Friday Fives: Skylar Jessen, '14

February 28, 2020

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Every Friday we give #highfives to a different designer from our extended family of PNCA students, faculty, alumni, and guest lecturers. 🙌🏾🙌🏻🙌🏽 We ask them five questions.

Skylar Jessen, '14 is an honoree of the Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards whose design direction has been utilized by Grammy Award-winning artists, global nonprofits, and underground artistic communities. He has partnered with a range of clients and initiatives including the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, Alicia Keys & We Are Here,UNICEF, Modest Mouse, and T-Pain.

After graduating from PNCA’s program in Communication Design (now Graphic Design), Jessen went on to the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU Tisch, a two-year graduate program exploring the imaginative use of communications technologies.

For two years, Skylar has been building DinWorkshop—a collective of strategists, designers, and makers—with Dave Allen, a post-punk musician (Gang of Four) most recently working in artist advocacy and relations with Beats Music and Apple Music.

DinWorkshop focuses on experimenting with and designing new opportunities for artists to create sustainable streams of income. They do this by developing strategy, concepts, and systems that bring together artists, communities, and companies in more genuine ways. The end results usually land in the worlds of interactive experience and product design.

In fall 2019, DinWorkshop joined NEW INC, the New Museum’s incubator for art, tech, and design, as part of their Equitable Platforms track.

Graphic Design Department Head, KRB, spoke with Skylar in Fall 2019.

Q: What do you geek out about?

A: Pop culture, from pretty much any decade, whether it is highbrow or super lowbrow.

I can’t exactly tell you when my anniversary is but I can definitely tell you who played a supporting role in a bad movie from 2001 or who was the producer on a song from 1995.

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Q: What feels vital to the future of design, to you?

A: More equity in who is doing the designing and who they are designing for.

Being involved with the new media and emerging tech side of design you see a huge amount of work being made by people with disproportionate access to the tools and money that other communities don’t have as readily available—leading to so much broken work being made because the right people aren’t in the room to ask the right questions.

For example, there are period tracking apps that are extremely presumptuous about what someone having a period actually needs. And apps that marginalize their users with facial recognition tech, that can only see white faces because those are the faces the system was trained on. The right people need to be in the room—and at the top—to create work that is genuine and impactful.

I always think it is more interesting to read about people that have a strong point of view regardless of what world they are working in...You can usually find more inspiration from people experimenting in industries that aren’t your own.

Skylar Jessen

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: Right now I am reading René Redzepi’s Journal. René is the founder and chef at Noma in Copenhagen—an amazing place that has been listed as the best rest restaurant in the world numerous times. Journal is René’s personal diary tracking his daily thoughts, process, and experimentation over the course of one year.

I always think it is more interesting to read about people that have a strong point of view regardless of what world they are working in. I think most writing about design and design personalities is too navel-gazey and straight-up boring. You can usually find more inspiration from people experimenting in industries that aren’t your own.

photo of a sweatshirt reading Typhoon World Tour 2018

Q: Is there anything you wish you had known when you were just starting out, that you know now?

A: Not everyone’s feedback is meaningful or valid. You need to surround yourself with people who push you and make you think deeply about what you are doing, but not everyone who questions you is going to really understand what you are trying to do...and that is okay.

Q: What is your favorite trick for “keeping it all together”?

A: Making up rules for myself and sticking to them. I do this mostly through tracking nearly every part of my professional life and scheduling it super clearly.

I have my own company that is being built, client projects inside of that, personal freelance / consultancy clients, plus I really like having an extremely chill life outside of my work. So the only way I can get that work done, and have an off switch, is through a heavy To-Do List system, setting time limits, using the hell out of Google Calendar (even scheduling events for when I am working alone), and knowing that it is important to walk away sometimes.

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Q: Is there a question you wish we had asked you, that we can ask the next person in our series? What do you want to learn about other designers in our series?

A: "If you weren’t working as a designer what profession do you wish you could explore?"

Personally, if I wasn’t working as a designer, all I would want to do is be a filmmaker. Movies are a medium that talk to so many people at once and the camaraderie that develops between everyone working on a film is so rare, even in the creative world.

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Follow along with our #fridayfives on instagram @pncadesign, and learn more about Skylar's company, DinWorkshop, and their feature in New Inc.

Join us for Skylar's talk at our Design Lecture Series on March 11, 2020.