It’s like a BLT with chicken.

For a client lunch?
The Butcher’s Daughter.

Writing tools?
No. 2 pencils and black Sharpies on white paper, as a means to an end – to get from point A to point B by hand.

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