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Preserving Standards Manuals

An interview with
Jesse Reed


Back in 2012, in the basement of the New York Pentagram office, Jesse Reed, along with his colleague Hamish Smyth, unexpectedly came across a piece of design history - the original New York City Transit Authority graphic standards manual, a modernist masterpiece designed by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda.

This was the moment that lead to the pair founding Standards Manual, an independent publisher focused on archiving and preserving artefacts of design history to make them available for future generations.

In this episode, Ian interviews Jesse Reed to learn more about the origins of Standards Manual, lessons learned from preserving the historical documents, as well as behind the scenes lessons learned working with design legend, Michael Bierut. We also discover how Jesse co-founded the Brooklyn-based design office, Order.

Jesse Reed Interview Transcription

Ian Paget: I actually found out about you through the work that you've been doing with Standards Manual, which is a company that you founded back in 2014. I've seen these manuals every time they come out, they are absolutely stunning. I bought a couple myself and hopefully listeners, if they're not already aware of you, they'd be excited to go and check out what you're doing. Would you mind sharing, how did this company happen? Because I love what you're doing and I'd love to know the story underneath it.

Jesse Reed: Yeah, for sure. Well, thank you. I'm never really sure if people are sick of hearing this story, or not yet, but if you haven't heard it already, the company was started really and truly by accident. I started the company with my business partner, Hamish Smyth, and we were both associate partners and designers at Pentagram in New York City. At the time, we were both working for Michael Bierut in that office. Yeah, this was a sort of a fluke occurrence where him and I and a group of other designers were down in the basement of Pentagram, which was the old building, if anyone was lucky enough to go there in New York. It was 204 Fifth Avenue and it was this amazing old bank building.

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